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"A marriage made in heaven" - Chaim Nachman Bialik about Hebrew and Yiddish languages

Updated: Jul 20, 2022

//Victoria Alekseeva//

Bilingualism, that is, the use of both Hebrew and Yiddish, is a characteristic feature of all Eastern European Jewish culture.

And once upon a time these two languages really existed together in peace.

The first break occurred in 1908 at a conference on Yiddish in Chernivtsi, where Yiddish was finally legitimized and recognized as one of the national Jewish languages (a natzionale shprakh). After that, Yiddish and Hebrew found it much more difficult to get along together, as each pulled the blanket over itself and wanted to finally become the only national language.

After World War I, bilingualism collapsed definitively for many reasons: mainly ideological and geographical. Writers who had previously written in both Yiddish and Hebrew were forced to choose one language. If you live in the Soviet Union, it is definitely Yiddish; if you live in Eretz Israel, it is Hebrew. Well, if you write Hebrew in America, the questions are more to America than to the language.

In connection with this linguistic situation, the "war of tongues", the phenomenon of the magazine that follows is truly amazing.

In 1922, in Weimar Germany, namely in Berlin, a magazine begins to be published simultaneously in Yiddish and Hebrew, called Milgroym and Rimon ("Pomegranate"). It announces a new approach to Jewish culture, a return to historical bilingualism, a unified bilingual Jewish literature, and a struggle against the politicization and ideologization of both Hebrew and Yiddish.

Milgroim publishes literary texts in Yiddish and Rimon publishes literary texts in Hebrew, with different original literary texts. However, both magazines also publish the same theoretical articles about art, culture and literature in translation.

The journals publish Bialik and Agnon, Der Nyster and Kulbak, as well as other leading literary figures in both languages. The journals provide great interest not only from a literary point of view, but also from an artistic point of view. The pages of Milgroim and Rimon feature reproductions by Issachar-Ber Rybak, El Lissitzky, Marc Chagall, as well as Goya, Cézanne, and illustrations from medieval Jewish manuscripts.

The magazine is criticized by Yiddishists for its lack of ideology, and by Hebraists for (drumroll!) the same thing. Apart from this, the magazine also gets slapped for its bourgeois base, for capitalism, for Germany in principle, for being too Jewish, for not being Jewish enough, in short, except for the starving children of Africa.

With such bilingual journals, we can compare how different the literature in the two languages was at the same time in the same geographic location. It is an interesting fact that for Jewish Yiddish literature, Milgroim magazine was indeed an important publication and had a great influence on it, whereas Rimon magazine was not such an important literary phenomenon for Hebrew literature.

Click here to browse the first issue of Milgrom magazine.

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