Yiddish's strengths

January 23, 1998

"An Oksforder's Blues" referred to the Oxford Institute for Yiddish Studies (THES, January 16) yet we were surprised that no one contacted us for information.

Jim Reed and Dov-Ber Kerler are both friends of Dovid Katz, therefore, it is not surprising that neither of them referred to our institute. However, Professor Reed, who is not a Yiddish scholar, equated our institute to the Hollywood studio system, where international stars are its raison d'etre.

The institute's existence is not based on "stars", whoever they are, but to promote and secure the existence of Yiddish language, literature and culture into the next millennium.

To this end the institute is hosting the largest international conference on Yiddish held in Europe since before the war, at Worcester College, Oxford this year, as well as an international teachers' seminar and summer programme.

The picture of Yiddish scholarship presented by Dan Cohn-Sherbok is unjust. Yiddish studies has been an established academic field in the United States and Israel for more than 40 years. It is being taught in universities in Europe, including the School of Oriental and African Studies.

The field is no "private imaginary world based on the tiny village ... on the banks of the Viliya river", and does not need a lone rescuer, even if he possesses "a hundred-year plan for saving Yiddish scholarship from extinction".

Professor Cohn-Sherbok writes that Yiddish is "a dialect of German with Slavic and Hebrew additions". If there is one thing about which all Yiddish scholars agree, including Dr Katz, it is that Yiddish is a language in its own right, not a dialect of German. Its parameters extend far beyond Professor Cohn-Sherbok's "pathetic handful of survivors ... and thousands of black hat, black jacket Hasidim".

Marie Wright, Gennady Estraikh, Mikhail Krutikov

Oxford Institute for Yiddish Studies

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