Yiddish is a thousand-year-old Germanic fusion language that was once spoken by most of the world’s Jews and spread to every continent. Although the number of Yiddish speakers has decreased dramatically following the disasters of the twentieth century, Yiddish is still the mother tongue of many Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities. It also remains the basis of dynamic secular culture and, increasingly, a feminist revival of folk religion. Harvard students arrive at Yiddish for diverse reasons, such as: to speak with family elders, revitalize endangered languages, connect with Hasidic communities, develop an artistic practice, research history and literature, or participate in queer-affirming radical counter-culture.
Whatever brings you to the program, you will encounter facets of Ashkenazi culture that will surprise you. Straddling the past and the present, we watch century-old films, shmues with current and former Hasidim, connect with contemporary Yiddishists, sing with Yiddish musicians, read classic literature, and play games. At the same time, students’ own diverse lives, experiences, and scholarly interests are major topics of in-class discussion.
Being a part of Harvard Yiddish Studies gives students a home base within Harvard. Within our program, students find a warm community of kind and talented friends who support and collaborate with each other beyond the classroom.
Harvard was one of the first campuses to pilot the In eynem textbook, which we use to introduce beginners to Yiddish as a dynamic living language grounded in centuries of rich culture. (Harvard students recently published a supplementary chapter to this book!) As students progress towards Advanced Yiddish, the curriculum adapts to their abilities and interests. Even if you are embarking on language-learning for the first time, the personal attention and communicative approach of our program will develop you as a Yiddish speaker who can use the language meaningfully in your personal and professional life. At the same time, we offer several courses that explore Yiddish culture in translation, from an introductory course on Yiddish culture to a seminar on the Yiddish short story.