Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish

Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish

by Dovid Katz
     
 

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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 threeSee more details below

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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 millennia of Jewish history and culture in the Near East. Words on Fire narrates the history of the language from medieval times onward, through its development as written literature, particularly for and by Jewish women. In the wake of secularizing and modernizing movements of the nineteenth century, Yiddish rose spectacularly in a few short years from a mass folk idiom to the language of sophisticated modern literature, theater, and journalism. Although a secular Yiddish culture no longer exists, Katz argues that its resurgence among religious Jewish communities ensures that Yiddish will still be a thriving language in the twenty-first century. For anyone interested in Jewish history and tradition, Words on Fire will be a definitive account of this remarkable language and the culture that created and sustained it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Yiddish was the common language of central European Jewry before the Holocaust. The catastrophic loss of millions of Yiddish speakers has led to the impression that Yiddish is a dying, if not dead, language. Not so, claims Katz, head of the Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University, and in this ambitious, comprehensive and entertaining history he makes clear not only its past but its future. Most scholars claim that Yiddish began around A.D. 900, but Katz argues that many elements can be found "in a continuous language chain that antedated ancient Hebrew, progressed through Hebrew, and then Jewish Aramaic." Katz clearly explicates not only Yiddish's linguistic history, but how it helped shape, and was shaped by, Jewish culture. Much of the history is fascinating-for instance, 16th-century rabbis, worried that the printing press would allow women access to secular popular European stories, offered sacred writings in popular forms (plays and prose based on biblical themes and midrashic tales) that shaped Yiddish literature for centuries. Katz argues that Yiddish will continue as a spoken language not because of conscious efforts to "save" it (which, he writes, can "border on the downright meshuga") but because of the rapid growth of Yiddish-speaking ultra-Orthodox movements. This scholarly work is quite readable and a strong contribution to the ongoing academic and popular interest in Yiddish. B&w illus, maps. Agent, Scott Mendel of Mendel Media Group. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465037308
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
05/28/2007
Pages:
512
Sales rank:
1,373,164
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

What People are saying about this

Ruth Gay
This is a book whose time has come. Dovid Katz presents the complex and international origins of Yiddish over a thousand years in a delightfully readable narrative that belies the enormous scholarship in many languages that underlies his work.
—(Ruth Gay, author of The Jews of Germany: A Historical Portrait and Unfinished People: Eastern European Jews Encounter America)
Elie Wiesel
Dovid Katz's book on Yiddish reflects the beauty, the variety, and the warmth of a language that refuses to be extinguished. Its miraculous survival brings joy to its readers.
Alan Dershowitz
I love this book. It's a treasure trove of nostalgia and a beacon of hope. It warmed my heart to read how the rich emotional Yiddish jargon became an elegant language of literature; then it broke my heart to read about the near-total destruction of Yiddish civilization, one of the great cultures of the world. This book revives hope that Yiddish will still flourish, even in a small way.
Jonathan Safran Foer
"Words On Fire is not only a great history, it's a great read. Dovid Katz writes with the precision of a scholar, and the heart of a poet.
—(Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything Is Illuminated)

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