The Great Jewish Language War
Man trakht un got lakht: man thinks and God laughs, the Yiddish saying goes. I grew up thinking of Yiddish as an enemy and am now (among other things) a translator of Yiddish litera- ture. It was a hidden enemy, I should add, because as a boy in New York in the 1950′s, I could not have said what the precise menace was of a language that arrived harmlessly at the front door every morning in the form of the Morgn Zhurnal, the daily Yiddish newspaper that my father subscribed to along with the New York Times. It was from the Morgn Zhurnal, which copied most of its news from the Times of the day before, that I learned Yiddish. Equipped with the previous day’s Times, the German I was study- ing in high school, and a good Hebrew education, I taught myself to read it.
About the Author
Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a veteran contributor to COMMENTARY. Portions of the present essay were delivered at Northwestern University in March as the Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.