Diario Judío México - Residents of and visitors to Jewish immigrant neighborhoods in America at the turn of the twentieth century noticed a phenomenon that at first glance seemed like an oxymoron — Christian missionaries distributing tracts in Yiddish. To many, Yiddish symbolized a unique culture which Jews had developed apart from the Christian society in which they lived as a minority in Europe. That missionaries would use Yiddish to promote Christian beliefs and agendas seemed almost unthinkable. While Jews were amazed, and at times angry, at the unexpected use made of what they conceived to be exclusive Jewish cultural tools by Christians attempting to turn them into Christians, missionaries nonetheless created, between the 1880s and the 1950s, a lively Yiddish subculture.[1]

The Yiddish missionary literature aimed at more than attempts to evangelize individual Jews. For many of the missionaries, writing in Yiddish was more than a means of spreading the Christian Gospel. Missionary leaders such as Joseph Kohn wished to influence the Jewish views on social and political matters, hoping to convert Jewish immigrants to Protestant middle-class values. And, within the confines of Protestant evangelical doctrines, missionaries gave expression to their literary gifts and, perhaps to the surprise of most Jews, missionary writers also wished to connect with Jewish life and culture. While missionaries produced an extensive literature in Yiddish and were a part of Jewish life in America for decades, students of Jewish culture have, on the whole, not paid attention to the missionary literature in that language.[2] Similarly, scholars of missionary and Christian-Jewish literature have also overlooked the Yiddish missionary literature.[3] This essay comes to fill a gap and to explore the various literatures of Yiddish missionaries, as well as the reasons that gave rise to the missionary use of Yiddish and that brought about its termination.

The Rise of Missionary Yiddish in America

The 1880s-1890s saw the emergence of a large and vigorous movement among American Protestants to evangelize the Jews. The new movement was inspired by two socio-cultural phenomena: the spread of a premillennialist messianic faith among American Protestants that kindled their interest in the Jews and the prospect of their conversion to Christianity.[4] Emphasizing a more literate understanding of the Bible, conservative American Protestants adopted the messianic faith. Consequently, conservative Protestants saw in the Jews the chosen people, heirs to the covenant between God and Israel, a nation with a special mission in history. The same period also saw the arrival of large numbers of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Many of the newly-arrived immigrants settled in poor neighborhoods in the major cities, working in the garment industry or as pushcart peddlers. Eschatologically oriented, conservative Protestants saw the immigrants as potential converts and established missions in the Jewish immigrant neighborhoods. They disseminated their messages on street corners, visited homes, and invited Jews to their centers to listen to sermons. They also offered newly-arrived immigrants material help as a means of establishing contact and bringing Jews into the mission houses. Memoirs of Jewish immigrants from the turn of the 20th century point to a strong presence of missionaries in the Jewish immigrant neighborhoods and of many Jews approaching the missions out of need.[5] Yiddish was the mother tongue of most immigrants from Eastern Europe of that period. Much of the interaction between missionaries and Jews had to take place in _mame loshn_ [‘mother tongue’, another name for Yiddish].

While many Jews made an effort to learn English, a good number of them still spoke and read Yiddish, even as they were acquiring skills in a new language. Missions recruited Yiddish-speaking missionaries, and even taught non-Jewish missionaries to speak Yiddish. Remarkably, the first non-Jews in America to make a conscious effort to learn Yiddish were Christian missionaries. Speaking in Yiddish, missionaries believed, added to their credibility and thus made them more effective. It also helped them be come more familiar with the Jews and their culture.[6] One non-Jewish missionary, the German-born Arno C. Gaebelein, gave advice on how to speak Yiddish. Knowing German was enough, he claimed. One should “just make as many grammatical mistakes as one could,” he advised.

The Williamsburg Mission to the Jews organized what were probably the first classes in Yiddish to prospective missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century. By the 1910s, missionary schools in America established programs to train professional missionaries to the Jews. Such programs included the study of Yiddish in the curriculum. A good knowledge of Yiddish and the ability to teach it were among the requirements when Bible Institutes were searching for professors for their programs in Jewish evangelism. The programs did not remain confined to the classroom. Students went with their professors on evangelizing tours into Jewish neighborhoods and were expected to gain practical training in the use of the language. Ironically, conservative Christian schools of higher learning such as the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago offered courses in Yiddish decades before secular or liberal Christian institutions of higher learning did so.[7] The directors of such schools thought that missionaries should be acquainted with the languages of the people they evangelized. They expected their students to be able to speak and even preach sermons in Yiddish. The teaching of Yiddish at the Bible colleges, while still retaining elements of prejudice, also reflected the special attitude of premillennialist Protestants towards the Jews and their culture, which was more appreciative than that of most other Christian groups during the period.

