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Why have Ashkenazic Jews always conversed in Yiddish?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Library » Miscellaneous » Hebrew / Languages » Other Languages | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Yiddish is a hybrid language - a mixture of German and Hebrew, that was unique to European Jews.

The Midrash (Pessikta Zutrasi) tells us that one of the reasons why Jewish people merited to be redeemed from Egypt was because they did not change their native language in order to adapt to the Egyptian society.1 Thus we find that wherever Jews resided they had their own distinct language.2

In Europe that language was Yiddish - a Jewish form of German, because Germany (the Rhineland area) was the place from where European Jewry originated (this after the Jews were expelled from France in the 13th century).

Jewish law always mandated that Jews interact respectfully and ethically with their non-Jewish neighbors/hosts. At the same time, Jewish communities sought ways to preserve their unique Jewish identity, in order ensure Jewish continuity. Key distinctions have always been that Jews had their own language (in European countries it was Yiddish and the Sephardim also have a Jewish dialect of Spanish, called Ladino, which they always spoke), dress and traditions.

This is one of the secrets behind the astounding fact that an exiled nation, without a homeland, was able to remain relatively unassimilated for close to 2000 years.


  • 1. The other reasons are: They didn't change their dress, names or customs. Indeed the Torah commands us Leviticus 18:3 not to "follow the traditions [of the gentiles]."
  • 2. The language of choice was specifically not (Biblical) Hebrew, for they wished to save Hebrew for holy things only, i.e. prayer and Torah study.
TAGS: yiddish


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Posted by: Ariel B., Alpine, NJ on Sep 27, 2005

if german jews spoke yiddish in their land and spanish jews spoke ladino, then what did middle-eastern jews speak when they were in arab countries like Iran and Syria?

Or did they just speak Hebrew as well as their country's primary language?

Editor's Comment


Jews not assimilating the secret to success

Posted by: Michael, Benton, Il on Feb 01, 2006

You speak of this as if it is a badge of honor that that the Jewish people have lived for centuries without assimilating into their host countries, indeed you say that is the secret to their survival. It puzzles me then Rabbi why the Jews in the American political sphere are the same ones who are calling with such fervor for the peoples of European linneage to integrate our societies. Being of a race of people who were devoid of a homeland of your own it seems that your people did indeed find that the secret to longevity as a people was to hold on to your distinct cultural identit, but at the same time your people who are influential in our society don't seem to want to offer us the same regard. Your Rabbis like Shmuley Boteach, and Abe Foxman of your ADL lay the guilt trip on our people with such seeming glee that one can only wonder if their motives hold a sinister nature.

We are told that not to do so means we are racists. One must seriously wonder about the double standard
(Pl.: Sephardim) A Jew whose ancestors stem from Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa or the Arabian countries.
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Language closely related to German commonly spoken by European Jews.