Page 112 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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grammatical, dialectical and ideological variants of the
to trace this critical process.
The popularity of the
did not abate during the
Golden Age o f m ode rn secu lar Y iddish l i te ra tu re (ca.
1880’s—ca. 1930’s). Scholarly work on the Yiddish literature of
the older period was undertaken by Alfred Landau and Max
Gruenbaum in the 1890’s and by Eleazar Schulmann in 1913.
However it was Sh. Niger’s ground-breaking essay
Di yidishe
literatur un di lezerin
[Yiddish Literature and the Female Reader],
which first appeared in Vilna in 1913, that set the tone for
much of the criticism of the nineteen twenties and thirties.25
appealed particularly to critics such as Niger,
Erik and Zinberg not only because they were ideologically at­
tuned to the author’s commitment to the common people but
also because of their conception of the role of Yiddish literature
and of Jewish women. These critics were secularist, socialist and
feminist— the products of revolutionary times. Their attitude
toward women was colored by their reading of classical Russian
literature as well as the historic role played by women in the
revolutionary movement in Russia. They saw the 16th and 17th
century homiletic and religious Yiddish literature as a means
of leading Jewish women from darkness to light. The Yiddish
folk literature, they argued, was a
[a preceptress] which
acted as a bridge between women and the holy books in Hebrew
that were primarily the domain of the male religious elite. Par­
ticularly they saw the author of the
as the Emanci­
pator of the women of his age and of future generations. Erik
likens the author of the
to Martin Luther because,
like Luther’s translation of the Bible, Ashkenazi’s translation
from the privileged languages, Latin and Hebrew to the ver­
nacular German and Yiddish made the Bible accessible to com­
mon folk.26 Niger proclaims that the
became the
25. Sh. Niger, “Di yidishe literatur un di lezerin,” rpt. o f 1913 in
Bleter geshikhte
fun deryidisher literatur,
vol.2 (New York: Sh. Niger Book Committee, 1959)
26. Max Erik, Di geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur fun di eltste tsaytn biz
der haskole tkufe, rpt. o f Danzig 1927 and Vilna 1928 (New York: Congress
for Jewish Culture, 1979) 230.
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