Missionary Journals and Tracts in Yiddish

Conversing with Jews in Yiddish was only one activity of Yiddish-speaking missionaries. Much of the missionary Yiddish effort was in the literary realm. Missionaries published a large and varied selection of written material for distribution among prospective

converts. Central features of the missionary literature in Yiddish were the missionary Yiddish periodicals. They were intended for prospective converts and gave expression to the missions’ theological views as well as their outlook on cultural and social issues. Missionaries used journals as pamphlets, distributing them on street corners or handing them out in their centers. Missions often published two journals: one in English, intended for donors and sponsors and meant to promote the mission’ s cause in the Protestant community, and one in Yiddish, intended for Jews. The Hope of Israel Mission English journal, _Our Hope_, for example, became one of the leading conservative journals of Protestant America and was circulated on a national basis. The Yiddish journal the mission published in the 1890s-1900s, _Tiqwas Yisroel_, on the other hand, was distributed mainly on the Lower East Side of New York. Its name hinted at the mission’s views, which stated that the Jews’ ultimate hope was with Jesus.

Another noted Yiddish missionary journal during the period was _Roe Yisroel_ [‘ The Shepherd of Israel’], which the Williamsburg Mission to the Jews (later the American Board of Missions to the Jews) published from the 1890s to the 1960s. Like other titles of Yiddish missionaries, _Roe Yisroel_ also referred to Jesus. The mission also published an English journal, _The Chosen People_, which was still in circulation all through the 20th century. Whereas _The Chosen People_ was sent to subscribers and was intended to muster support for the mission among middle-class Protestants, the Yiddish journal was much shorter and was intended for distribution among prospective converts.[8]

The Yiddish journal, like its English counterpart, reflected the aims and priorities of the mission. It included theological essays on topics such as Jesus, the Trinity, or the Virgin Mary. It also related to more current realities such as the rise of the Zionist movement, which the mission endorsed with some reservations. _Roe Yisroel_ also expressed anti-communist and anti-socialist opinions. As noted, the mission’s leaders wished not only to propagate Christianity among the Jews, but to convert them to the values of Protestant America as well.[9] Its leaders noted with pain that some Jews were attracted to, or at least tolerated, Socialist and Communist ideas. They sought to reeducate the Jews and make them reconsider their views. In relating to the singing of “HaTikva”, the Zionist anthem, and the International, the Socialist anthem, by Jews on the same occasion, the editor of _Roe Yisroel_ remarked: what a “mishmash”.

A different kind of Yiddish missionary journal was _Der vekhter_ [‘The Watchman’], published as a supplement to the _Hebrew Christian Alliance Quarterly_. Organized in 1915 as the association of Jewish converts to Christianity in America, the Hebrew Christian Alliance was strongly associated with missionary work. Many of its members were pastors of Protestant congregations or missionaries, and the organization included in its agenda the propagation of Christianity among the Jews.[10] The Alliance people distributed their journal among members of the organization as well as among non-Jewish supporters of the Hebrew Christian Alliance in the Protestant community. All members read English well, and the Yiddish supplement to the _HCAQ_ was not intended for those among the Alliance members who could not read English. The supplement was rather intended as a missionary tract to be distributed among prospective converts in the Yiddish-speaking community. The supplement was smaller in size (4″ x 3″) and could be printed in large numbers to serve as pamphlets for missionary purposes.

_Der vekhter_ served another purpose as well. Unlike _Roe Yisroel_ [‘Shepherd of Israel’] and _Tiqvas Yisroel_ [‘Hope of Israel’], where most of the articles were translations from the English versions of the journals, _Der vekhter_ presented original works in Yiddish. While the authors could read English, and perhaps also write occasional articles in English, they felt more at ease writing in Yiddish. The Yiddish supplement contained some clear attempts at original literary expressions, including short stories and poetry. One might conclude that while the official purpose of the Yiddish journal was evangelism, its real aim was giving expression to missionaries with literary inclinations whose language and culture were Yiddish. [11] The journal was published by the Hebrew Christian Alliance’s “Literary Fund” and the authors writing for it carried noms de plume such as “Ya’ar” [‘Forest’]. The Yiddish journal provides an example of the cultural world of missionaries writing in Yiddish. Having converted to Christianity, they acquired the theological premises of evangelical Protestantism and built their homes in a Protestant social milieu. But they were still connected culturally to their Jewish roots, felt more comfortable writing in Yiddish, and wrote on Jewish Eastern European or Jewish American immigrant themes. Their stories or poems combined Christian evangelical theology with Jewish scenes and characters.

