A Treasury of Yiddish Stories

A Treasury of Yiddish Stories

A Treasury of Yiddish Stories

A Treasury of Yiddish Stories

Excerpt

". . . I would tell you, ladies and gentlemen, how much better you understand Yiddish than you suppose."--Franz Kafka.

In the eight or nine hundred years since the birth of the Yiddish language there has accumulated not only a rich heritage of oral folk literature but also a body of written materials: improvised prayers, religious commentaries, didactic tracts, autobiographical narratives, travel records, simplified Bible stories for women, and, in some instances, literary or quasi-literary works. But Yiddish literature--in the sense of a sequence of imaginative writings composed by individual artists who possess some awareness of their identity and role as artists--is hardly more than a hundred and fifty years old. Historically the position of this literature resembles that of underdeveloped countries which, beset by industrialism, try to compress into a few feverish decades the experience that for other nations has taken centuries. The decay of the religious community, the Enlightenment, the rise of individualism, the turn to bohemianism, the challenge of radical ideologies, the burden of alienation, the new appetite for cultural affirmation--all this, and more, which comprises the history of the modern intellect and is so sharply refracted in modern writing, has been pressed into the brief life of Yiddish literature.

It is a literature virtually unknown to Americans. The reasons for this neglect are many: translations that are often inadequate, because done by devoted non-literary people, or are twisted into sentimentality, because done by translators whose attitude toward Yiddish is one of familiar condescension; a body of criticism in English that has seldom risen above the level of special pleading; and a curious resistance, if people. There is, of course, another and more serious reason: the cultural distance between East European Jewry and Western society is much . . .

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