Why Study Yiddish?


A century ago, the University of Wisconsin-Madison became the first university in America to offer Yiddish language instruction when Professor Louis Bernard Wolfenson inaugurated Yiddish instruction on campus to seven students. Today, you can find Yiddish students, professors, and members of the campus community who share an interest in Yiddish—a Germanic language that Jews around the world have spoken continuously since the Middle Ages. Yiddish speakers also played a central role in the development of American popular culture, especially music, theater, and film. Today, there are nearly 1,000,000 Yiddish speakers spread out across the globe—from America, to Europe, to the Middle East—a population that is growing exponentially due to the use of Yiddish as the vernacular language of most Hasidic Jews.

Here in the department of German, Nordic, and Slavic, students can take courses that examine the history of Yiddish folksong, that trace the development of American, European, and Russian Yiddish literature and culture, and that examine the fascinating linguistics of Yiddish language. Graduate students from across departments are also able to enroll in a Yiddish course for reading and research. Undergraduate courses in Yiddish language are also on the horizon — stay tuned!

In addition to Yiddish courses in GNS, be sure to check out these local Yiddish resources around campus: