The Story of Yiddish: How a Mish-mosh of Languages Saved the Jews

Neal Karlen, Author . Morrow $25.95 (324p) ISBN 978-0-06-083711-2

Karlen (Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew ) offers an often pleasant but clunkily written romp through Yiddish and Yiddishkeit (the culture of Ashkenazic Jews) in America. There are some colorful anecdotes about figures as varied as Bob Dylan, the philanthropist Jacob Schiff and the contemporary Hasidic rabbi Manis Friedman, as well as an introduction to many useful witty Yiddish phrases (the literal Yiddish for “she's good in bed” is “she knows how to dance the mattress polka”). But, oy, are there problems. The book is replete with repetition of anecdotes and observations, and there are errors of fact (Moses Mendelssohn never converted to Christianity, nor does the Bible say, “you shouldn't cook beef in its own calf's milk”). Worse, Karlen provides cartoon versions of Jewish history, shtetl life and scholarship. He makes only a thin case for the thesis stated in his subtitle. As an introduction to Yiddish, Michael Wex's Born to Kvetch is not only more erudite but funnier as well. (Apr. 8)

Reviewed on: 12/24/2007
Release date: 04/01/2008
Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-06-155390-5
Paperback - 324 pages - 978-0-06-083712-9
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 336 pages - 978-0-06-155389-9
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-06-155385-1
Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-06-186011-9
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