In addition to journals, missions also produced short booklets and pamphlets in Yiddish to promote the Christian faith among Jews. This included such pamphlets as the lengthy, fifteen-page _Der Tolui_ by Ya”el (also a nom de plume)[12] which explored and promoted the Christian evangelical claim that the death of Jesus on the Cross served as an atonement for the sins of humanity. Another pamphlet was Aaron Kliegerman’s _Der Got-Mentsh — Ver Iz Er?_ [‘The God-Man, Who Is He?’].[13] Laboring as a Presbyterian missionary in Baltimore in the 1920s-1950s, Kliegerman wrote books and articles in English, but his Yiddish was equally good, and he wrote in both languages. In a manner typical of missionary publications, his English tracts were intended for the Christian Presbyterians who backed the mission. He wished to persuade Christians of the importance of evangelizing the Jews. His Yiddish tracts, on the other hand, were written with potential converts in mind.

Another pamphlet that deserves notice is the sixteen-page _Rosheshone_ [‘New Year’s Day’]. The pamphlet concentrated on a calendrical mystery: Why has the Jewish New Year been celebrated on the first day of Tishre, the seventh month, whereas the “true date,” as had been shown in the Bible, is the first of Nissan, the first month. If the Jewish interpreters of the Torah: Tannaim, Amoraim, Geonim, and following generations of rabbis, erred on this crucial matter (whether intentionally or innocently), could they not have erred equally on refusing to recognize Jesus as the Messiah? The readers were encouraged to re-read the Hebrew Bible in the light of Christian interpretations and see for themselves that Jesus was indeed the Messiah about whom the Hebrew Bible (or “Old Testament”), spoke.

_Rosheshone_ is a good illustration of Yiddish missionary pamphlets intended for Jews. The author referred to the celebration of a Jewish holiday and to the Jewish sacred texts in order to make a case for Christianity. Missionaries assumed that only those Jews who had accepted Christianity would view Christian texts as authoritative. Until then, one had to use Jewish sources to persuade the Jews to consider the Gospel. Accordingly, in Yiddish the author presented himself as a rabbi, whereas in the English translation of the title page of the pamphlet he presented himself as an ex-rabbi.[14]

American missions labored overseas and distributed tracts in Yiddish in Europe, Latin America, and Palestine.[15] The American Yiddish book most widely distributed, both in America and overseas, was probably _Dos tsveyte kumen fun dem meshiekh_ [‘The Second Coming of the Messiah’].[16] Like many of the Yiddish missionary tracts, it was a translation from the English. The original _Jesus is Coming_ by William E. Blackstone first appeared in 1878 and became a Protestant messianic bestseller[17] ; Blackstone established the Chicago Hebrew Mission in 1887 and _Jesus Is Coming_ was much distributed by his mission[18]. Blackstone, like other missionaries, wished that, in addition to becoming believers in the messiahship of Jesus, Jews would accept the idea of Jesus’ second coming. The book promoted the idea that the current era was about to end and the apocalyptic events were to begin soon, culminating in the return of Jesus to earth and the establishment of the 1000-year reign of Jesus on earth. The book also promoted the belief that the Jews were the Chosen People, destined to play a vital role in the events that would lead to the arrival of the Messiah as well as to the messianic kingdom. In 1906, Blackstone received a large amount of money from the Milton Stewart Fund to carry out evangelistic work in America and around the world. He used part of the funds to finance missionary work among the Jews. This included the translation of _Jesus is Coming_ into Yiddish and its circulation in tens of thousands of copies in North America and Eastern Europe.

The translator, Peter Gorodishz, was a missionary who worked in Russia and Poland. “In his preface, he described Blackstone as ‘eyner fun yisroels greste fraynd’, one of the greatest friends of the Jews….” who had advocated their return to their ancient homeland. Accepting a copy of the book and reading it was thus “kosher,” as it was written by a person who expressed pro-Jewish sentiments, helped the Zionist cause, and militated against discrimination towards Jews.[19] Describing Blackstone as an advocate of Jewish causes was helpful in making his book less objectionable to Jews. American Protestant missionaries such as Blackstone saw themselves as friends of the Jews, evangelizing them out of goodwill and concern for their fate. They distanced themselves from the bitter experiences that at times characterized Christian relations with the Jews. Such an attitude was essential for the propagation of the Gospel among the Jews, since Jews were used to seeing in Christianity an alien hostile religion. The Yiddish title of the book is suggestive. In English, it is called _Jesus is Coming_, a title that promotes the eschatological premillennialist faith in the imminent return of Jesus to earth. The Yiddish title, _Dos tsveyte kumen fun dem meshiekh_, conveys a very different message. The Yiddish translation suggests that missionaries had to convince Jews that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and that the Messiah had already come to earth once before. Soon he would come for the second time, bringing redemption to those who put their trust in him.

