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YA-YM Archives | Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia
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YAD VASHEM.

Literally, Monument and Memorial. Israel’s memorial to the Jewish communities and people who perished in the Holocaust. Located on the Mount of Remembrance near Jerusalem, the Yad VaShem building includes a library, an archives building, exhibits, and a memorial chamber. Foreign diplomats visiting Israel are taken to visit Yad VaShem, and schools organize regular visits so that the new generation born and raised in Israel learns about one of the most tragic episodes in the history of their people.

A new Holocaust History Museum was completed in 2005. Designed by famed Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, it juts on both sides of a hill overlooking Jerusalem and provides a sweeping history of the enormity of the catastrophe in images, text and digital media.

YADIN, YIGAEL (1917-1984).

Soldier and archeologist. Son of the late Eliezer I. Sukenik, a professor of Archaeology in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he shared his father’s love for rediscovering the secrets of the past. Brilliant in military tactics, he applied his knowledge of ancient battle strategy effectively to defeat the superior Egyptian forces in the Negev during the Israel War of Independence in 1948.

As soon as he could be relieved from his military duties, Yadin returned to his first love, archeology. Yadin’s gift for deciphering the past led him to the study of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. His introduction and commentary to The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness won him the Israel Prize for scholarly achievement. In 1965, he reported a number of significant archeological finds in Masada. A founder and the leader of the middle-of-the-road Democratic Movement for Change (DASH) in Israel, he became Israel’s deputy prime minister in 1977.

YAHRZEIT.

See Burial and Mourning.

YAVNEH

. Jamnia in Greek. Old Palestinian city on the Mediterranean coast between Jaffa and old Ashdod. At the time of the Second Temple, Yavneh was a well-populated, well-fortified city. During the Roman siege of Jerusalem, it is said that Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai escaped the city and made his way to the camp of the Roman general Vespasian. He told Vespasian that he would soon become Emperor of Rome, which indeed happened. After the fall of Jerusalem, Vespasian, in gratitude, granted Ben Zakkai’s request to let him gather a small community of sages and organize a school. The Sanhedrin was reestablished at Yavneh, and Ben Zakkai became its head. Yavneh remained the seat of scholarship and culture until the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-135 C.E., when the Sanhedrin was disbanded, and many of the Jewish inhabitants of the city fled. In 1948, Yavneh was an Arab market-town known as Yebneh. In 1979, there was a religious kibbutz near the abandoned site of the old Yavneh. Recently the inhabitants of the kibbutz built a yeshiva, and the tradition of scholarship for which ancient Yavneh was famed is now carried on by modern settlers.

YEHOASH (1871-1927).

Solomon Bloomgarden, Yiddish poet. Born in Lithuania, he came to the U.S. in 1890. Yehoash contributed to the modernization of Yiddish literature in the U.S. and cultivated in his readers a taste for the best in world literature through his Yiddish translations. His major achievement was his masterly translation of the Bible into Yiddish. This work combines a deep scholarly understanding of the original Hebrew with poetic skill. Yehoash’s translation of the Bible became one of the most popular works in Yiddish literature.

YELLIN, DAVID (1864-1942).

Hebrew scholar. Born in Jerusalem, he became one of the first active supporters of Eliezer Ben Yehudah in his efforts to revive Hebrew as a spoken language. Yellin helped found the Hebrew Language Academy and wrote important works on Maimonides, Hebrew poetry of the Middle Ages, and Hebrew grammar. He established a Teachers’ Institute in Jerusalem, and in his later years taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

YEMEN.

Muslim kingdom in the southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula, made up of plateaus and hills rising to 10,000 feet. This altitude gives Yemen enough rain to supply a population of about 7 million with corn, vegetables, fruit, and wheat, and enough of its famous mocha coffee to export. In ancient times, Yemen traded with Africa and the Far East, but since adopting Islam in 628, the country has been fearful of strangers, isolated, and poor. The Jewish community of Yemen is thought to be the oldest in the world, dating back to Solomon‘s time. In the 5th century C.E., Jewish influence was so great that the Himyaritic kings adopted Judaism; however, the Ethiopian invasions ended this dynasty. When Yemen adopted Islam, Jews were made second-class citizens; they were not, for example, permitted to walk on the pavement or ride on a donkey, lest a Jew look down upon a Muslim pedestrian. Jewish orphans were forcibly converted to Islam. Nevertheless, through centuries of oppression, the Yemenite Jews preserved their traditional religion. In 1172, Maimonides wrote his famous Epistle to the Yemenites, in which he expressed his sympathy for Jews of Yemen in their martyrdom and exhorted them to remain true to their faith. Their yearning for Zion led the Yemenite Jews to place their faith in a number of false Messiahs, a danger Maimonides had warned against. Despite their isolation, Yemenite Jews were in contact with Jewish spiritual and creative life during the Middle Ages. Kabbalah was a popular study among them, and they had Kabbalist writers, poets, and scholars. In 1517, Yemen became a part of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire. Periodic clashes between Arab and Turk followed; the Turks were driven out of Yemen, but returned to reoccupy the country. Each change worsened the position of Jews. This situation and their ancient love of the Holy Land induced them to begin migration to Israel in 1881. This migration reached its climax after the establishment of the State of Israel, when the entire community of 40,000 Yemenite Jews was transported by plane within about a year. To Yemenite Jews, these flights were theeagle‘s wings” in the prophecy of redemption. In 1998, there were about 200 Jews still in the country.

YESHIVA.

Yeshivot, plural; literally, academy. Traditional Orthodox institution where young men devote themselves to the study of Talmudic law. Some graduates receive rabbinic ordination; others remain for varying periods and then leave to enter a secular vocation. Some yeshivot have kollelim, schools of advanced Talmudic study where married students receive support for their families while they concentrate on their studies. More recently, the term has been used also for all-day Orthodox schools where both Jewish and secular subjects are taught. Yeshiva Ketanah, or little yeshiva, is an Orthodox all-day school on the elementary level.

YESHIVA UNIVERSITY.

First founded in New York in 1886 as a small Talmudical school named Yeshiva Etz Chaim. Ten years later, another Yeshiva was founded and named after the great Lithuanian rabbi, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spector. In 1915, the two institutions merged, under the head of a leading scholar, Bernard Revel. Recognizing the need for combined religious and secular training, the Yeshiva opened the Talmudical Academy, the first academic high school under Jewish auspices in the U.S. In 1921, a Teachers’ Institute, originally founded in 1917 by the Mizrachi Organization of America, was added to the Yeshiva. The Teachers’ Institute has provided hundreds of principals and teachers for Hebrew schools throughout the country. Yeshiva University’s rabbinical graduates are organized in the Rabbinical Council of America.

In 1928, the first college of liberal arts and sciences in America under Jewish auspices, Yeshiva College, opened its doors. Under the name “Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and Yeshiva College,” the expanding institution moved the following year to the present Main Center, Amsterdam Avenue and 186th Street, in New York’s Washington Heights. From 1977 to 2003, it was headed by Dr. Norman Lamm. In 1945, the institution attained university status. In 2003, Richard M. Joel became president.

In addition to its rabbinical seminary, Yeshiva University has a total of 18 schools and divisions, including four high schools (for boys and girls), Stern College for Women, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Ferkauf Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Belfer Graduate School of Science. In addition, the University maintained 24 special programs and services, among them the Community Service Division, Israel Rogosin Center for Ethics and Human Values, Information Retrieval Center on the Disadvantaged, Inservice Institute in Science and Mathematics for Secondary School Teachers, and Albert Einstein College Hospital.

YETZER HA-RAH.

Literally, evil inclination. The internal impulse to do wrong. Judaism believes that the impulse to do evil is part of human nature, just as is the impulse to do good, Yetzer Ha-tov. However, one is not born to do evil, and through willpower one can conquer the Yetzer Ha-Rah. The rabbis suggested the study of Torah as one way of conquering the evil impulse.

YIDDISH.

Language spoken by East European Jewry, approximately 1,000 years old. Jews have always spoken the language of the land in which they lived. Babylonian Jews spoke Aramaic; Jews who lived under Arab dominion spoke Arabic; and those of France spoke French in their daily lives. The language of Jewish religious life was Hebrew. Yiddish began to develop when French Jews settled along the Rhine, and their vocabulary was augmented by many words from the various medieval German dialects of their new neighbors.

Expulsions and persecutions forced the Jews to move from place to place, increasing the difference between their speech and that of the surrounding population. When the German Jews migrated to Bohemia, Poland, and Lithuania, they took their medieval German dialect with them, at the same time adapting more Hebrew and Slavic words. Jews in the ghetto were alienated from the cultural life of the surrounding people; this isolation, added to the special Jewish way of life, was also a basic factor in the development of the Yiddish language. Also, Yiddish reflects the East European Jews’ concentration in cities and consequent separation from nature; few terms for flowers and trees, birds, animals and fishes exist in Yiddish. On the other hand, Yiddish may be pungent, colorful, and even sentimental, but it is rarely pompous (there was little room for sham in the ghetto). Jews continued to move eastward, and Ukrainian, White Russian, and Russian elements entered the Yiddish language. When Yiddish-speaking immigrants moved westward, to the New World, Yiddish vocabulary expanded to include English terms in the U.S. and Spanish words in Argentina, all of which has enriched the language. In all, Yiddish has a vocabulary of approximately 150,000 words.

