I'm sorry, but I'll have to disagree.
First, we have to realize what Yiddish is: a language of the Jewish people in exile, a representation of the stultification of Judaism following its dispersion, when G-d's Torah was limited to the mere four cubits of personal individual halakhah (Shabbat, kashrut, taharat ha-mishpaha, etc.), as against the true Torah that encompasses all aspects of life (governance, criminal and civil jurisprudence, army, economy, etc.). Frankly, I'm not keen on emphasizing this sordid past.
Now, don't get me wrong: I, along with the best of them, am immeasurably appalled by the disgraceful and wretched nationalistic idolatry exhibited by those Zionists who consciously chose to extricate themselves from their Diaspora past. They sought to create a new Israeli, an Israeli unencumbered by his Diasporic past, an entirely new creation. Of course, this is little different from the crass idolatrous nationalism that we know quite well from the Tower of Babel and Nazi Germany. The nation-state is elevated to a pedestal and worshipped, simple as that. Even today, many religious Israelis regard native Israelis as more Israeli than olim - such a view I cannot stomach, and I cannot believe a religious Jew who hold by such a pernicious belief (the secular Israelis can at least excuse themselves with honest ignorance). This is a Jewish country, and there is no difference in this regard between an Israeli Jew and a non-Israeli Jew; a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and there is no place to distinguish based on acclimation to the land of Israel.
More importantly, however, the Zionists in question, in denuding Israel of its Diasporic past, removed all historical legitimacy from their nation. How can a nation exist without its past, its history, its culture? Israel expects its Arab neighbors to respect us, but how can they respect us when we don't respect ourselves? A nation cannot exist without its past, cannot exist with such amnesia; a nation cannot be created overnight.
Indeed, large sectors of the Israeli nation know no longer why they are there. Without Judaism, they have no identity. They are simply a group of Hebrew-speaking gentiles who happened to appear in Israel in 1948, with no history. Why live in the Middle East, of all places? Why live in a place fraught with war? Without Judaism, there is no answer.
And in fact, there is no claim to the land of Israel without a concomitant claim to Judaism. Without Judaism, we merely conquered the land from the natives. Historic Judaism alone gives Israelis a claim to Israeli, and Israelism without Judaism is naught but barbaric thievery.
Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits put it excellently in Crisis and Faith:
One of the fundamental mistakes of Zionism has been - and this was clear to some of us long before now - that it sets for its goal the normalization of the Jewish people. ... In short, we shall be the same as all other nations. Zionism was trying to emancipate us from the Jewish destiny of the ages. ... The State of Israel was attempting to break out of Jewish history and to start an Israeli history. The attempt to escape Jewish destiny by way of Zionism has undermined the moral security of the people that dwells in IsraeL. Wide sections of Israeli youth, alienated from the historic continuity of Jewish people, have become unsure of the moral validity of our claim to the land of our fathers. And indeed, there is no Israeli claim to the land; there can only be a Jewish claim. Where there is no continuity, there can be no return. Only in the uninterrupted chain of all Jewish generations is the certainty to be found that this has been our land all through our exile, and has been taken from us by force. Our faith in G'ula, in the coming Redemption, has been our eternal protest against anyone who held possession of the land of our fathers. But this faith is inseparable from the historic destiny of our Jewishness. The moment we reject identification with it, our claim to the land of Israel can only be based on the barbaric right of conquest. We either return to the Holy Land or there is no land for us to return to.
Even more serious than the moral uncertainty of the claim, if it is to be based on Israeli history, is the puzzlement and the loss of bearing that has overtaken Israeli society... Much more serious than the political uncertainty regarding the future is the spiritual uncertainty concerning the historic destiny of this little nation in the arena of violence of "normal" nations. All this struggle, blood letting, sacrifice, endless hardships, what are they all for? Where is the end to it all? Is it worthwhile? The hidden cause of the traumatic shock of the war has been the sensing of the loss of historic purpose, the loss of a transcending national destiny. Zionism has attempted to replace Messianism. The vision of the future has been replaced by the desire for the immediacy of the present. A new national purpose was to be forged for this ancient people. What we got is manufactured national reality, trying desperately to cut its roots from the soil of past history. But no nation can live with a borrowed national destiny, nor can it survive by a plastic national identity. ... If the tragedy of the Yom Kippur War wil bring home to us the futility of our desire to become a "normal people and will induce us to recover the ethos of the Jewish stance in history in the context of Galut and G'ulah, it may yet be turned into a triumph of our struggle for survival within the messianic wave of world history. Only in that context can it be said that the State of Israel has come to stay. Of course, it is going to stay. The attempt to break out of that context has failed. It is going to fail again and again. The God of history will not let us go. We are not being asked. There is no escape for Israel from the historic destiny of IsraeL. The question is: shall we only endure it or find the ultimate meaning of our human existence in it by embracing it with resolute determination and dedication.
