The Yiddish of Contemporary Hasidic Magazines (summer 2021)


  • Website: online course is part of the Workers Circle summer program in Yiddish Studies.

  • Inquiries:  coordinator Baruch Blum at: and/or program director Nikolai Borodulin at:

  • Sessions: at 1 PM NY time (10 AM LA, 6 PM London, 7 PM Paris/Berlin, 8 PM Tel Aviv/Vilnius etc): (1) 20 June, (2) 11 July, (3) 25 July, (4) 1 Aug. and  (5) 8 Aug.

  • Instructor: Dovid Katz. Personal website. Yiddish Cultural Dictionary. Course Notes text is © Dovid Katz 2021, all rights reserved. 

  • Acknowledgments: Sincerest thanks to Genesis University, and to Mr. Albert Rosenblatt (NY) for their generous assistance in assembling materials for the course.

Materials for Session 1 (20 June 2021)

  1. Excerpts from the magazine הונדערט (Hindert/Hundert), issue for 6 June 2021.

  2. Entry for אויסגעהאַלטן from Mrs. Roth’s dictionary. Yidish verter oytser. Published by Roth Publishers, POB 1058, Monsey NY 10952 USA. Email for inquiries:

  3. Entry for אויסגעהאַלטן from Judah A. Joffe and Yudel Mark, Groyser verterbukh fun der yidisher shprakh, vol.  1, NY 1961, p. 174.

  4. Entry for the Toysfes Yontef (Yomtov Lipman Heller, ±1579–1654) in Simkhe Petrushka’s Folks-entsiklopedye (Montreal 1949).

  5. Excerpt from 19th century trilingual edition (Hebrew-Aramaic-Yiddish + commentaries) of the Book of Psalms, for first passages of Psalm 130

  6. General background from instructor’s Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish: on Yiddish dialects (pp. 14-154); on Hasidism in the history of Yiddish (pp. 154-172); on more recent debates (pp. 375-392). Advanced students interested in the instructor’s views on various stylistic details are invited to visit his page on the subject, and to look at his related  book. See also a codification of the modern Yiddish literary orthography  variant more compatible with traditionalist communities.

Materials for Session 2 (11 July 2021)

  1. Further excerpts from the magazine הונדערט (Hindert/Hundert), issue for 6 June 2021, dding the genrest (a) Travel Log, (b) Jewish history of a European city, (c) page of prizes awarded to children for different genres of Yiddish essays to 

  2. Excerpts from the “mixed” Hasidic (+ some secular Yiddish impact) handbook, The Easy Weezy Guide to Yiddish.

  3. A twelve-year-old boy’s  poem in the journal Máyles.


Aspects of Alphabet, Diacritics, Orthography

  • Semitic attitude toward the alphabet as:

  • letters of the alphabet (conceived as: ancient, primeval, permanent, unchanging)

  • בראשית ברא

  • conceptually distinct from 

  • diacritics added usually below or above letters (variable according to context, need, style)

  • בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא

  • This is in sharp contrast with Western concept of a ‘letter of the alphabet’ comprising letter with or without a fixed diacritic, together comprising a conceptually unified entity (e.g. French é, German ü, Czech/Lithuanian š). Persistence of diacritics as distinct entities in Semitic languages contrasts with their Western status as inseparable parts of (individual, usually historically added-on) letters.

  • In the history of Yiddish: Wholly Semitic patterning until German-Jewish adaptation of אָ (komets-alef) and אַ (pasekh-alef) for Germanized texts (from the late eighteenth century) later adopted into  later 19th century East European Yiddish, where אַ and אָ were joined by פּ (dogesh-pey, pey with a dot to be distinguished as [p] from unmarked פ = [f]). This threesome became a “minimal package” of “three new letters” in the European spirit of clear separate vowels and have served as the most universal features of all Yiddish publishing (and much writing) for around a century and a half.

  • Cf. Old Yiddish:

  • זך (\זאך); בארד; פונקט

  • vs. pan-Modern Yiddish

  • זאַך; באָרד;  פּונקט

  • In many educational and academic circles, from the 1920s onward,  ײַ was added for [vowel 34] Northern [ay] (vs. [ey]) and Southern [a:] vs. [ay], e.g. ווײַס ‘white’ vs. [vowel 22/24] ווייס ‘(I’) know’ (which yields Northern [ey] and Southern [ay]). The upshot: Universal Yiddish ended up with three or four “Western” symbols comprising fixed ‘letter+diacritic’ that function as single ‘new letter’. The use of komets-alef אָ, pasekh-alef אַ and pey mit a pintl פּ became universal spanning all ideologies, styles and camps. By contrast pasekh tsvey yudn  became emblematic for Yiddishist educational, academic and increasingly (to a lesser extent and more slowly) some literary circles and publishers. In the US published works of master prose writer Chaim Grade, for example, the universal threesome (of אָ ,אַ, and פּ)  was joined by  pasekh tsvey yudn (ײַ) in his later published works of the 1960s and 1970s.