Jewish community leaders and activists were not convinced by the missionaries’ claims of being friends of the Jews. Jewish leaders have viewed missionary activity as a delegitimization of Judaism and as a continuation of the time-old Christian unwillingness to accept Jewish existence outside of the Christian Church. During the early decades of missionary activity in Yiddish in America (the 1880s-1920s), it was curiously members of the Jewish elite who were most opposed to the missionary presence. Although they hardly encountered missionaries, and for the most part would not have been able to read the Yiddish missionary tracts, they viewed missionary work among the Jews as an insult and a threat to their own standing in American society. Well-established middle-class Jews could not understand why Jews would interact with missionaries and saw it as a lack of Jewish pride to use services offered by the missions.[20] But their call to boycott the missions fell on deaf ears. As memoirs of Jews who grew up in the immigrant community reveal, newly arrived immigrants visited the mission houses, accepted material aid, and, at times, came to hear the missionary messages.[21] While missionaries sometimes encountered resentment among immigrant Jews, they had no difficulty distributing their leaflets and tracts and making their voices heard in the Jewish community. Immigrant Jews encountered the Yiddish missionary publications and presence on an almost daily basis.

The Yiddish New Testament

One of the more ambitious Yiddish ventures in America was the translation of the New Testament into Yiddish. Until the turn of the twentieth century, Yiddish New Testaments were reprints of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century publications with editorial touches. These were basically Yiddishized versions of German translations going back as far as Martin Luther’s major translation of the New Testament. Missionaries who knew Yiddish well considered them to be an embarrassment to the missionary cause, particularly when read by educated Jews. Jewish antagonists to missionary activity cited inaccuracies in the Yiddish texts as a part of their efforts to delegitimize the gospel message.[22]

A Jewish missionary, Henry Einspruch, decided to translate the New Testament into modern literary Yiddish. Einspruch was born in 1892 in Tarnow, Galicia, a section of Poland that was then under Austro-Hungarian rule. He was raised in a Yiddish-speaking home and studied Yiddish in the Jewish school in his hometown. In 1911 he went to Palestine as a halutz, a Zionist pioneer, and worked for a few weeks on a newly founded Zionist agricultural farm, where he contracted malaria and decided to leave. On his return to Poland he met a missionary, Khayem Lucky, under whose guidance Einspruch accepted the Christian faith.[23] He decided to leave Poland for America, where he could practice his new faith more openly, far from the intimidating presence of family and friends. He decided to become a missionary and took a position with the Cleveland Hebrew Mission. In 1917 he enrolled at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. In Chicago he began writing missionary tracts, in Yiddish and English, which were published by the Chicago Tract Society. It was also during this period that Einspruch began translating the New Testament into Yiddish. His translation of the Book of Matthew was published by the American Bible Society, which sponsored the publications of many Bible translations. Upon his graduation from the seminary in 1920, Einspruch began working with the United Lutheran Church in America, which sponsored his Salem Hebrew Mission in Baltimore, Maryland, giving him a great deal of autonomy.

Einspruch devoted much time to writing, establishing his own missionary journal, _The Mediator_, in 1928. The name was symbolic. It indicated that its purpose was to mediate between the Jews and their salvation. In this case, it might have also demonst rated the mission’s purpose as a mediator between the beliefs and values of Protestant Christian America and the immigrant Jewish community. This Yiddish and English quarterly enjoyed a circulation of more than fifty thousand copies at its peak. While t aking pride in the good Yiddish of his own journal, Einspruch was dissatisfied with the Yiddish texts the missionary movement in general provided: “Most Jewish missionaries are familiar with the derisive appellation ‘missionary Yiddish’. To say that the greater part of our Yiddish tracts are a horrible mutilation of a people’s language (and in this I include the Yiddish Old and New Testaments) is to put it very mildly.”[24]

Einspruch’s magnum opus, a Yiddish translation of the complete New Testament, was motivated by his desire to provide prospective Jewish converts with an accurate, modern edition of the Christian gospel. It also reflected Einspruch’s literary aspirations as a Yiddish writer and gave him an opportunity to express his gifts. In this respect, Einspruch was not unique; the task of translating the Bible often gave missionaries with scholarly and literary inclinations an opportunity to express themselves and their creativity while serving missionary needs and without stepping out of line doctrinally.[25] Einspruch’s desire to translate the New Testament into Yiddish might have also been inspired by a wave of translations of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, into Yiddish that took place at the turn of the 20th century.