So I must be very careful in my denunciation of emphasis of our Diasporic past. I certainly have no intention of cutting the shoots and alienating ourselves from our culture, our history, our religion, our very identity. The Zionists mistakenly believed that Judaism was something for the Diaspora, when in fact, we are Judaism, and Judaism is us.
Nevertheless, I see no great desideratum to resurrect Yiddish. Almost all of the important Jewish literature was written in Hebrew, the true language of Judaism is Hebrew, and Yiddish is little more than the vernacular of a stultified and constricted Jewish nation in exile, exiled from its true national manifestation. With all due respect to our Jewish past, and the vital importance of learning Jewish history, I see little relative importance in learning Yiddish per se. Especially when we realize that very few Jewsih children know Hebrew sufficiently to be fluent, and still fewer Aramaic, we must realize that we have no time to teach Yiddish as well! And since Yiddish is no more important than Ladino, any drive to teach Yiddish would have to be accompanied by an equal drive to teach Ladino, and I believe this is asking far too much. Theoretically, I'd be supportive of learning Yiddish, along with every other Diasporic Jewish language. But the fact is that a cost-benefit analysis strongly rules against this; it is difficult enough to teach Hebrew, Aramaic, and Jewish history in general, so let us content ourselves with this. In an ideal world, every Jewish child would learn every Diasporic language - Yiddish, Ladino, Greek, Arabic, etc. - but we live not in an ideal world.
I think we should stick with Hebrew and Aramaic - the former as the quintessential Jewish language, without knowledge of which a Jew is hardly a Jew, and the latter as a language vital for learning one of Judaism's most important works. After this, individuals may learn whichever languages they personally desire. (Personally, I'd first learn German to learn Rabbi S. R. Hirsch in the original, Arabic to learn Medieval Jewish philosophy in the original, Italian to learn Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzatto and Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh in the original, and finally Ladino due to my love of Balkan Sephardic Judaism. Following all that, I'd learn Yiddish.)
To clarify my stance: we must distinguish between what is nostalgic and what is not. To teach Diasporic Jewish literature and history is a desideratum, because of the value these have for teaching authentic Judaism. The pre-Diasporic literature and history (Tanakh, Midrash, Talmud, etc.) may be more authentically and organically and healthily Jewish, but nevertheless, the Diasporic history and literature are still Jewish, and still shed valuable light on our identity. Therefore, they are to be valued greatly, even if not as greatly as pre-Diasporic literature and history. By contrast, to teach Yiddish per se is mostly nostalgia for the Diaspora. While learning what is valuable and true from the Diaspora is valuable, I think nostalgia for the Diaspora is pernicious and lamentable. For the same reason, I see no great push to teach Ladino either. To learn Judeo-Spanish literature is valuable - I've got Sarajevan/Yugoslavian Rabbi Eliezer Papo's Pele Yoetz near the top of my list of books to read - but to learn Ladino per se is little more than to have nostalgia for the Diaspora. Now, of course, to learn the languages might help us to read the literature in the original, and insofar as this is true, to learn the languages is indeed valuable. But for the most part, the drive to learn Yiddish is for the sake of perpetuating a nostalgia for the Diaspora, and this I cannot approve of. Now, some might have a non-nostalgic justification for learning Yiddish, but I can only reply to the justification I have seen most offer; most seem to be operating on nostalgia, and thus my reply. And moreover, as I said, I simply don't think we have the time to teach our children these languages. If I read Moreh Nevukhim and Kuzari in Hebrew translation and Rabbi Reuben Eliyahu Israel's commentary on Pirkei Avot in a translation from the original Ladino, I think it is a far better use of my time, and in the end I'll learn far more, than if I take the time to learn Arabic and Ladino.
So I'm sorry, but I must quite stridently dispute the asserted desideratum of learning Yiddish.