Yiddish is the creation of Ashkenazic Jewry. Even before 1500, Yiddish was spoken in Ashkenazic communities. Beginning with the 13th century, as the role of Ashkenazic Jews in Jewish history became more prominent, the Yiddish language gained in importance. From the 16th through the 18th century, it was the spoken language of Ashkenazic Jews everywhere. Yiddish is still the language of communication among Jews in the various centers of the world. It is heard wherever Jews from diverse countries meet, for example, at Zionist Congresses. There are approximately 130 Yiddish periodicals internationally.

For many generations, Yiddish was the language of Jewish education. In the heder, the Bible was interpreted in Yiddish; in the yeshiva, Yiddish was used to study the Talmud. The 20th century saw the development of secular Yiddish schools. In North America, Yiddish afternoon schools have functioned since 1910. There are Yiddish day schools in Canada, Mexico, and other countries. In the U.S., Yiddish is taught at several colleges and universities.

It is estimated that before World War II, between 10 and 11 million Jews spoke Yiddish. Of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, at least five and a half million spoke Yiddish. To this loss must be added the linguistic assimilation in the U.S. and other countries. It is difficult to estimate the number of Jews who speak Yiddish today.

Although there is a renewed interest in Yiddish in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere, the era of Yiddish as a major language of culture and literature has come to an end. The only Jews who continue to transmit the language to their children as a language of everyday speech are the Hasidim.

YIDDISH LITERATURE.

The history of Yiddish literature may conveniently be divided into five periods: from the beginning to approximately 1500; the flourishing years of the 16th and early 17th centuries; the period of stagnation from 1650 to 1750; the era of Hasidism and Haskalah (1750 to 1864); modern Yiddish literature since 1864.

Before 1500, Yiddish literature was based on Jewish folklore, religious Hebrew literature, and the secular literary output of the European peoples among whom Jews lived. There were three types of professionals making this literature popular: copyists, who prepared anthologies and who were themselves frequently anonymous authors; minstrels, who sang or recited ballads and poems at public gatherings; and jesters, who gave brief performances. The best known work of this first period is the Shmuel-Bukh (Samuel Book), which describes the life of King David in poetic form. In this early period, Yiddish literature already served as a medium of entertainment and education for all segments of Jewish people, particularly for women and the uneducated. The 16th century saw a dramatic upsurge in Yiddish literature, similar to that which took place in a number of European literatures. Printing became widespread, and since Jews were the most literate people in Europe, Yiddish books could be mass-produced. At the beginning of the 16th century the Bova Bukh, a romantic adventure novel, became tremendously popular. However, the most widely read book appeared at the close of the 16th century: Tsena Urena, a retelling of the Pentateuch, was interwoven with various legends, stories, and parables. For 300 years Jewish women read from this book every Sabbath.

In this period, Yiddish literature made use of all the narrative and a large part of the poetic materials of the earlier centuries in the history of the Jewish people. The popular Maase Bukh in 1602 contained a number of interesting stories from various periods of Jewish history. At this time there was close contact between readers of Yiddish in Eastern Europe and the Germanic countries. Yiddish books and authors circulated from east to west and from west to east. Yiddish literature made possible close contact among all Ashkenazic Jews. Prague and other Eastern European communities became centers of Yiddish literature.

The Thirty Years War in Western Europe, and the bloody persecutions of Jews in the Ukraine and Poland in 1648 and 1649 ushered in a period of intellectual stagnation. No new important works appeared. Many books were published in Amsterdam and there was a great demand for Yiddish books, but the spirit of the times was not conducive to the appearance of talented new writers.

The advent of Hasidism in the middle of the 18th century brought with it a spiritual revival among the masses of Jewish people in Eastern Europe. At the same time the Haskalah, or Enlightenment, movement developed in Germany, and a generation or two later, in Galicia, Ukraine, and Lithuania. These two opposing movements were represented in the renewed literary activity of this period. The Enlighteners utilized Yiddish literature to write satiric works criticizing the negative aspects of rigid Judaism; the Hasidim created legends and stories dealing with the great achievements of the rabbis. Many of the Hasidim were talented narrators, poets, and writers of parables. The most interesting of these was Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav. In Eastern Europe the Enlighteners included a number of able writers, the most important of whom were Shlomo Ettinger, a poet and dramatist, and the popular writer of the mid-19th century, and Isaac Meyer Dick, whose hundreds of stories were published in thousands of copies.

