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By Dovid Katz (auth.)

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Among them were Jechiel Fischer (later, in Israel, Bin-Nun) and Nathan Ziskind. Ziskind 38 Yiddish and Power nevertheless felt the need to conclude his paper with a post-Holocaust tribute to the sanctity of Yiddish in Jewish life, as if the need to demonstrate that his linguistic opinion in favour of a later dating of the origin of Yiddish should not be misconstrued as implying a non-Yiddishist ideological position in mid-twentieth century Jewish life in New York City (see Fischer 1936/Bin-Nun 1973: 24–46, 61, 73–7; Ziskind 1953: 104–6).

A Yiddish Romance with Powerlessness 19 Ashkenazic Jewish trilingualism In addition to being conversant with at least one co-territorial non-Jewish vernacular, Ashkenazic civilization comprised three distinct Jewish languages (see Spolsky 2014). Only one of them, Yiddish, was spoken by all Ashkenazic Jews. The other two, inherited from the ancient Near East and imported, as it were, deep into Central Europe, were not vernacular but they were very far from being ‘dead languages’. Not only were the ancient, pre-Ashkenazic texts read, studied, recited and cited, but — and this is crucial — various kinds of scholars and writers continued without interruption to write new works in both.

It is the relationship of the non-scholarly reader to sacred and hallowed passages, whether to be studied in the Torah, or recited as prayer, or known from other traditional usages. It is decidedly not the ability to transfer the native knowledge of a language to the written medium. That could only happen in the one spoken Jewish language of Ashkenaz — Yiddish. And here we come to one of the most remarkable contrasts in written language. Difficult as Hebrew was, and immensely difficult as Aramaic was, for the majority of simple folk, the use of the same Jewish alphabet that everyone had studied for sacred purposes was splendidly easy and automatic fun for use with the vernacular.

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