Der yud (“The Jew”), a weekly (initially a bi-weekly), published between the years 1899-1902; edited in Warsaw and printed in Krakow.
The publication of Der yud marked a new stage in the development of Yiddish journalism in Eastern Europe in particular and modern Yiddish culture in general. Due to the great difficulties which Yiddish journalism faced from the Czarist authorities, only two weeklies were published in Russia during the second half of the nineteenth century. In its last decade not a single Yiddish periodical could be found in a land that was home to five million Jews, the vast majority of whom were Yiddish speakers. At the turn of the centuries Der yud filled this void, albeit only partially.
Der yud also boasted novel features, both in terms of its publishers and with respect to content and form. The first two Yiddish weeklies in Czarist Russia, Kol mevaser and Yidishes folksblat, were personal initiatives of their editor, Aleksander Zederbaum. Der yud differed from them in one basic respect: it was the first Yiddish periodical in Eastern Europe that was published not by a private individual but by a public body – the Hebrew publishers, Achiasaf Publishing House, which operated in Warsaw in the spirit of Zionism and Ahad Ha’am. The decision of these publishers, who also brought out Luah Achiasaf and the periodical HaShiloah, to back a periodical in Yiddish, is proof of the heightened cultural status of Yiddish in those years. The first issue of Der yud appeared in January 1899, dated 5th February.
Its publishers invited Yehoshua Hana Rawnitzky (1859-1944) to Warsaw to join the project. He served as the first editor, despite the fact that he stayed in the city for only a brief period and did most of his editorial work from Odessa. Later in this year, starting with issue No. 21, the Zionist activist and educator Yosef Luria (1871-1937) was appointed editor. Although his name was usually kept out of public sight, he served in this position until the weekly closed down at the end of 1902.
The majority of its contributors resided in Warsaw, but since the Czarist authorities were unwilling to grant a license for the publication of a Yiddish periodical, Der yud was printed in Krakow. From there it was sent to Warsaw for circulation, after being approved by the censor. This process resulted in a great delay in the arrival of the paper to its subscribers, effectively preventing Der yud from addressing current affairs. Its literary features and general articles were thus far more important than its news material.
The heading and sub-heading of the weekly are noteworthy: In contrast to the emphasis on the “people” in the heading to Yidishes folksblat, Der yud declared itself “A tsaytshrift fir ale yidishe interesn” (“A periodical for all Jewish matters”), a definition that broadened enormously the scope of the Yiddish weekly. Regarding its circulation, the price of the weekly for subscribers was stated on both sides of its masthead: On the right the fee was given for Austria-Hungary, Germany, Palestine, “other countries,” the United States, and England; while on the left was the price for Russia. Der yud was thus the first Yiddish periodical that sought worldwide circulation. The list of its sales agents, which was printed in the paper from time-to-time, included cities in the United States, England, and Palestine. There is no doubt that the majority of subscribers came from the Pale of Settlement in Czarist Russia, but this list is a good indicator of the vast range of Jewish communities in which the periodical’s subscribers could be found.
The rhetoric and the terms used in the opening article of Der yud are an illuminating example of the status of Yiddish in those days. The central word in the article is “folk" (in this case, the Yiddish term for "people"), with the occasional use of “ume" and "natsye" ("nation”). This terminology reflects the way in which the publication of Der yud was considered an integral component of Jewish national awakening. The word “folk” in that opening piece of Der yud is not used as a reference to the simple masses, the standard connotation of this term in Yiddish weeklies in the nineteenth century. Rather, it refers to a community animated by its self-awareness regarding its shared past and its future. It is further implied that since this ideal is far from characterizing the Jewish community at the current time, it is the weekly's task to remedy the situation, thereby implicitly ascribing to Yiddish a significant role in this cultural endeavor. The anonymous writer of that article, who was probably Y. H. Rawnitzky, makes much of the need to cultivate the awareness of the Jewish past, through the medium of both fiction and informative articles. He also speaks of the hope of renewing the Jewish settlement in Palestine and the revival of Hebrew, although he refrains from endorsing a clear Zionist line.
