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A Brief Introduction to Yiddish Literature

This course will introduce students to some of the greatest authors of the modern Yiddish literary tradition as it developed from the late 19th century onward—and will demonstrate that everything people think they know about Yiddish-speaking culture is wrong. Beginning with works by the “Three Classic Writers” Mendele Mokher-Seforim, Sholem Aleichem, and Y.L. Peretz, we will continue into the 20th century to explore poetry and fiction by authors responding to the dramatic upheavals and cataclysms of their time. The writings we will examine reflect the unique situation of Yiddish-speaking Jews, who worked in a language and culture under enormous and constant pressure. Utterly unlike literature in any other language, this collection of works is just a taste of this fantastically rich artistic tradition, whose clarity and candor provide an astonishing test case of the potential and limits of art in making sense of the world.



Sample Readings:

  • Mendele Mokher-Seforim, “Shem and Japheth on a Train”
  • Sholem Aleichem, “On Account of a Hat,” “The Haunted Tailor”
  • Y.L. Peretz, “Bontshe the Silent,” “Three Gifts,” “The Dead Town”
  • Moyshe Nadir, “The Man Who Slept Through the End of the World”

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