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Katz, Dovid


KATZ, DOVID (Heershadovid Menkes ; 1956– ), Yiddish linguist, author, and educator. Born in New York, son of Menke *Katz, he developed, while studying at Columbia University (1974–78), the idea of direct links between the Aramaic and Yiddish periods of Jewish linguistic history; at the University of London he specialized in historical phonology and dialectology (Ph.D. 1982). He founded and directed Yiddish Studies at Oxford University (1978–96), at the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies (1978–94), and was fellow at St. Antony's College (1986–97), founding the Winter Studies in Yiddish series (4 vols. 1987–91), and the Oksforder Yídish series (3 vols. 1990–95), initiating and editing the literary monthly Yiddish Pen (1994–96). He founded the Oxford Summer Programme in Yiddish Language and Literature (1982), which he later moved to Vilnius, Lithuania (from 1998). Following a visiting professorship at Yale University (1998–99), he took up a new chair in Yiddish at Vilnius University. After directing the new Center for Stateless Cultures (1999–2001), he helped establish the university's Vilnius Yiddish Institute (2001). He initiated Yiddish teachers' courses at Oxford (1996) and in Vilnius (2005), publishing Grammar of the Yiddish Language (1987) and Tíkney Takones: Fragn fun Yidisher Stilistik ("Amended Amendments: Issues in Yiddish Stylistics," 1993). He became known for his ardently descriptivist stance, challenging the "purist" school that developed in postwar New York; he also championed the more traditionalist version of modern Yiddish orthography in Klal-takones fun Yidishn Oysleyg ("Code of Yiddish Spelling," 1992). As Heershadovid Menkes he published three volumes of fiction: Eldra Don (1992), Der Flakher Shpits ("The Flat Peak," 1993) and Misnagdishe Mayses fun Vilner Gubernye ("Tales of the Misnagdim of Vilna Province," 1996). After experimenting with modern settings, he settled on pre-wwi Lithuanian Jewish settings, which earned critical acclaim. He became a regular contributor to Yidishe Kultur, Forverts and the Algemeyner Zhurnal. From 1990, he carried out expeditions to record the last native Yiddish in Lithuania, Latvia, northeastern Poland, and especially Belarus, collecting materials for a future atlas of Northeastern Yiddish. His Lithuanian Jewish Culture (2004) traces the cultural history of Lithuanian Jewry from its origins to the present. He co-edited the collected translations of his father's works (Menke: The Complete Yiddish Works in English Translation, 2005). A prolific scholar and writer, Katz published numerous studies on the historical sociology of Yiddish, the structure of Ashkenazi Hebrew and Aramaic, medieval rabbinic history, the history of Yiddish studies, and methodology in historical linguistics, with emphasis throughout on the history of ideas. For a more general readership, he published Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish (2004). Katz was awarded the 1979 Marshak Award in Yiddish Literature (Montreal), the 1995 Chaim Grade Award in Yiddish Culture (New York), the 1996 Zhitlovsky Prize in Yiddish Literature (New York), the 1997 Manger Prize in Yiddish Literature (Tel Aviv) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2001–2).


B.Z. Goldberg, Algemeyner Zhurnal (Sept. 1, 1972), 18; P. Slobodjans'kyj, Language, 64:4 (1988), 761–6; 67:1 (1991), 114; R.F. Shepard, New York Times (Apr. 6, 1991), 17; A. Karpinovich, Letste Nayes (Aug. 21, 1992), 8–14; ibid. (Aug. 6, 1993), 5; Lebns-fragn, 525–6 (1996), 16; S. Vorzoger, Letste Nayes (Nov. 13, 1992), 8; ibid. (May 7, 1993), 8–14; Tsukunft, 100/1 (1996), 19–22; L. Prager, Mendele Review, 08.010/149 (Oct. 29, 2004); J. Sherman, Times Literary Supplement (May 27, 2005), 22–3. website: : (bibl.).

[Dov-Ber Kerler (2nd ed.)]

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