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Czernowitz Yiddish Language Conference


CZERNOWITZ YIDDISH LANGUAGE CONFERENCE , first international, interparty conference to deal with the role of Yiddish in Jewish life. It was held from August 30 to September 4, 1908. The idea of such a conference was first broached by Nathan *Birnbaum, and the original call was sent out by an organizing committee in New York consisting of Birnbaum, dramatists Jacob *Gordin and David *Pinski, the publisher A.M. Evalenko, and the philosopher Chaim *Zhitlowsky. The 70 delegates who went to Czernowitz (Chernovtsy), the principal Yiddish-speaking center of Bukovina, included representatives of all shades of Jewish opinion, from Zionist Hebraists to militant Bundists, and such diverse personalities as I.L. *Peretz, Abraham *Reisen, Sholem *Asch, H.D. *Nomberg, Noah *Prylucki, Matthias *Mieses, Mordecai *Spector, Gershom *Bader, and Esther (Lifshitz). The two leading Yiddish authors, S.Y. *Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Seforim) and *Shalom Aleichem, prevented by illness from attending the conference, endorsed its aims. The agenda included problems of orthography, grammar, literature, theater, press, translation of the Bible into Yiddish, and, above all, recognition of Yiddish as a national language of the Jewish people. Controversy raged between delegates who espoused Hebrew as the only Jewish national language and who looked upon Yiddish as a galut ("Diaspora") language to be discarded, and delegates who regarded Yiddish as the living Jewish language and Hebrew as the language solely of the past and of prayer. After long debates, a compromise resolution was adopted proclaiming Yiddish as a national language and asking for its political, cultural, and social equality with other languages. By using the expression "a national language" rather than "the national language," the conference wished to leave participants free to take any stand on Hebrew that accorded with their personal convictions. The conference aroused much discussion in the Jewish press. *Aḥad Ha-Am called it a Purim spectacle. Hillel *Zeitlin, Reuben *Brainin, and Morris *Rosenfeld ridiculed it, while S. *Niger and *Ba'al-Makhshoves defended it as an historic achievement. After the conference, Peretz, Asch, Reisen, and Nomberg undertook a tour of Jewish communities of Galicia and Bukovina to intensify interest in Yiddish language, literature, and culture. The conference heightened the prestige of Yiddish. It stimulated literary creativity, research, and publication in Yiddish, and laid the ideological basis for the later founding of *yivo.


yivo, Die Ershte Yidishe Shprakhkonferents (1931); S. Liptzin, Flowering of Yiddish Literature (1963), 175–7.

[Sol Liptzin]

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