Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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Jewish Nationalist Thought in Yiddish
h e
id d i s h
l a n g u a g e
which served as the principal means of
communication of the overwhelming majority of the Jewish
people un til the Holocaust, has also been a major factor in the
renaissance of the Jewish national spirit in modern times. Yiddish
literature was, to a very large degree, dominated by nationalist
concerns and by nationalist ideologies of various types. A large
body of original nationalist thought was produced in the lan­
guage and the key writings of virtually all Jewish nationalist
writers in other languages (Hebrew, German, Russian, French
and English) were quickly translated into Yiddish and owe their
dissemination and popularity chiefly to these Yiddish transla­
tions. I t is no exaggeration to say that the growth of Zionism
and the eventual establishment of Israel are in large measure
the results of Jewish nationalist literature in its Yiddish garb.
I t was the Haskalah movement in Germany, Galicia and Russia
which in the la tter half of the eighteenth and in the nineteenth
centuries produced the first writers to use Yiddish as a means of
modern literary expression. The disdain for Yiddish of Moses
Mendelssohn and Solomon Maimon could not deter other serious
Haskalah writers from using i t even in Germany (Isaac Eichel,
Aaron Wolfson). In Galicia and Russia some
m a sk ilim
went so
far as to consider Yiddish a positive national asset (Jacob Samuel
Bik, Yehoshua Mordecai Lifshitz, Alexander Zederbaum). Early
Jewish socialists had to turn to Yiddish to convey their ideas to
the masses (Aaron Lieberman, Morris Winchevsky) and even­
tually the Jewish Labor Bund of Russia and Poland (established
in 1897) came to view Yiddish as one of the major components
of Jewish identity. Despite the controversy between pro-Hebrew
and pro-Yiddish factions in Zionism, the utilization of Yiddish
as the chief vehicle of Zionist propaganda enhanced the status
of the language and furthered its development significantly.
Yitzkhok Leybush Peretz (1852-1915), the “father” of modern
Yiddish literature, was also one of the most influential Jewish
thinkers of modern times. Peretz became the guiding spirit of