Men of Letters Gather at ‘Day’ Celebration; Dr. Judah L. Magnes Defines Tasks of New Department
The establishment of a chair for the study of the Yiddish language and literature at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus was viewed as the first step in the rapprochment between the Hebraists and the Yiddishists, at the dinner given Sunday night by David Shapiro, publisher of “The Day” in honor of Dr. Judah L. Magnes, who accepted the chair in behalf of the Board of Governors of the Hebrew University. The occasion marked the thirteenth anniversary of the establishment of “The Day.”
The gathering which consisted of men prominent in Hebrew and Yiddish letters and leaders of Jewish journalism in the United States applauded the idea of establishing a Yiddish chair at the Hebrew University and Mr. Shapiro, publisher of “The Day” for making this possible. Dr. S. Margoshes, editor of “The Day,” who acted as toastmaster, described the event as a “day of realization of two dreams which were thought impossible a short while ago.” Reuben Brainin, who spoke in Hebrew, and David Pinski who spoke in Yiddish, addressed the audience on the significance of the events. Alfred W. Norek, president of the American Jewish Publishing Corporation introduced the toastmaster. An interesting musical program was presented in which Chaim Katiliansky and Abraham Elstein participated. Z. H. Rubinstein, city editor of “The Day” presided during this part of the program.
Irving Altman, treasurer of “The Day” presented a check of $10,000 from Mr. Shapiro to Dr. Magnes, opening the $100,000 fund for the establishment of the chair.
Dr. Magnes began his address in Hebrew, proceeded to Yiddish and concluded in English. In addition to defining the attitude of the Hebrew University toward the study of the Yiddish language and literature, Dr. Magnes spoke at length on the work of the Hebrew University in general and in particular on the work of the Talmudic Department and the Institute of Physics and Mathematics, leaving a deep impression with the audience. Concerning the Yiddish chair Dr. Magnes said:
“When the Institute of Jewish Studies of the Hebrew University was established in the summer of 1924 it was conceived as a center of learning in Judaism–in the Jewish religion, Hebrew and cognate languages, Jewish literature, history, law, philosophy, institutions and life, and the study of Palestine.
“In the three years of the life of the Institute, the field of Jewish studies has been divided into eight departments: Bible, Talmud, History, Literature, Philosophy, Palestine research and archaeology, the Hebrew and Aramaic languages and the Madda Ha’am what is above characterized as the “Institutions and Life” of the Jewish people.
“In all of the branches beginnings have been made. It is safe to say that the Institute already contains the largest faculty in Jewish studies of any school of Jewish higher learning.
“In the Madda Ha’am a beginning was made by courses by Dr. Arthur Ruppin on Changes in the Social Structure of the Jewish People during the 19th Century, and this year he is to give courses on statistics of the Jews.
“We are now to celebrate the establishment of a Chair in the Yiddish Language and Literature, and whereas the Yiddish language contains a great deal in the different aspects of Jewish studies enumerated above, it is to my mind under the general heading of Madda Ha’am, the study of the Institutions and Life of the Jewish People that this chair rightly belongs.
“When the University was inaugurated formally in April, 1925, a telegram was received from The Day asking if a Chair in the Yiddish Language and Literature would be acceptable. After consultation with some of my associates, an affirmative answer was sent. Since then this problem has been discussed at meetings of the Academic Staff of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, and when I have the honor of accepting this offer on the part of the Day. it is with the full concurrence of the Academic Staff of the Institute in Jerusalem.
“I have been asked the question here and I am confident the question will be asked in Palestine why the Hebrew University is desirous of having a Chair of the Yiddish language and literature.
“It should be a sufficient answer to say that the Yiddish is the spoken and written language of a large part of the Jewish people today and that it has been the language of large numbers of Jews in Central and Eastern Europe for many centuries. This fact alone should make Yiddish an interesting and important subject of study in any university. That it has not thus far been accorded its proper place in any university shows again how greatly the materials and documents of Jewish culture have been neglected by scholarship. It is true that the Yiddish has served Germanic scholarship in the elucidation of words and of construction in Middle High German that, without the Yiddish, would remain in darkness. Even in this narrower field the Yiddish has by no means been exploited. But the Hebrew University wishes to make the Yiddish language and literature into a University discipline not from the point of view of Germanic scholarship alone, but rather because in the Yiddish is documented a considerable part of Jewish life and culture over several centuries and in many lands.
“In order to avoid any misunderstanding.” Dr. Magnes continued, “I would say at once that the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is what its name implies: Hebrew. There is of course no question with us of Yiddish or any language displacing the Hebrew as the language of instruction or as the chief source of Jewish life and thought. Those who are invited to the Yiddish department will have to know Hebrew and to lecture in Hebrew. But this does not in any way detract from the importance of Yiddish as a source of the highest importance in the study of Jewish history and literature. Indeed. I would say that for the social history of the Jews in Poland and Russia for at least five centuries up to the present day it is altogether indispensable, and I am sure that the soul of the bulk of the living Jewish people today can hardly be understood unless one seeks its interpretation in the wit and wisdom of Yiddish speech and in the Yiddish literature of the past century.
“Let me take but one example of what I mean. The great French Semitist Renan was a passionate admirer of the Hebrew Prophets, and no one has written more eloquently about the majesty of their preaching and about their matchless pronouncements in individual righteousness and social justice. But in his characterization of the Hebrews he declared they had no sense of humor, and if I am not mistaken, he said that the descendants of the prophets, the Jews of his own day, were also without humor. Whatever may have been true of the Hebrews of old, but a slight acquaintance with the Yiddish speaking Jews, with Yiddish folk-lore, with Yiddish literature would convince anyone that there is an enormous store of keen wit and of humor, both raucous and deep. Is this not natural? The Jews’ wits have been sharpened for centuries by the necessity of earning a living under most adverse circumstances. They have had to observe the peculiarities and the weakness and the strong points of a hostile world, and they have had to learn through hard blows a philosophy of patience and wisdom and long-suffering humor. They have had to be master psychologists and their ability to read character has led them to characterize most deftly their own foibles and make- unclear