Yiddish glosses of the Tanakh constitute the very beginnings of Yiddish literature and the numerous editions of the so-called “Women’s Bible,” the _Tsenerene_ were actually also read by men who were not scholars.[26] With the rise of a more secular Yiddish-speaking culture, and the realization that many Yiddish-speaking Jews would prefer to read the Bible in Yiddish, Jewish writers proposed to translate the sacred text into the Jewish vernacular. A number of ambitious literary enterprises ar ose to translate the Jewish Bible into Yiddish. Yiddish literary luminaries, such as Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sholem Aleichem, and Y- L. Peretz translated portions of the Jewish canon of sacred scriptures. The most ambitious and complete translation into Yiddish of the Hebrew Bible was that of Solomon Bloomgarden, who chose the nom de plume Yehoyesh [< Hebrew: Yehoash], and whose work came out during Einspruch’s early years as a missionary.[27] Though there is a large corpus of Yiddish Bible translations, and poems based on biblical books, it was not until the poet Yehoyesh undertook his monumental rendition, which is both literary and scholarly, that a full and adequate translation into modern Yiddish was created.

Einspruch must have been aware of the new wave of translations, and had likely read some or all of them. Likewise, Einspruch must have been aware of and influenced by the new missionary translations of the New Testament into Hebrew. Franz Delitzch’s late-nineteenth- century translation of the New Testament into biblical-like Hebrew, for example, became the most accepted one among missions and has been in use throughout the 20th century, and might have served as a model for Einspruch. Unlike Einspruch’s earlier translations, this enterprise was not carried out through the American Bible Society but rather as his mission’s independent enterprise. This demanded attending to all stages of production. Einspruch decided that in order to p roduce the book, he had to acquire his own printing equipment. Some Christian presses, such as Fleming H. Revell or the American Bible Society, published books in Yiddish, as did a number of missions. But Einspruch wanted the printing of his translation to be of the highest possible quality and wanted to choose the font. The cost of this project, as well as Einspruch’s other literary ventures, was considerable, much more than the local Lutheran church in Baltimore was willing to spend on Yiddish literary enterprises. Einspruch approached private donors and was successful in gaining the support of a philanthropist, Harriett Lederer, for the mission and its publications. Lederer’s assistance gave Einspruch’s mission financial security and greater independence. When the United Lutheran Church later on lost interest in Jewish evangelism, the mission became an independent organization and assumed the name “the Lederer Foundation.”

The first edition of Einspruch’s New Testament in Yiddish came out in 1941 in a 590-page edition. Translations involve theological and cultural choices, and, in the course of his work, Einspruch made some major ones.[28] It was important for him to write in good Yiddish prose, yet he was also a missionary and tried to choose words and expressions that would promote the Christian evangelical message and would make the text more inviting to Jews. Einspruch, for example, chose for his translated New Testament the title “Der bris khodoshe” instead of “Dos naye testament”, which had served as the title of the New Testament until the late ninteenth century. Literally, “Bris khodoshe” does not mean ‘New Testament’ but rather ‘New Covenant’. The new title was probably borrowed from Franz Delitzsch’s late-nineteenth-century translation of the New Testament into Hebrew. Einspruch thus conveyed through the title of his translation a message that emphasized the Christian messianic interpretation of history which the missionaries promoted, namely that there would be a new covenant between God and his people.

The translation was accompanied by a number of illustrations reminiscent of those of Ephraim Moshe Lilien (1874-1925), a popular Bible illustrator; they created a familiar atmosphere meant to make the New Testament more acceptable and legitimate for Jews. The first page of the text shows an old Jewish man with a long white beard, dressed with a yarmulke [‘skullcap’], and talit [‘ prayer shawl’], surrounded by burning candles, and reading a book. The scene suggests that the New Testament is an old Jewish book that should be read and studied like a sacred Jewish text, just as dedicated rabbinical scholars study Jewish texts deep into the night. The illustration correlates with Einspruch’s translation, which begins: “Dos iz dos seyfer fun dem yikhes fun Yeyshue hameshiekh, dem zun fun Dovidn, dem zun fun Avromen,” familiarizing Jesus as a descendent of David and Abraham. In his use of the crucial word _yikhes_ [< Hebrew _yichus_], which in Jewish culture means much more than ‘lineage’ or ‘genealogy’, Einspruch wisely follows earlier translators. Often used in match-making to point to the high value of potential brides and grooms, _yikhes_ means “pedigree”; it relates to honored ancestors and boosts the credentials of the “yakhsan” — the individual claiming the pedigree. Jesus, it is implied, has excellent credentials by virtue of his “yikhes”.