Actyally, I believe my very vocal opposition to teaching Yiddish is more psychological and emotional than rational and cognitive. Quite simply: most of the Jewish people ignores anyone who is not Ashkenazi. For most Jews, Judaism is Eastern European, and even for gentiles this is so. (How many times have antisemites demanded for us to "return" to Eastern Europe? What about Yemenite Jews or Greek Jews?) I hear cries for people to listen to the Hafetz Haim and the Hazon Ish and the Hatam Sofer. But what about the Ben Ish Hai, Rabbi Eliezer Papo, Rabbi Benzion Uziel, Rabbi Haim David Halevi, and Rabbi Yosef Kafih? And then people will be wont to say that Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was just a local shul rabbi who knew how to do kiruv. The entire German/British Neo-Orthodox weltanschauung is written off as the product of a group of ignorant amei ha'aretz. I simply cannot stomach this anymore. If I hear a cry to teach our children Yiddish, I expect a no less loud demand to teach them Ladino and Arabic as well. See Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel's Teaching the Wholeness of the Jewish People.
No offense; this is not directed against Yisroel Bass and Rokhl specifically.
Does today's exile not having a Jewish linguistic representation lessen its reality?
Mikewind Dale, we are coming from two very different perspectives: you long after religious law, Messiah, and Torah; I yearn for an exile spent developing what our people has become to its highest potential. Tangibility is my goal (and when those other things come so be it); living in awe of signs and wonders is fine by me, but a solid grounding in a tangible and thriving people is more than just necessary. Yiddish gives us that grounding.
"Nostalgia for the diaspora"? How about continuing a legacy of national cultivation? Until Messiah comes this (viz. golus) is the hand we are dealt.
It's time to stop negating the accomplishments, languages (Ladino included), and cultures of the diaspora simply because they are not manifestations of our “true” national constitution. Denying our supreme ability to create and survive outside our “true” boundaries and culture is a mistake. Belief in a “truer” existence should not be incompatible with esteem for what we have the potential to make in the meantime. We shouldn’t deny ourselves the fruits of national languages and cultural systems simply because they are exilic in nature. I find it harder to justify a life of non-Jewish modes of expression (possibly interspersed with a few Hebrew words relating to religious practice and poorly employed token Yiddish words) i.e. speaking English, Russian, etc. among ourselves as better than embracing our own creations. If anything such forms of expression are the poorest and least Jewish encountered since post-exile linguistic tradition began.
I wrote my post in strong terms for those (like the Googler) who are considering learning Yiddish. Such people are the true target of my piece and it was my intention to present to them the responsibility attached to such an action. I am not so much of a fantast that I think every jew is going to go out and learn the language/culture, yet I can find no reason not to if they have the opportunity (just as there is no reason I shouldn’t learn Ladino if I get the chance). It is for this reason I devoted a small section of my post to make the appeal.
I then reply in turn:
Before I comment on anything you have just said, let me just ask for a clarifications, to be sure I understand your intent.
"I yearn for an exile spent developing what our people has become."
Do you mean that you actually yearn for the exile itself, similar to Hermann Cohen's thesis that exile is a higher state of Jewish existence than nationality? Or do you merely mean that as long as the exile happens to continue, you want it to be a meaningful exile?
Now then, you say, "Living in awe of signs and wonders is fine by me, but a solid grounding in a tangible and thriving people is more than just necessary."
If I understand correctly, you are contrasting a supernaturalism of mine with an empiricism of yours. I take no offense, but for the record, I'm as empirical as some agnostics; see my Judaism and the Supernatural. So I assure you, I wish for the tangible no less than you do. It's just that for me, tangibility of the Jewish people means having a nation-state in which the Jewish people achieve their highest self-fulfillment. G-d forbid that I am embarking on some sort of romantic flight of fancy from rational empiricism!
You say, "Nostalgia for the diaspora? How about continuing a legacy of national cultivation? - until messiah comes this (golus) is the hand we are dealt." Now, my response depends on your response to my request for clarification above. For now, I'll simply say briefly that since 1948, galut has been over. Done. Finished. 2000 years of Jewish prayers have been answered. All that's left is the building of the Temple, and I'd be willing to wager no small amount of money on the guess that G-d hasn't granted that prayer because we haven't yet demonstrated gratitute for His already having answered 99% of our prayers for the end of the galut. For 2000 years, we have prayed for an end to our wandering land-less existence, and now we even have an IDF to boot. To be sure, geula is composed of two parallel tracks, as Rabbi Berkovits points out in Crisis and Faith, and the universal redemption of mankind has not yet occurred, in which man shall beat his swords into plowshares and peoples will stream unto Zion to hear the word of G-d. Nevertheless, the national geula has occurred without abridgement, and I do not think we can ignore this fact. The galut is over.
