Page 106 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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Yankev ben Yitskhok Ashkenazi of Janow encouraged the
publication o f “godly” books. But unlike some of his colleagues,
the author of the
welcomed the advent of printing
with the enthusiasm of the populist. He was delighted with the
accessibility of the printed book, for now “all the people of the
land, both small and great, might themselves know and under­
stand how to read all of the
esrim v ’arba
[24 books of the
Bible] the earth is filled with knowledge and there is no
need for a maggid....For the people hear sermons in the syn­
agogues and do not understand what the sermon is. They speak
too rapidly in the synagogue, but in the book one can read
slowly, so that he himself will understand.” 7Elsewhere he fu r­
ther defines his audience: “One may really want to learn but
cannot because of the difficulties of earning a living. Especially
those who have been
yeshive bokhurim
before taking a wife. And
as soon as he marries he throws away the toyre and becomes
And when he becomes old he regrets it. And as
soon as he sees a
taytsh sefer
[a Yiddish book] he buys it and
thinks: let me also learn toyre.” And elsewhere in the same in­
troduction to
Melits yosher,
the author says of his earlier work.
“Because God helped me with
I have favored men
and women....all the world wants to learn from this work and
that is why it has been printed many more times than other
precious books.”8 What the author stresses throughout is the
need to disseminate widely the treasures of traditional Jewish
learning to the broadest possible audience regardless of gender
in a simple and entertaining manner. This democratization of
what had been under the hegemony of the scholarly male elite
made Yankev ben Yitskhok of Yanova and his
ticularly attractive to the radical reformers and socialists who
were among the most important critics of Yiddish literature in
the 1920’s and 30’s. This essay is a preliminary exploration of
the reception of the
through the centuries, its impact
on particular Yiddish literary scholars and their conceptions of
Yiddish literature, and on generations of male and female read­
Max Erik, Israel Zinberg and Jacob Shatzky have provided
7. Zinberg,
8. Shmeruk,
For Max Weinreich,