On Men and Women Reading Yiddish: Between Manuscript and Print
Amsterdam 19 February 2013
An international workshop organized by Shlomo Berger (University of Amsterdam) and Lucia Raspe (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main / Universität Potsdam) was convened in Amsterdam in order to discuss to what extent the transition from manuscript to print brought about changes in reading habits and audiences of Old Yiddish literature, especially as regards gender.
Presentations included case studies of particular books or genres, such as translations of Judith into Yiddish (Ruth von Bernuth), collections of mayses or stories (Claudia Rosenzweig), or Yiddish grammars of Hebrew (Irene Zwiep), examinations of how and for whom the religious canon was made accessible through tkhines or prayers of supplication (Simon Neuberg), translations of the penitential liturgy (Lucia Raspe) and of Rashi’s commentary on the Pentateuch (Edward Fram), a gendered reading of the bilingual Sefer hahayyim (Avriel Bar-Levav), as well as more methodological considerations of the enduring production of manuscripts in the age of print (Emile Schrijver) and the emergence of the anonymous reader for printed books as understood by book producers and as interpreted by the reading public (Shlomo Berger).
From the roundtable discussion that concluded the workshop, several conclusions may be drawn. While in the age of transition from handwritten to printed books during the sixteenth century the question of gender remained of particular relevance, as manuscripts were often dedicated to women – in fact, not one Yiddish manuscript has been preserved that was expressly written for a man – in the age of print matters changed, if only because of commercial considerations. A Yiddish book was read by males and females alike; nevertheless, paratexts of printed books continue to specify groups of potential readers: males and females, married men and women, youngsters and girls. Indeed, this norm may merely reflect a topos, but it also hints, sometimes even bluntly refers to a gender differentiation which necessitates close attention to the question of how the dynamics of the respective medium shaped the content and reception of the text with each individual work.
The organizers hope to publish the lectures in an edited volume in due course.