His missionary intentions notwithstanding, Einspruch’s translation aroused the interest and appreciation of the Yiddish literary community. Meylekh Ravitsh (1893-1976), a noted Yiddish writer of the day, published a review of the work in Yiddish. At that time he lived in Mexico City and wrote for the Yiddish daily _Der veg_; he was not a Christian, but rather a non-Zionist Jewish nationalist.[29] He did not care for Einspruch’s Christian messianic understanding of history and missionary aims, but he appreciated the translation. In his review article, Ravitsh explained to his readers why he thought it necessary for Jews to read the New Testament: “For well known reasons, the New Testament has remained for many Jews a book sealed with seven seals. And that is truly a pity, for to some seven hundred million people it is a sacred book. A cultured person should know such a work; I myself have read it and recommend it to every intelligent Jew…. The New Testament [is] one of the most important books in the world. How then can we Jews afford to ignore it?”

Ravitsh welcomed the new translation, which he felt was the first decent one, and remarked, “The Einspruch translation of the New Testament is unquestionably beautiful. One feels that the translator is familiar with modern Yiddish literature and that he is a master of the finest nuances of the language. In comparison with previous translations, this is truly an outstanding work.”[30] Ravitsh’s appreciative outlook reflected a common trend among Yiddish writers. Although they were hardly enthusiastic about missionary work among their brethren, they did not ostracize Jewish Christian Yiddish writers, not even those who made their livelihood by missionizing fellow Jews. Contrary to a prevailing Jewish myth, the dislike of “shmad”, or Jewish conversion to Christianity, did not necessarily bring about a termination of the convert’s connections with Jews and Jewish life. It only made these connections more complicated. Einspruch’s literary achievements gave him an entry into Yiddish literary circles, which had opened its doors to other converted Jewish writers as well.

Einspruch took great pride in his literary achievement, but his hope that his book would become the exclusive Yiddish New Testament distributed in America did not materialize. A mixture of missionary and literary rivalries stood in his way. At the same time that Einspruch was working on his translation, a few thousand miles away another missionary was preparing a translation of the New Testament into Yiddish. Aaron Krolenbaum had also been born in Poland, converted to Christianity in the early 1920s, and moved to England, where he received a thorough Christian education as a minister. Krelenbaum became a missionary with the Mildmay Mission to the Jews and worked among the Jewish immigrants of the East End of London.[31] Like Einspruch, he pursued his studies and obtained a bachelor’s degree. A scholar by inclination, he learned Greek and took upon himself the task of translating the New Testament into Yiddish. Like his American fellow missionary, Krolenbaum wanted to present his readers with an accurate, respectable version of the New Testament. He, too, saw it as a personal challenge and an expression of his scholarly and literary abilities. It might well be that when the two missionaries began pursuing their great literary tasks they did not realize that they were competing with each other. But they both possessed an almost passionate determination to translate the New Testament into Yiddish. In 1949, just a few years after the triumphant appearance of Einspruch’s translation, Krolenbaum’s translation appeared in England to even greater acclaim. Paul Levertoff, the patriarch of Jewish Christian writers, wrote on the Acknowledgements page: “I think this Yiddish translation can compare favorably with any standard translation of the New Testament, whether Hebrew, German, Russian, or any other language with which I am familiar, and Aaron Krolenbaum is to be congratulated on his arduous and successful work.”

A number of missions in America, such as the Million Testaments Campaign headquartered in Philadelphia, and the American Board of Missions to the Jews (the largest mission to the Jews in America), decided to publish and distribute Krolenbaum’s translation when it appeared in 1949 instead of Einspruch’s translation.[32] The decision was not based on literary considerations. The leaders of the American Board of Missions to the Jews, for example, viewed Einspruch’s missionary endeavor as competition. In their vision, their organization was to be the only mission to the Jews and they did not wish to boost Einspruch’s morale and promote his mission. Consequently, they printed Krolenbaum’s translation instead. The relationship between Krolenbaum and Einspruch became one of open animosity.[33]

Their clash, too, showed them to be not unlike many other Yiddish writers of their day — jealous and grudging. There was an irony in the Yiddish writers’ competing ambitions, as well as a tragic touch. The publication of accurate and respectable transl ations of the New Testament into Yiddish came out just when Yiddish was ceasing to be the major language of the Jewish masses. Einspruch’s and Krelenbaum’s was the last generation that could make widespread use of their translations. Even when published, most American Jews were reading English. The missions themselves contributed to the move from Yiddish to English. English language courses were an important part of the services the missions offered in an attempt to bring Jews to enter the missions and take interest in the Christian message. Ironically, this took place at the same time that missions were producing extensive written material in Yiddish and young missionaries were making an effort to study the language. The missions were aware that im migrant Jews were eager to learn English and that the use of Yiddish was on the decline. In this respect, missionaries were not unlike some leading Jewish cultural figures of the period. The editor of the largest Yiddish daily in America, Abraham Cahan, promoted Americanization and saw the use of Yiddish as a transitory stage in the life of American Jews.

