Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddishby Dovid Katz
Pub. Date: 05/28/2007
Publisher: Basic Books
Words on Fire offers a rich, engaging account of the history and evolution of the Yiddish language. Drawing on almost thirty years of scholarship, prominent Yiddish scholar Dovid Katz traces the origins of Yiddish back to the Europe of a thousand years ago, and shows how those origins are themselves an uninterrupted continuation of the previous three/i>
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A fascinating book that I couldn't put down. It raises issues about Jewish life and practices during the past thousand years, the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in Europe, the dispersion and wanderings of Jews across the old world, the relationship of men and women in Jewish culture, the role of talmudic scholars in controlling the spread of knowledge, as well as telling the story of the development of Yiddish as a language.
This is an extraordinary and compelling book. I received it as a birthday present and expected a somewhat dry discussion of a subject in which I have some personal interest. Instead I was captivated by a story of the Yiddish language presented as a vivid, very human history of the Ashkinazi Yiddish speaking Jewish communities offered as a guidepost to the evolution of the Yiddish language. The writing sparkles and while I lack the background to comment on the scholarship of the contents, from the depth and breadth of the information offered, I sense it is formidable. Rather than a one or two-hundred year story of relatively recent Jewish speaking communities, the book traces Yiddish back to its roots in Germany about a thousand years ago, following the expansion and migration of the Ashkenazi Jewish communities from Germany into Eastern Europe and the resulting evolution of, as well as tensions in, both language and culture. It offers insight into both the everyday lives of European Jews and into the rabbinic influences, and into the manner in which each influenced or was influenced by the evolving Yiddish language and culture. For anyone interested in Yiddish, in Jewish culture or in a little-explored piece of European and Jewish history, this is a must read.