I'm not trying to negate the accomplishments of the Diaspora, G-d forbid. As I said, I find it vital to continue to cultivate Diasporic Jewish literature. But, as I said, the reason is purely utilitarian; the Diasporic works (Talmud, Shulhan Arukh, etc.) contain treasures of immeasurable educational value. But I disdain the concept of cultivativing Diasporic culture just for the sake of its own continued existence. There is a difference between keeping a relative alive in order to continue to live a life, and keeping a vegetative relative alive on life support, just to assuage one's own emotional need for that relative. The Diaspora is dead, period. Whatever is of value from the Diaspora should be kept alive, but we shouldn't keep any parts of it alive just for the sake of keeping them alive. The Talmud has Jewish value even after the Diaspora is over; Yiddish - as far as I know - does not.
Incidentally, I also disagree with you when you say, "I find it harder to justify a life of non-jewish modes of expression ... i.e. speaking English ... among ourselves as better than embracing our own creations. If anything, such forms of expression are the poorest and least Jewish encountered since post-exile linguistic tradition began."
Personally, I find it shameful and embarrassing that certain sects of Orthodox Jewry continue to impose a ghetto upon themselves and limit themselves to Yiddish as their vernacular even in America. The Ashkenazi Jews in Rashi's time spoke as their vernacular the same Old French that their gentile neighbors did; later Ashkenazi Jews spoke as their vernacular the same Old German that their non-Jewish neighbors did; the Jews in Spain spoke the same Arabic and later Spanish as their gentile neighbors. Nothwithstanding Ashkenazim who continued to speak Yiddish even in non-German-speaking areas, and Sephardim who continued to speak Ladino even in non-Spanish-speaking areas, it seems that the normal and most authentic manner of Jewish existence is to speak the same language as our gentile neighbors. After all, what truly distinguishes Jews from gentiles? In truth, a Jew is a type of human; the Mentsch-Yisroel is a Jew who is nevertheless a human in every way, someone who has achieved the pinacle of what it means to be a human, and also achieved the pinacle of his particularist Jewishness. The Talmud says atem keru'im adam, "You, even you, the Jew, are a human as well." The first, most basic fact of a Jew's existence is that he is a human. The mitzvah to "be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue" applies first and foremost to the Jew, for this mitzvah underlies the entire Torah, whose purpose is to impose spiritual and G-dly form on the material and temporal matter of life. The Jew knows that the righteous of the nations are working for the exact same goal and purpose as he is, that very little indeed distinguishes him from the G-dly of the nations. In fact, there is very little special about our relationship with G-d; it is only that relationship which all mankind once had, ought to still have, and will someday have. So I frankly find it shameful when Jews attempt to themselves impose the ghetto on themselves; the gentiles distinguished us from them and forced us to have our own vernacular distinct from theirs; must we today perpetuate this shameful and tragic occurrence when the gentiles themselves have sought to save us from it?
I just realized the irony of my being both the ultra-right Zionist nationalist as well as being the universalist. I have gotten used to people assuming that I am simply incoherent and philosophically inconsistent, so I hope you'll forgive me for offering an extended explanation. The short answer is that the authentic Jew is the most particularist man on earth even as he is the most universalist.
Half of what I say above regarding universalism is paraphrased straight out of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's writings, from various locations, with one addition therein from Rabbi Benzion Uziel. We might therefore quote Rav Hirsch's explanation: From "Religion Allied to Progress":
...From "Judaism Up to Date" / "The Jew and His Time":
Judaism is not a religion, the synagogue is not a church, and the rabbi is not a priest. Judaism is not a mere adjunct to life: it comprises all of life. To be a Jew is not a mere part, it is the sum total of our task in life. To be a Jew in the synagogue and the kitchen, in the field and the warehouse, in the office and the pulpit, as father and mother, as servant and master, as man and as citizen, with one's thoughts, in word and in deed, in enjoyment and privation, with the needle and the graving-tool, with the pen and the chisel--that is what it means to be a Jew. An entire life supported by the Divine Idea and lived and brought to fulfillment according to the Divine Will.