Modern Yiddish Literature. Modern Yiddish Literature is about 150 years old, dating back to 1864, the year when Mendele Mocher Sefarim published his first book. His works reflect the whole Jewish way of life in his time. Mendele was a realist and created a literary framework for narrative Yiddish prose. He had a number of followers and imitators, his greatest disciple the famous humorist Sholom Aleichem. The latter, with Mendele and J.L. Peretz, are known as the three classic writers of modern Yiddish literature. Peretz, in turn, influenced a group of younger writers; some of them later became outstanding: for example, the novelist Sholom Asch and the poet and short story writer Abraham Reisen. The classic period in Yiddish literature lasted from 1864 to 1914. The 1880’s saw the beginnings of the Yiddish theater, pioneered by Abraham Goldfaden. This was the period of large-scale immigration to the U.S., and Yiddish literature developed there as well. Of the American Yiddish writers of that time, Morris Rosenfeld, the poet who described and protested against the life of the sweatshop worker, is outstanding. In the twenty years between the two World Wars there were distinct centers of Yiddish literary activity: Warsaw, Moscow, and New York. The Russian center was, of course, out of contact with the others; its greatest writers were the novelist David Bergelson and the poet Peretz Markish. In Poland, the classic tradition was followed; there was also a good deal of experimentation with various literary forms and trends. A number of the Yiddish writers from Poland emigrated to the U.S. Almost all of those who remained in Eastern Europe perished in the Holocaust. In 1948, Yiddish literature was liquidated in the Soviet Union; the most prominent writers were arrested and later executed.

Since 1914, New York has been the most important Yiddish literary center. There, Abraham Liesin, the editor of the magazine Zukunft, wrote his nationalistic poetry; and Yehoash produced an excellent Yiddish translation of the Bible. There were many fine poets, such as M.L. Halperin, Mani Leib, and I.J. Schwartz. The best Yiddish novelists (Zalman Shneur, Isaac B. Singer) were published in the New York Yiddish dailies. Here, the novelist J. Opatoshu spent all of his creative years. The greatest living Yiddish poet, H. Leivick, has written many poems and dramas in both symbolic and realistic styles. After World War II, the Rumanian-Polish master of the ballad, Itzik Manger, and the Lithuanian poet Chaim Grade migrated to New York with other poets and writers. Yiddish literary criticism, which had peaked in Eastern Europe in the writings of Baal Makhshovess, became significant in New York, largely because of the influence of Shmuel Niger. There is now a lively literary center in Buenos Aires and in Montreal. There is an active group of Yiddish writers in Israel, of whom the most important is A. Sutzkever, the editor of Di Goldene Keyt.

During the last ninety years there has been a considerable development in essay writing, scientific prose, children’s literature, and other branches of creative writing. Modern Yiddish literature reflects all aspects of Jewish life and all facets of the Jewish personality. Most recently, Yiddish literature has concentrated on the description and commemoration of the destruction of Eastern European Jewry. In all, there are approximately 2,000 Yiddish poets and prose writers.

Although there is a renewed interest in Yiddish in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere, the era of Yiddish as a major language of culture and literature has come to an end.

YISHUV.

Literally, settlement. Term used for the Jewish community of Palestine before the founding of the State of Israel.

YIVO INSTITUTE OF JEWISH RESEARCH.

Founded in Vilna in 1925 for the purpose of studying Yiddish language and literature, Jewish folklore and history (particularly the history of East European Jewry), contemporary Jewish social problems, Jewish psychology, education, and related subjects. Since 1940, the main office of YIVO, with branches in many countries, has been located in New York. YIVO has a library of approximately 170,000 volumes in all areas of Jewish knowledge and the largest Jewish archives in the world. The archives contain at least two million documents. Much of the YIVO library and archives was rescued from the Nazi-pillaged Vilna collection with the aid of the U.S. government. YIVO has published such Yiddish periodicals as Yivo-Bletter, Yiddishe Shprakh, Yiddisher Folklore, and the English language Yivo Annual. YIVO’S branch in Argentina publishes Argentiner Yivo Bletter. Recently, YIVO has been concentrating on an intensive study of Jewish life in the U.S.

YIZKOR.

Memorial prayer for the dead recited at the synagogue on major Jewish holidays.

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