  • Soviet Yiddish orthography (1920s, codified 1928), followed by Yivo orthography (1930s, codified 1937), both in a spirit of anti-traditionalist (= anti-religious) radicalism  added the ‘new letters’ (fixed letter+diacritic symbols): וּ (for [u] in certain positions), יִ (in certain positions), and בֿ and פֿ (cf. classic 20th century Yiddish literature פריאיקע וואונטשן vs. the secularists’ codified פֿריִיִקע וווּנטשן). The irony of radicalism via ancient Hebrew diacritics (vowel points) historically introduced for religious (biblical) texts is instructive on the significance for symbology of the cultural contextual result rather than the “physical” origin.

  • In 21st century Hasidic Yiddish publications:

  • Two major options for everyday use:

  • (a) following classic  20th century secular Yiddish norms by using just אַ  ,אָ  and פּ, or

  • (b) using no diacritics at all (as per Hebrew for adults and/or seasoned readers), continuing the oldest traditions of Hebrew and Aramaic going back thousands of years, wherein native speakers of Semitic languages knew the words from the consonantal text alone. Fast forwarding to the largely Indo-European (Germanic) language Yiddish,

אַראָפּ or אראפ?

  • For children:

  • Full Hebrew pointing for pupils (as per Hebrew for children and in the classic religious Yiddish translation/commentary texts of 19th century Eastern Europe that gave rise to the modern Yiddish literary language in the first place).

  • The upshot? The overriding conclusion is that published Hasidic Yiddish maintains, in mainstream use for adults, the classic Semitic/Hebrew/Aramaic tradition of no diacritics, alongside occasional use of the three pan-Yiddish combination letter-with diacritics (אַ , אָ  and פּ) as per virtually all Yiddish publications (regular or secular) from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth century.

  • Orthography (salient points only)

  • Silent áyin:

  • Old Yiddish and the new 19th century East European Religious Printed Yiddish did not have a silent ע (ayin). It was ether orthographic ø (zero) or yud (לאכן and 19th century לאכ(י)ן or לַאכִין). The radical, socialist, daytshmerizing movements introduced ע on the model of modern German, giving e.g. זאָגען and קומען (in place of זאָגן and קומן or זאָגין and קומין). This ע, retained in the secular Yiddish press through the 1970s and 1980s, was a symbol of radical worldliness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth  century, and of the genre of the dynamic mass media newspaper thereafter (of secular and religious papers alike, with very few exceptions, e.g. New York’s leftist Frayhayt).

  • However, from 1920 (year of publication of Zalmen Reyzen’s grammar and the 1920 school conference in the new Polish Republic), building on Ber Borokhov’s 1913 proposed reform, modern literary, educational and academic Yiddish deleted the silent  ע except where Borokhov kept it: after מ, after נ, and the combinations נג  and נק (by extension: after syllabic ל and a stressed final vowel, though in these cases the ayin is not silent).. This remains literary Yiddish orthography to this day: זוכן and וויסן but: קומען (after מ), געפינען (after נ), זינגען  (after נג), זינקען (after נק).

  • For much of the 20th century, however, the same “silent áyin” (דער שטומער עין) that started its Yiddish life as a symbol of ant-religious radicalism and socialism, had become the symbol of Haredi/Hasidic conservatism (with its secularist origin being no problem!), esp. once the secular Yiddishists had dumped it! It is a telling chapter in the history of linguistic and orthographic symbolism.

From the late 20th century, many Hasidic publications themselves dropped the silent áyin, either in accordance with the secular Yiddishist Borokhov-Reyzen rules (לאַכן but קומען), or everywhere (giving לאכן and קומן).

  • The ending יג / -יק and אונדז / אונז

  • Old Yiddish constantly used -יג- for the adjectival ending, and אונז for ‘us’.

