Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Talmud and Yiddish

At first glance the Talmud would appear to be a monumental work of very limited significance. That is, it would appear that interest is mainly generated for a very limited scope of understanding. In part this is true, but I would suggest that the Talmud holds the wide variety of applications. That is, it can be consulted for more than just the specifics of Jewish law. One very fascinating point of interest is the fact that the Talmud represents in some ways the embryo of modern spoken Yiddish. Of course, it is true that the Talmud is primarily written in Hebrew and Aramaic, however as it continued to be used in other language contexts it also helped form and inform the language of Yiddish. Michael Wex explains that “from a linguistic point of view the Talmud is nothing less than Yiddish in utero. The Jews who initiated the transmutation of Germany into Yiddish wore those Jews most deeply connected to Jewish law, people for whom the categories and mental processes of halokhe, of Jewish law, were practically second nature.”[1] So if one is to begin to study the Talmud, one is able to begin to peer into the worldview that is present in most Yiddish. The question that is outstanding is: to what extent do language and worldview relate? Under what conditions do a language form a worldview?

[1] Born to Kevtch: Yiddish language and culture in all of its moods, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2005), 15