Page 45 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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LANDIS/ YIDDISH THEATRE
35
century, more precisely in its last quarter.”6 He did not preclude
the possibility of sporadic performances of playlets or enter­
tainments whose texts have not been preserved. But he regarded
Purim plays as “a chapter of the pre-history of Yiddish theater
art.” His argument with Shipper and the bulk of the other his­
torians and critics is not at all semantic. If the modern Yiddish
theater does not derive from
badkhn
and Purim play, what are
its sources? Since Jewish synagogue service did not give birth
to a liturgical drama which could absorb secular elements and
in turn give birth to a secular drama, the source of modern
Yiddish theater must be found elsewhere. “If Yiddish theater
arose at a given moment,
it could occur only in accordance
with a foreign example;
it had to be unconditionally sec­
ular. . . .”7 (i.e., since Christian religious examples would have
been unpalatable to a Jewish audience). It was modern European
drama, he contended, not the Purim play, that provided the
stimulus for the creation of the modern Yiddish theater.8
It is true that the Purim plays provided neither scripts nor
actors for the theatrical efforts that proliferated after Gold­
faden’s initial efforts. For however long the Purim plays had
satisfied the needs of the Jewish masses for theatrical entertain­
ment, they constitute a separate chapter. The modern Yiddish
theater, like all others, as a secular cultural phenomenon, began
with new material and arose when historic social and economic
forces made its emergence possible. In modern Europe, a Yiddish
theater was not possible until the breakup of the isolated shtetl
world, as a result of the transition of Russia from a semi-feudal
to an industrial economy. Even without clerical hostility, the
shtetl could not support a theater. Only with the emergence of a
modern economic base in the large cities where Jews lived, with
access to European culture, modern ideologies, and new social
and economic pressures, were the conditions present which
might support a Yiddish theater. This is another expression
of the paradox that lies at the heart of all of modern Yiddish
6 Noyakh Prilutsky, “Farvos Iz dos Yidishe Teater Oyfgekumen Azoy Shpet,”
Yivo Bleter,
XXII (September-October 1945) 101.
7 Ibid. 100.
8 His position in this regard is similar to that of David Pinski in his
brilliant but neglected
Dos Idishe Drama
(N. Y., 1909), that the
badkhonim
“were the precursors of the Yiddish theater,” (p. 6) rather than its direct
forebears.