Page 114 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
nevertheless concluded that “as the lot of the Jewish woman
in traditional society, so was the lot of Yiddish literature.”28
VIEW OF ‘FEMININE STYLE
No doubt Zinberg, Erik and Niger may be faulted for using
a generalized, imprecise and impressionistic vocabulary to de­
scribe the “feminine style” of the
Tsene-rene
and the other ex­
amples of Yiddish literature for women. These earlier critics
used terms like intimate, soft, lyrical, private, concrete, not uni­
versal to describe the Yiddish literature for women in contrast
to the Hebrew literature for men which is seen as abstract, cold,
hard and dry. Such crude and simplistic differentiations would
be rightfully rejected by modern linguists and other scholars.
However, Niger, Erik, Zinberg and their generation were se­
curely part of a culture that Max Weinreich would later describe
as “internally bilingual.”29Erik and Zinberg and countless other
Yiddish writers were convinced that a new efflorescence of Yid­
dish culture would occur in the Soviet Union and even Niger
thought so for a time.30 Both Erik, in 1937, and Zinberg, in
1939, perished in Soviet camps. The Yiddish culture that had
flourished for nine hundred years in Europe was destroyed
along with much of the bilingualism that was one of its essential
features. Nevertheless we owe the resurgence of interest in early
Yiddish religious literature and the subsequent outstanding
scholarship of the Weinreichs, Shmeruk and others to the pi­
oneering work of these socialist, secularist critics.
In addition to anticipating concepts that prefigure modern
feminist literary criticism such as the idea of the androgynous
author, Niger, in 1913 also developed the thesis that modern
Yiddish literature is a direct outgrowth of the “feminine” style
of the
Tsene-rene
and similar works.31 He, like Shmeruk in his
28. Weinreich, 277. Also Evelyn T. Beck, “The Three Faces o f Eve, Women,
Yiddish and I.B. Singer,”
Working Papers in Yiddish and East EuropeanJewish
Studies,
no. 169 (New York:YIVO, 1975); Sander L. Gilman,
Jewish Self-
Hatred; Antisemitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews
(Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins Press, 1986).
29. Weinreich, 247-314.
30. Although Niger edited a journal in Moscow after the 1917 revolution and
worked with Zinberg on a number o f projects, he was skeptical o f the Soviet
system and later had an impressive career in the U.S.
31. Niger, 53.