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Yiddish is a word that has been in use since the latter nineteenth century. We will examine the definition of the word Yiddish, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Yiddish is a language developed and used by Jews. Yiddish is a combination of Hebrew, Aramaic, High German and Middle German as well as other modern Romance languages. The Yiddish language began in the ninth century, primarily in eastern Europe and central Europe as a language used for commerce and conversation. Though primarily spoken outside the synagogue, Yiddish uses the Hebrew alphabet. At one time considered a dialect in the community of the Ashkenazi Jews, the use of Yiddish spread over time. By the 1800s Yiddish literature and Yiddish theater blossomed. Sholem Aleichem wrote many stories in the Yiddish language, some concerning Tevye the Dairyman. These stories were the inspiration for the popular musical Fiddler on the Roof. Isaac Bashevis Singer is a Yiddish writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978. Many English words and expressions are derived from Yiddish words. For instance zaftig, which means plump, is derived from Yiddish word saftig, which means juicy. Yenta is a borrowed or loan word from Yiddish and means a busybody. Nosh is another loan word, and means snack. Other Yiddish words that are widely known and used in English are klutz, kvetch, schlock, dreck, chutzpah and kosher .

Before World War II and the Holocaust, there were as many as thirteen million European Jews who spoke Yiddish. Today there are one to two million Yiddish speakers, world-wide. Yiddish speakers emigrated before and after World War II, bringing their language and culture with them. However, assimilation into new cultures meant a decline in the use of Yiddish among their descendants. Those who speak Yiddish are primarily found in Israel, Russia and the United States. Yiddish is spoken in the homes of many Hasidic and Orthodox Jews. There is a new resurgence in interest in Judaica, Jewish people and Jewish culture. Academic programs for Jewish studies investigate the language and literature of the Jews, even requiring students to learn Yiddish, as well as learning to read and write in the Yiddish language. Yiddish music is being preserved. Several newspapers and periodicals are published in Yiddish. The Yiddish Book Center finds and preserves older literary works in the Yiddish language, translating them and making them available electronically.  The word Yiddish is derived from yidish, which is in turn derived from the High German word jüdisch which means Jewish. Note that Yiddish is properly rendered with a capital letter.


A medieval Jewish manuscript bearing the oldest known example of the Yiddish language is making a rare public appearance at Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem ahead of the High Holidays. (Forward Magazine)

Musicologist Gila Flam, an expert in Yiddish music, who helped to find the original lyrics and melodies, recalls that she was astonished by the quartet’s initiative to revive the forgotten songs, but was also apprehensive about it. (Haaretz)

Olga enrolled in a course on Yiddish music organized by Warsaw’s Shalom Foundation, eventually deciding it would be her mission to bring Yiddish back to the Jewish people — especially young Ashkenazim unfamiliar with the mamaloshen, or mother tongue, of their ancestors. (The Cleveland Jewish News)

The collective represented just a handful of the over 100 scholars, enthusiasts, and Jewish community advocates from 12 countries around the world that assembled earlier this month for the International Commemorative Conference of Yiddish Culture and Language in western Ukraine. (The Times of Israel)