Conclusion

In the early 1960s, Yiddish journals including Einspruch’s _Mediator_ and the American Board of Missions to the Jews’ _Shepherd of Israel_ closed down, one after the other. The segment of American Jews that preferred Yiddish to English dwindled considerably, and was about to disappear almost entirely. The Moody Bible Institute removed the teaching of Yiddish from its curriculum in 1965 — thus bringing an era to an end. Producing literature in Yiddish or teaching Yiddish to prospective missionaries was, from the point of view of the missions, a non-productive move.

The rise and fall of missionary Yiddish in America correlated with developments in the larger Jewish culture. Coming into being at the same time that a large Yiddish-speaking population settled in America, it reached its end when that population dwindled and almost disappeared. Some of the dilemmas that faced Yiddish writers in America were shared by missionary Yiddish writers. The culture of many of the writers was Yiddish, and writing in Yiddish allowed them to give expression to their gifts in a lan guage that was their own. Yet they were writing for an aging and dwindling audience. They wrote for themselves perhaps more than for their audience.

Missionary Yiddish was never as free and creative as secular Yiddish. Operating under the auspices of conservative Christian organizations, and committed to a Christian premillennialist philosophy of history and a conservative view of culture, missionaries writing in Yiddish had to confine themselves to the doctrines and worldview of conservative Protestant Christianity. They were not allowed to discuss sexual or erotic themes and could not produce the kind of literature that many secular Yiddish writers did. They opposed the theater and could not write plays such as those that Goldfaden and others had produced. Their theological and cultural standing drastically limited their literary scope. In this respect, they could be compared to Orthodox Jewish writers in Yiddish, who could write only on religious, social, or political themes. It was no wonder that most of the missionary Yiddish literary accomplishments were in the realm of translations.

Producing literature in Yiddish nonetheless meant a great deal to missionaries. It was much more than a vehicle to reach Jews. It signified their connection to Jewish life and culture. Speaking and writing in Yiddish — they were Jews. It further served to signify that the missions took genuine interest in the Jewish people and showed respect for their culture. They were their friends. Enemies of Jews would not speak or write in Yiddish. Since the 1960s, missions have found other means to convey such a message. They have begun to use Hebrew names, play Israeli music, have expressed support for Israel, and organize tours to that country. In this realm, too, the trend in the missions correlated to that of the general Jewish public, where Hebrew and attachment to Israel replaced Yiddish culture.

In the 1970s, Messianic Judaism, a more Jewishly assertive movement of Jewish converts to Christianity, came into being, emphasizing the loyalty of converts to their Jewish roots. While almost no one among the new generation of converts knew Yiddish, messianic Jews and missionary groups, such as Jews for Jesus, began incorporating Yiddish words and expressions into their vocabulary, thus emphasizing their attachment to their Jewish heritage.[34] This development, too, was in line with the changes in American culture at large, where the search for roots and the rediscovery of heritage became prevalent. It also correlated with the attitude towards Yiddish in the general Jewish population, where a renewed interest in Yiddish has taken place among the grandchildren of Jewish immigrants.

In the late 1980s, about a decade after Einspruch’s death, when Yiddish was virtually a dead language, as far as the masses of Jews in America were concerned, and the Yiddish New Testament ceased being distributed, the directors of the Lederer Foundation donated the Yiddish printing set and equipment, which Einspruch had acquired half a century earlier, to the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. Posthumously, and unwittingly, missionary Yiddish became part of the Yiddish heritage in America.


[1] I would like to thank Ruth Blum, Victoria Hertz, Leonard Prager, Jorge Quinonez, Wes Taber, Robert I. Winer, M.D., and Sheva Zucker, for their help.

[2] Benjamin Harshav, _The Meaning of Yiddish_ (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990); _Yiddish Language and Culture: Then and Now_, edited by Leonard Jay Greenspoon (Omaha: Creighton University Press, 1998). The collection carries a much welcomed es say on Bible Societies in Britain, and their efforts to translate the Bible into Yiddish; Miriam Weinstein, _Yiddish: A Nation of Words_ (New York: Ballantine Books, 2001).

