Books

Prof. A. A. Roback’s little book, “Curiosities of Yiddish Literature,” is a compensation to Yiddish for the sense of inferiority which embarrasses it in the company of languages. It is full of information, useful and trivial, but none the less interesting, such as, for example—to invent a parody— “Did you know that the man who first spat from the Matter-horn wrote a verse in Yiddish in a college composition?”

Or that—to ascend from parody to fact—Yiddish is no fifty-year-old stripling of a jargon but goes back to the fourteenth century? Prof. Roback wants to make Yiddish and Yiddishists holde up their heads with a sense of pride, antiquity and responsibility, and I believe that no one who has held Yiddish in contempt and then reads this little book will continue to do so. Perhaps Prof. Roback’s method of stringing together odd little bits of information will prove more effective to his purpose than would a reasoned argument, philological, racial and philosophical. And his purpose is, briefly, to make the educated Jew respect Yiddish. He introduces his subject in this manner:

“The utter contempt with which Yiddish has been treated by the educated Jew and the systematic neglect which has fallen to its lot in academic circles, as well as the natural indifference of the masses to its destiny, have induced me to bring to the fore some odd bits of information as well as not a few significant observations on the present status of Yiddish and its culture. The assimilated Jew, who for social and material reasons, has already made up his mind—or rather whose inferiority complex has already made up his mind for him—to become more and more alienated from his People will scarcely be convinced by an encyclopedia of evidence.” Incidentally, only 600 copies of this work have been printed, so that if you want to get your copy, write for it immediately to Sci-Art Publishers, Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass.

“A Yiddishist,” writes Prof. Roback in stating his case, “is one who believes that the language in which most of the Jews throughout the world think and feel and which is peculiar to themselves is the national language of the Jews.” Also, Yiddish is not a German dialect, but “derived from Middle High German, with the addition of other linguistic elements.” And, as we all know, Yiddish has enriched other languages, not excluding German. The first authenticated Yiddish romance was written in 1507 by the tutor of a Cardinal and the first known Yiddish manuscript—1397—was a medical treatise. And did you know that the Governor of Minnesota—a Swede —speaks Yiddish? (And please don’t say, What of it?) In 1931, in case you don’t know, 920 Yiddish books — count them — were printed in Poland alone, 400 in Soviet Russia and about 100 in the United States; even Germany must have published some. (The only place in which Yiddish fares badly, apparently, is in Hebraic Palestine.)

One of the greatest Yiddish scholars was an eighteenth century German anti-Semite, while the editor of a Yiddish paper in Russia hated that language so heartily that he published, in Yiddish, scurrilous attacks on it and ran his paper into the ground in three years—with a sense of self-consuming satisfaction, no doubt. And what is almost as interesting is that the father of Esperanto, Ludwig Zamenhof, worked for three years on a Yiddish grammar and sought to make that tongue the world language. I didn’t know—did you?—that the best seller in Yiddish ###iterature, published about 330 years ago, is a paraphrase of the Bible, embroidered with legends, under the title of “Teitsh-Khumesh” or “Tsehno-Urehno,” and intended for women. It has been reprinted 300 times.

Furthermore, a person who has but one language and that language Yiddish, has a better chance of making himself understood throughout Europe than a person using any other single language.

But I must not give the book away.

ROBERT SEGAL’S “TRIOPOLY”

“Triopoly” is offered by Robert Segal as a working plan for the solution of our economic problems. Mr. Segal is described as a “hardheaded industrialist who has spent twenty years in working out the details of the Triopoly movement.” While Mr. Segal may be sincere in what he has to offer his contribution is marred by confused thinking and a piling up of extraneous information. He exhibits a naiveté in the accumulation of his material which is irritating.

He brands state ownership as “anti-social” and states that “even apart from the state-owned hospital, insane asylum, etc., often notorious for irresponsible administration and unfeeling method, have many waxed rapturous over the government-operated utility?… Government ownership as exemplified by the Postal Service permits of little incentive. Wage scales are arbitrarily fixed, the worker has no right of appeal, there is no division of profit nor is there any other method open to him to increase his income…. The connection between schools and government has its origin in the antiquated conception that the masses must be kept in the tutelage of the rulers and is born of an illiterate age when the governors were presumed to know what was good for the governed….

“With all the criticism—much of it only to justifiable—of the privately-owned monopoly, we do succeed now and then in scaling down the price of gas, and we keep the telephone and traction interests in check.”

Private enterprise, according to Mr. Segal under the franchise of Triopoly, should control many of the activities now under government control. His theory is a franchise of industry by the government on a controlled three-way basis, involving the control of capital, the stabilization of wages and the giving to the consumer of a share in the fixing of rates and prices. Application of that theory would stabilize business almost immediately.—R. B. S.

A BOOK ABOUT PALESTINE

The latest addition to the Fiba travel series is “Palaestina Wie Es Wirklich Ist” (Palestine As It Actually Is), by Hugo Herrmann. The book begins with a series of descriptions of the Palestinian landscape and then goes on to describe the life of the country in every detail—its people, their means of earning a livelihood, their play, their political problems, the education of their children, their religious life and their future prospects. The method of presentation is popular and readable and the material chosen is such as will prove informative to the reader unfamiliar with present-day Palestine. The author, said to be an outstanding authority on Palestine, supplements his book with two maps, helpful glossaries of Hebrew words and geographic terms used in the book, and seventy-two excellent photographs of Palestiniana, from telephone exchanges to nursery-school interiors and Chalutz-tents.

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