Spanish is a loving tongue, goes the song, but not too many ever felt that way about Yiddish, right? Of course, right. Yet, just when ìchutzpahî was becoming as American as ìpizzaî or ìcroissant,î Time magazine is pulling the plug. No more Yiddish.New York magazineís Intelligencer (Feb. 1) reports Timeís editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine is asking Timeís writers to write only in English. You want Yiddish, buy the Algemeiner.Pearlstine says, ìItís not about Yiddish per se,î ó clearly forgetting that ìper seî isnít the Queenís English either. ìI feel the same way about Latin. I have a strong preference for using English in English-language publications. I donít particularly like voila or díaccord, or meshugge instead of crazy.î Pearlstine says that if a writer has to use Yiddish, he or she must understand it: ìIf you call someone a putz, you should know it doesnít just mean a stupid person.î
We know, and he is.This folly is not unlike the flurry in Washington D.C., where a city official had to resign for using the word ìniggardlyî in front of someone who didnít realize the word is benign and found in any dictionary. A dictionary might be useful to Timeís editor, says Devorah Telushkin, who translated many of Isaac Bashevis Singerís literature from Yiddish into English. She told The Jewish Week that, in the course of her work, she found that Websterís Third New International dictionary considered ìhundredsî of Yiddish words, some even obscure, to have passed through the linguistic Ellis Island; these words are no longer foreign or in need of translation: gilgul, golem, gehenom, dreidel, schnorrer, kibbitz, kreplach. … ìShouldnít a writer be allowed to use anything in Websterís?î Readers can use Websterís, too. Youíd think an editor would enjoy the fact that language is as free and as fluid as it is.nFor the past month, at least, stories about the religious divide in Israel have been filling U.S. newspapers and magazines. Some, such as Newsweek (Jan. 11), isolate the extremists to have a laugh on us all: On Newsweekís Perspective page, alongside goofy quotes from Washingtonís former mayor, Marion Barry; Jesse Venturaís wife; and cynical political cartoons, we find a quote from Orthodox Knesset member Rabbi Avraham Ravitz, that ìAllowing Reform rabbis to perform conversions is like allowing garage mechanics to perform conversions.îOf course, weíve yet to see American general interest publications highlighting similarly foolish quotes from the Reform camp. And there are plenty. You can find them by the dozen in Agudath Israelís Coalition newspaper, which features a monthly page of dubious quotes. Reform rabbis have lips as loose as the Orthodox, but you wouldnít know it from your average newsstand.
Even some of the more substantial articles on the subject, such as in The New York Times (Jan. 7), persist in seeing the debate through American denominational eyes. But these are Israeli elections. The denominational story has dwarfed, if not obliterated all together, the engine that has been has been driving Shas, and other religious parties: masses of poor and lower-middle-class Sephardim who are not particularly religious but whose economic needs are being met by the religious parties. Sephardim vote. In fact, they are 40 percent of Israelís Jewish population.In The New Republic (Jan. 25), Gershom Gorenberg, points out that Ashkenazi contempt and decades-long discrimination against the traditional ó but by no means haredi ó Sephardim has driven this group into the arms of Shas; a party that, in all likelihood, will play kingmaker after the elections.Sephardic Democratic Rainbow spokesman Moshe Karif admits to The New Republic that he is ambivalent about Shas for being too ìEastern Europeanî and ìtoo extremeî religiously, but at least Shas chooses to address Israelís social problems in a way leftist and secular parties donít.Nevertheless, youíd be hard pressed to find anything in the general or Jewish media that indicates the religious parties care about anything other than ìblackmailingî the Knesset for their own narrow interests.
Meanwhile, with the millennium coming and apocalyptics predicting the second coming of You-Know-Who, The Jewish Press is covering all bases. For years, itís been their policy to hyphenate Godís name (G-d) for traditional Orthodox reasons. So explain, would you, why on The Jewish Press front page (Jan. 8), the editors chose to hyphenate the name of ìJes–,î as if the carpenter from Nazareth was the Holy One, blessed be He? No Jewish publication, except The Jewish Press, gives Jesus the holy hyphen. These are strange days, indeed.