By Aya Elyada
Elyada’s research of a variety of philological and theological works, in addition to textbooks, dictionaries, ethnographical writings, and translations, demonstrates that Christian Yiddishism had implications past its basically linguistic and philological dimensions. certainly, Christian texts on Yiddish demonstrate not just the ways that Christians perceived and outlined Jews and Judaism, but in addition, in a contrasting vein, how they considered their very own language, faith, and culture.
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Extra resources for A Goy Who Speaks Yiddish: Christians and the Jewish Language in Early Modern Germany
Some of these trainees were later employed by the institute as “traveling missionaries”: they were to travel among the Jewish populations, first of Germany and Eastern Europe and later of Northern Europe and the Levant; initiate conversations on religious matters; and distribute the books published by the institute. Since advanced linguistic skills were considered a prerequisite for any missionary fieldwork, the training of would-be missionaries, usually young students of theology at the University of 27 28 Yiddish in the Service of Christian Theology Halle, included instruction in the different target languages, especially Yiddish.
In fact, Yiddish attracted the attention of German, mainly Protestant, scholars precisely because of these two attributes: that it was a Jewish language, and that it included a significant Hebrew component. Accordingly, proficiency in Yiddish was promoted among Christians, especially among theologians, for three main reasons: to missionize among the Jews, to read Jewish literature in this language, and to use Yiddish as an aid in the study of Hebrew and the biblical text. Each of these reasons presents a different aspect of the relation between philology and theology, and of the attempt of Protestant scholars to use the philological knowledge of Yiddish for their own theological purposes.
This is true for works which circulated mainly among scholars and also, especially from the late seventeenth century, for works with a more popular orientation. In addition, there were many scholars who did not publish specifically on Yiddish but learned the Jewish language, used it in their works, and commented on it on different occasions. Among these scholars were Christoph Helwig (Helvicus), Johann Andreas Eisenmenger, and Johann Gottlob Carpzov. 3 Although closely linked to Christian Hebraism, “Christian Yiddishism” constituted a cultural phenomenon in its own right.