A Question I Was Asked:

Who Were the Yiddishi Jews?

The Question:

Your article on the Jewish diaspora, which I enjoyed reading, has raised other questions for me. Who were the Yiddishi Jews and the Ashkenazy Jews?

UK Apologetics Reply:

The Askenazy are the Jews descended from the medieval Jewish communities which settled along the Rhine in Germany.

The name Ashkenazi (or, 'Askenazy') is thought to be derived from the bibilical figure of Ashkenaz, the first son of Gomer, and a Japhetic patriarch in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10). In the Rabbinic literature, Ashkenaz's kingdom was first associated with the Scythian region, then later on with the Slavic territories, and from the 11th century onwards, with Northern Europe and principally, Germany. The Jews living in the northern regions, associated with Ashkenaz's kingdom, thus came to call themselves the Ashkenazi Jews (whether or not that might be an entirely accurate description of themselves). Later, Jews from Western and Central Europe also came to be called "Ashkenazi" because the main centres of Jewish learning were always located in Germany.

Regarding Yiddish, as a language Yiddish has historically been the language of these people and their descendants around the world. At its peak, in the years immediately preceding the Holocaust, there were perhaps ten or eleven million Yiddish speakers worldwide, making Yiddish the most widely spoken Jewish language - far outweighing Hebrew for common usage. As a combined result of genocide in Europe, cultural assimilation in America, and official and unofficial pressure to shift to Hebrew in Israel and to Russian within the former Soviet Union, today there are probably fewer than two million speakers, most of whom no longer use it as their primary language. It is only in certain Orthodox and Hasidic communities that Yiddish remains the language of everyday discourse and is still learned by children. However, there has apparently been a resurgence of interest in Ashkenazic culture in recent decades, and Yiddish courses are now offered by many universities and Jewish cultural organizations.

The Yiddish scholar Max Weinreich described the language as a 'fusion language' that combines elements from Germanic, Slavic, Semitic, and other languages. This is certainly true, but most linguists would agree that at its core Yiddish is a West Germanic language, so it is closely related to German.

There is an excellent general article on Yiddish here. I myself am here obviously partly dependent on various outside sources for some of my information.

Whilst this is not really a question which has relevance for Christian Apologetics, I am happy to oblige in this case.

Robin A. Brace. April 22nd, 2012.