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The Emancipation of Yiddish

Roskies, David G.

The Nahman-Perl rivalry is an exemplum of the dialectic between continuity and change, integration and rebellion, that has structured the basic patterns of controversy in all forms of the Jewish spirit for the past two hundred years. It is the great debate on Emancipation and its discontents. The sudden access to modern life effected by Emancipation gave rise to an intoxicated embrace of the new and rejection of the old, but fears of the eventual consequences of this embrace in turn fostered a spirit of qualification that sought to preserve tradition in a modern age. Perhaps no area of Jewish life had so much invested in the promise of Emancipation, was so brutally crushed by its failure, and then revised its assumptions so profoundly, as Yiddish culture. It has been the particular fate of the study of Yiddish to continue after the loss of its cultural base. To examine the pattern of its rebirth against the backdrop of recent history is to discover how scholarship revived the essential debate after the culture itself was decimated, and to appreciate anew the relation of criticism to culture.

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Jewish Theological Seminary
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September 5, 2012