[3] Karl Pruter, _Jewish Christians in the United States: A Bibliography_ (New York: Garland, 1987).

[4] Cf. Yaakov Ariel, _Evangelizing the Chosen People: Missions to the Jews in America 1880-2000_ (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 1-76.

[5] Rose Cohen, _Out of the Shadow_ (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995). Such descriptions corroborate both Christian missionary sources and Jewish anti-missionary ones.

[6] Arno C. Gaeblein, _Half a Century: The Autobiography of a Servant_ (New York: Our Hope, 1930), 30.

[7] On the program at the Moody Bible Institute, see Ariel, _Evangelizing the Chosen People_, 93-100.

[8] In the latter decades of the journal’s existence, the mission published _Roe Yisroel_ in two languages, English and Yiddish.

[9] See, for example, in the pages of _The Shepherd of Israel_.

[10] Cf. Robert I. Winer, _The Calling: The History of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America 1915-1990_ (Wynnewood, Pennsylvania: Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, 1990).

[11] Cf. for example, _Der vekhter_ [‘The Watchman’], Vol. 2, No. 1, January 1918.

[12] Ya”el [Joseph Emanuel Landsmann], _Der Tolui_ (Newark, N.J.: Light Bearers Publication Society, 1926). I owe thanks to Leonard Prager, who brought the booklet to my attention, and to Mr. Jorge Quinonez, for sending me a copy.

[13] Arn-Yude Kliegerman, _Der Got-Mentsh — Ver Iz Er_ (Chicago: The Book Store, n.d.)

[14] Khanokh K. Bregman, _Rosheshone_, (Toronto: Beys Dorshey Emes, n.d.).

[15] Cf. Harold A. Sevener, _A Rabbi’s Vision: A Century of Proclaiming Messiah_ (Charlotte, North Carolina: Chosen People Ministries, 1994), 182-183.

[16] WEB (William E. Blackstone), _Dos tsveyte kumen fun dem meshiekh_ (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, 1917), 152-153. I owe thanks to Mr. Wes Taber, who very kindly sent me a copy of the Yiddish version of the book.

[17] William E. Blackstone, _Jesus is Coming_ (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, 1878).

[18] On William E. Blackstone, see Yaakov Ariel, _On Behalf of Israel_ (New York: Carlson, 1991), 55-96.

[19] Blackstone, _Dos tsveyte kumen fun dem meshiekh__, 10-18.

[20] American Hebrew_, 91 (Septermber 27, 1912), 617.

[21] Cohn, _Out of the Shadow_, 160.

[22] Henry Einspruch, “Literature for the Christian Approach to the Jews,” in _Christians and Jews: Report of the Atlantic City Conference on the Christian Approach to the Jews_ (New York: International Missionary Council, 1931), 97-102.

[23] On Einspruch’s life, see _Henry Einspruch, the Man with the Book_ (Baltimore, Lederer Foundation, 1976).

[24] Ibid.

[25] Cf. William F. Smalley, _Translation as Mission: Bible Translation in the Modern Missionary Movement_ (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1991), 16, 39-40.

[26] On the _Tsenerene_, see Weinstein, Yiddish, 23.

[27] Harry M. Orlinsky, “Yehoash’s Yiddish Translation of the Bible,” in _Essays in Biblical Culture and Bible Translation_ (New York: KTAV, 1974), 418-422.

[2]8 Cf. Ibid, 83-132.

[29] Ravitsh is the father of the Israeli painter Yosl Bergner.

[30] Yiddish readers in America who have read Einspruch’s translation tend to agree with Ravitsh’s assessment of its beauty. See, for example, Peter Heineg’s opinion (in a letter to Yaakov Ariel, June 23, 2002).

[31] Leonard Prager, _Yiddish Culture in Britain_, (Frankfurt-Am-Main: Peter Lang, 1990), 383-84.

[32] The American Board of Missions to the Jews would not distribute Einspruch’s translation even before Krolenbaum’s translation came out. Instead, in 1947 they used “a translation made and published by the British and Foreign Bible Society of London, England in 1901 and now reprinted with their approval.” The American Board called the 1947 reprint the “Leopold Cohn Memorial Edition” in honor of its founder and first director.

[33] Cf. Cynthia Ozick, “Envy or Yiddish in America,” in _Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories_, 39-100; Abraham Shulman, “Boulevard Isaac Bashevis Singer,” — In the Heart of New York, _Midstream_ 41:8 (November 1995): 38-40.

[34] For example, the column “In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos.” In _Issues: A Messianic Jewish Perspective_.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (C)Copyright 2002-2003 Yaakov Ariel. All Rights Reserved.

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