One who wellunderstood the new status of Yiddish acclaimed by the weekly’s editor was Ahad Ha’am, who recorded his objections in the sole article he published in Der yud: “Ver iz 'Der yid'? Oykh a briv tsum redakter" ("Who is 'The Jew'? An additional letter to the editor", No. 7, April 1899). This was the only article Ahad Haam ever wrote in Yiddish, which he signed not with his recognized penname but as “A-D-M” [“M-A-N”]. In his opinion Yiddish has a very limited role, mainly as a language for “the simple masses,” whereas Hebrew is the quintessential tongue for loftier Jewish cultural functions. The anonymous editor responded to his argument at the end of the article, reiterating his original stance concerning the anticipated value of the Yiddish weekly.
In order to achieve its goals, the writer of that opening piece promises to publish articles in clearly defined areas. He provides a list of topics, whose order is no less significant than its formulation: 1. Journalistic articles; 2. Belles-lettres; 3. Scientific articles; 4. Historical writings; 5. Literary criticism “in prost yidish far undzer folk” (“in plain Yiddish for our people”). Over the years, Der yud indeed offered material in all these areas. However, their relative weight was the opposite of that suggested by the opening article. The literary section was the richest and most diverse; with hindsight it can be said that here lay Der yud’s main contribution to the development of Yiddish culture. Conversely, the journalistic features fulfilled a secondary role, despite the fact that the editors insisted on their inclusion in every single issue.
The remarkable roster of writers whose pieces of fiction and poetry were published in Der yud include Mendele moykher-sforim, the opening chapter of whose memoirs appears immediately after the opening article of the inaugural issue. Sholem Aleichem published several chapters from "Tevye der milkhiker" and "Menakhem-Mendl", and the series “Di shtot fun di kleyne mentshelekh" (“The City of the Little People”), in which he laid the foundation for a new image of the shtetl in his writings, as well as some of the stories later included in the collection “Mayses far yidishe kinder” (“Stories for Jewish Children”).
Y. L. Peretz's contributions to Der yud are extremely important for the understanding of the neo-Hasidic trend in his writings: His stories “Oyb nisht nokh hekher” (“If Not Higher’), Tsvishn tsvey berg” (“Between Two Mountains”), “Mishnas Hasidim" (Teachings of Hasidim”) and others published in the weekly became the core of his collection of stories about Hasidism.
Alongside these canonical works of the three classics of Yiddish literature, Der yud also published stories and novels of their contemporaries Yankev Dinezon and Mordkhe Spector. Amongst the members of the second generation, it should be noted that Sholem Asch published his very first story in Der yud, which also printed short stories by Avrom Reisen, H. D. Nomberg, and others.
The place devoted to poetry in the weekly was more modest, and the ratio between prose and poetry reflects their relative weight in Eastern European Yiddish literature up to World War I. Nevertheless some of the poetry published in Der yud are fine examples of its highly novel character: The contribution of Yiddish poets from America, such as Morris Rosenfeld, Abraham Liessen, and Yehoash, allowed Der yud to serve as a bridge between the two centers of contemporary Yiddish literature. Among Yiddish poets living in Russia who contributed to Der yud, mention should be made of S. Frug, as well as Ch. N. Bialik with his “Dos letste vort” ("The Final Word”), the first significant instance of the prophetic tone in his poetry.
Der yud was also the first to publish Mark Warshawsky’s poem “Der alef-beys” (“The Alphabet”), which over the years became the most popular song in Yiddish culture. In its first printing, this poem bore the subtitle “A folkslid" (“A folksong”), and it was dedicated to "Shalom Rabinovich," i.e., Sholem Aleichem. This rather nostalgic poem about heder education can serve as evidence that most of the literature published in Der yud abandoned the maskilic approach of the nineteenth century in favor of neo-romantic yearnings. In this respect Der yud signaled a new era in Yiddish literature.