The more, indeed, Judaism comprises the whole of man and extends its declared mission to the salvation of the whole of mankind, the less it is possible to confine its outlook to the four cubits of a synagogue and the four walls of a study. The more the Jew is a Jew, the more universalist will his views and aspirations be [emphasis added], the less aloof will he be from anything that is noble and good, true and upright, in art or science, in culture or education; the more joyfully will he applaud whenever he sees truth and justice and peace and the ennoblement of man prevail and become dominant in human society: the more joyfully will he seize every opportunity to give proof of his mission as a Jew, the task of his Judaism, on new and untrodden ground; the more joyfully will he devote himself to all true progress in civilisation and culture--provided, that is, provided, that is, that he will not only not have to sacrifice his Judaism but will also be able to bring it to more perfect fulfilment. He will ever desire progress, but only in alliance with religion. He will not want to accomplish anything that he cannot accomplish as a Jew. Any step which takes him away from Judaism is not for him a step forward, is not progress. He exercises this self-control without a pang, for he does not wish to accomplish his own will on earth but labours in the service of God. He knows that wherever the Ark of his God does not march ahead of him he is not accompanied by the pillar of the fire of His light or the pillar of the cloud of His grace.
No doctrine is so well qualified as Judaism to fill its adherents with the most all-embracing love, to implant in them a spirit and a heart to which nothing human on the whole earth is alien and which can participate most warmly and most openly in all human suffering and human well-being. It is the Jews who are quick to see in the darkest episodes of history the march of a Divine purpose, who at the grave of the most abandoned sinner are ready to plant the banner of hope for a resurrection and return to G-d, and whose whole strength lies in the conviction that all men are journeying with them towards a kingdom of G-d on earth in which truth and love, justice and salvation will everywhere dwell.
Consider Abraham, the first and most isolated Jew on earth. Was ever anyone so isolated? Single and alone with G-d on earth, single and alone in conflict with the whole of his age. What a heart did he bear in his bosom, full of modesty, full of gentleness, full of compassion and love for all, for the most depraved men of his time! The judgment of G-d is suspended over Sodom and Gomorrah, over the vilest sink of iniquity known in history, and it is Abraham who prays for Sodom and Gomorrah! G-d concluded with him and his descendants the most separatist covenants and stamped on their body the most separatist sign of this covenant [viz. the milah, circumcision]. And we see Abraham with the pain inflicted by this sign still fresh sitting before his tent in the heat of the sun and looking out for weary travellers, inviting idolatrous strangers into his house and showing mercy and kindness and the love of G-d to all his fellow-men without distinction.
And how could it have been any different? Was not this universalism, this broad humanity of thought and action, the very essence and object, the reason and significance of his segregation? ... This remained the fundamental character of Judaism. Abraham was isolated for the sake of mankind, and for the sake of mankind Judaism has to pursue its separate way through the ages.
For he knows that the upright and pure in all societies of men are working with him for the kingdom of G-d on earth. [Emphasis added]
Hence the Jew will not frown on any art, any science, any culture provided that it is found to be true and edifying, and really to promote the welfare of mankind. He has to taste everything by the unimpeachable touchstone of his divine law; whatever does not stand this test for him does not exist. But the more firmly he takes his stand on the rock of his Judaism, the more ready will he be to accept and gratefully appropriate whatever is true and good in other sources according to Jewish standards [emphasis added]; in whatever mind it originated, from whose-ever mouth it issued, he will always be ready to say, as the Sages say, l'kabel ha'emet mimi she'amrah to receive the truth from him who spoke it. Nowhere will he ever sacrifice a single thread of his Judaism or trim his Judaism to the needs of the time. Wherever the age offers him anything which is consonant with his Judaism he will willingly adopt it. He will in every period regard it as his duty to pay due appreciation to the age and its conditions from the standpoint of his Judaism, and to make use of the new means provided by any period in order that in the conditions of that period he may be able to make the old Jewish spirit expand in new beauty and may perform his duty to it with ever-renewed vigour and loyalty.
With your conclusion, however, my diagreement with you is lessened; if you only mean that some Jews should learn Yiddish, then I can only agree. Certainly we should have our savants in every field who know their particularist facts and popularize what is important for the masses. I merely think that it is ill-advised for the laymen to all know Yiddish.