  • The Yiddish academic, educational and ultimately literary world’s attachment to the modernized  post-1920 spellings of the ending יק- (~in place of older יג-) and the possessive objective plural pronoun אונדז remained, in general, anathema to Haredi/Hasidic publications, and they retain יג- and אונז. These two details have acquired emotive status for both camps as symbols of traditionalism vs. radicalism, second only to the traditional Haredi world’s uncompromising aversion to the ultra-radical reforms of Soviet and Yivo spelling (three consecutive vovs (e.g. וווּ for וואו and פּרוּוון for פּרואוון), two consecutive yuds designating ii (פֿריִיִק for פריאיק), and three yuds sequentially (e.g. שטיייִק for שטייאיק). In all such cases, the radical modernists ditching of the thousand year old silent alef led (a) to the unreadable sequences, and then to (b) their being fixed by the “Europeanizing” solution of introducing וּ and יִas “new letters” that must always be produced, in handwriting and print, with the diacritic. Both the problem created and the solution imposed remain anathema not only to the modern Haredi and traditionalist eye, but had the same effect on most late twentieth century Yiddish authors. The Yivo spelling became “standard” in secular clubs and settings only after the collapse of the infrastructure of secular Yiddish publishing in America. See the relevant chapters in the instructors Amended Amendments: Issues in Yiddish Stylistics (Oxford 1993, available free online). The instructor also edited a codification of the more traditional branch of modern literary Yiddish spelling, beloved of most great authors, and proposed as a bridge with Haredi spelling in an effort to unify the two by minimizing the differences between them (Code of Yiddish Spelling, Oxford 1992, available free online).

  • Various Details

  • Use of עה for ey:

  • For Hasidic readers of all but fully pointed materials for children, the digraph two yuds (tsvey yudn) can represent Hasidic Yiddish ay (as in vays ‘(I) know’, vowel 22, standard Yiddish veys) or Hasidic Yiddish a: (as in va:s ‘white’, vowel 34, standard Yiddish vays). For native speakers, the digraph two yuds without diacritics serves well (just as it did for most secular Yiddish writers through to the end of the twentieth century). What is however not acceptable to the Hasidic Yiddish eye is the use of two yuds for vowel 25, Hasidic Yiddish ey (as in beytn ‘ask for’, vowel 25, standard Yiddish betn). Historically vowel 25 was written and in the overwhelming majority of cases continues to be designed by simple ayin (ע), which easily carries the load of 25 as well as 21 (pan Yiddish betn ‘beds’). The issue  arises in those cases of Hasidic ey  which for various reasons secular Yiddish represented with two yuds. This explains Hasidic Yiddish retention of daytshmerish-era עה (ayin hey) to designate a long e: (realized as [ei], transcribed ey). In other words Hasidic Yiddish orthographic עה represents ey, avoiding the use of two yuds, whose coverage is already full what with vowels 22 and 34.

  • Use of apostrophes:

  • Another feature inherited from secularist Yiddish of the late nineteenth century onward, and persisting in the daily press through late in the twentieth century, thoush shunned by academic, educational and literary circles since the early interwar period, are apostrophes denoting possession and marking contractions, e.g. פונ’ם (corresponding to standard Yiddish פונעם)  or נאָכ’ן (corresponding to standard נאָכן).

Materials for Session 3 (25 July 2021)

  1. Three samples of the Mame-loshn column in the magazine מעלותAs PDF.

  2. Two extracts (poem plus advice column) from the 7 July 2021 issue of בחצרות סאַטמאַר. As PDF.

Materials for Session 4 (1 August 2021)

  1. Advertisement-style exhortation in the magazine Momént to husbands to avoid letting their eyes go astray when they are out, so that they can return home to their families in the appropriate happy spirit. As PDF.

  2. Advertisement in the magazine Máyles for purchase of slide show on the history of the Titanic for women’s and  girls’ study groups. As PDF.

  3. Children’s cartoon from the Itsi, Pitsi and Tsipi series in the magazine 100.  Pitsi may have gone over the top when she figures out a brilliant way to make her little brother Itsi correct his aggressive, angry behavior. As PDF.

  4. Continuation from the previously read cartoon series for Jewish history lessons on the arrest of the Toysfes Yontov from the magazine 100. As PDF.

  5. Advertisement on “creating your own masterpiece” in design, in the spirit of “every person according to their own desire” (Esther 1: 8). As PDF.

  6. Page of warning against myths and self-delusions about the vaccines for covid-19. Seven points of misinformation are listed and countered. As PDF.

  7. Introduction to the dictionary Milon Lisfat Yidish and sample of a sing page contrasting the definition of oysgehaltn with that in Mrs. A. Roth’s Yidish verter oytser (email provided in the book for inquiries: The Milon lists “Land of Israel, 5771” (2010-2011) as place and date of publication. There is no author’s name as such noted, but copyright is asserted by Yutta Rivka Shtein for whom two telephone numbers are provided on the reverse title page (03-6768085 and 050-4173-774). Cover & single sample page as PDF.

Materials for Session 5 (8 August 2021)

  1. Detailed readings of the rabbinic response in בחצרות סאַטמאַר to a reader asking what to do in the event of a competitor in his own field opening up a nearby business and perhaps violating his rights in Jewish law and lore.  Exploration of the rabbinic and folkloric sources cited and comparison with use in modern Yiddish literature.

  2. Excerpts from poems, language teaching pages and an article on a delicious Passover product that was just too expensive to purchase before the holiday (and the author’s skillful treatment of suspense in everyday life) in the magazine בנות ציון.





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