An analysis of the journalistic pieces and the news material, an organic part of the weekly, provides a new perspective of its cultural orientation. Those articles are indicative of a sense of self-awareness binding a community. The idiomatic expression “bay undz” (“among us”) occurs many times in such articles, both in reports of local Jewish communal events as well as in general considerations of Russian Jewry as a whole.
In a similar vein, the address to the readers in the second-person plural is widespread. The fact that a substantial portion of the stories of Der yud, especially those by Peretz, were written as monologues addressed to a present or implied listener (or reader), underscores this trend. The style of the pieces of fiction, the journalistic articles, and even the news items tend towards the conversational, and are designed to forge an intimate bond with the reader. Nevertheless it tries to avoid the chatty and verbose styles, features that were very characteristic of former Yiddish periodicals.
From a lexical perspective, Der yud played a pioneering role in Yiddish journalism in its linguistic choices, as it sought to avoid words from Slavic roots that might not be recognized by some of its readers, Hebrew words which may stir up the worn atmosphere of the old traditional world, and Germanized words (“daytshmerizmen”). It is hard to think of any other publication in the history of Yiddish journalism that was as careful of its language as Der yud.
The vast majority of the journalistic pieces in this weekly related to Jewish topics, whereas the space devoted to news from the wider world was marginal. The main news material focused on events affecting Jews in Czarist Russia, while a far smaller proportion concerned the Jewish community in Palestine. American Jewry received very little attention; Der yud evidently failed to find a regular contributor to report on current events in the US, notwithstanding the fact, as stated above, that Yiddish poetry from the New Country earned a place of prominence in its pages.
The lifespan of Der yud, 1899-1902, did not overlap with earthshaking events that affected the Jews of Eastern Europe. It is therefore interesting to note the wide range of topics which garnered the periodical’s journalistic attention in this period of relative calm: First and foremost was education, including women’s education. This was part of an overall approach, in which Jewish communal initiatives of all kind were of central interest to the weekly, from opening a new hospital to creating a modern Jewish school. The reports did not focus on specific individuals, not even on chief figures of the Zionist movement. The community as a whole was their main subject.
The writer Mordkhe Spector was in charge of the section “Yidishe shtet un shtetlekh” (“Jewish cities and shtetlekh”). Its brief news pieces depict the highly variegated, rich texture of Jewish life. However, one of the main features of Jewish life, Hasidism, does not earn proper recognition in the paper, in contrast to the emphasis it receives in Peretz’s stories. Someone reading this weekly might get the mistaken impression that Hasidism belongs to the past, to the world of memories and legends.
As mentioned above, Der yud promoted Zionism; however, only a small proportion of its content was devoted to the current issues of the movement, with the exception of reports from World Zionist Congresses and local gatherings in Russia. The tacit assumption of the weekly was that despite all the difficulties it faced, Russian Jewry was confronting modernity in its various garbs. This process was basically welcomed, with the reservation that it must avoid the danger of assimilation.
Der yud folded at the end of 1902, in anticipation of the publication of Der fraynd, the first Yiddish daily in Czarist Russia, with Yosef Luria being appointed one of its editors. On the one hand, the passage from a Yiddish weekly to a daily signifies a further momentous stage in the growth of Yiddish journalism in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, the weekly's closure underlines the relative weakness of the youthful Yiddish press, whose participants did not believe that they could sustain both a daily newspaper and a quality weekly. Indeed, most of the contributors of belles lettres to Der yud later found their place in Der fraynd.
Der yud is catalogued in the bibliographical database "Index to Yiddish Periodicals," http://yiddish-periodicals.huji.ac.il. This database includes all the articles published in the publication, provided that they were signed, either with the writer’s real name or a pseudonym. It has a detailed index, categorized by subject matter, which, together with the search engine of the "Historical Jewish Press" site, offers easy access to the wealth of information once enfolded within the pages of this important newspaper.
Professor Avraham Novershtern