The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phrase search: "names of god"
- Exclude terms: "names of god" -zerah
- Volume/Page: v9 p419
- Diacritics optional: Ḥanukkah or hanukkah
- Search by Author: altruism author:Hirsch
search tips & recommendations


The language spoken by the German Jews in Russia, former Poland, Austria, Rumania, and lately in America and South Africa. It is spoken also by many Jews in Germany, where, however, it is fast dying out. Before the end of the fifteenth century the Hebrew transliteration ofGerman is sporadically met with in the responsa of the Rabbis, in glosses and exegetic treatises, and occasionally in works of profane literature. In these the language in no way differs from the current idiom of Middle High German; and there is no evidence of the existence of a dialectic form of German among the Jews of central and eastern Europe previous to the invention of printing. The large number of Judæo-German books issued in the first century of the printing-press, and the wide-spread dissemination of such works in Germany, led in the seventeenth century to the writing of a series of grammatical sketches by the missionaries and by the scholars Buxtorf, Wagenseil, and Pfeffer. According to them, the Jews spoke a German dialect which differed from the literary norm in that it made use of antiquated words and of a large number of Germanized Hebrew ones. Its chief distinction, however, lay in its use of the Hebrew characters. The German spoken by the Jews of Moravia, Poland, and Bohemia these scholars stigmatize as corrupt, which goes to prove that the origin of Judæo-German must be assigned to a period much earlier than that of which they treat.

It is hard to ascertain what led to this peculiar development of the German language. The most plausible explanation is the one given by Güdemann, that it was due to the spread of German to Slavic countries, where the Jews were isolated from the purifying influence of the mother tongue; and that later, in the sixteenth century, the modified language was carried to Germany by Polish teachers and rabbis, who monopolized almost completely the learned professions during the next three hundred years. There were Jews in Slavic countries before the eleventh century; but it seems that they spoke Slavic. After the devastation of Galicia by the Tatars, however, Daniel of Galitch (1215-66) invited strangers, among them German Jews, to settle in his wasted province. After that, Polish kings frequently invited them to form town settlements among the agricultural Poles. Their solidarity and privileged self-government were favorable to the preservation of the language which they had brought from their German homes; but their isolation and their predilection for Talmudic and exegetic studies introduced a large number of Hebrew and Aramaic words into the vocabulary of the learned and thence into that of daily life, while their Slavic surroundings furnished them with many others denoting familiar objects. In their present state, the various Judæo-German dialects contain about 70 per cent of German, 20 per cent of Hebrew, and 10 per cent of Slavic words. The construction is chiefly German, though here and there Polish and Russian influences are patent.


Originally the Jews spoke of their language as "Teutsch," i.e., German, from which it did not differ in any way. This is evidenced in the verb "verteutschen" (= "to translate," i.e., to render into German) and in the common expression "steutsch" (= "What do you mean?"), contracted from "is teutsch," for some such phrase as "Wie ist das auf Deutsch?" (= "What does that mean in German?"). In the sixteenth century, when the written form of the Judæo-German differed considerably from the literary German, mainly in the presence of Hebrew words, the common designation was "Iwre-Teutsch," or "Jüdisch-Teutsch." The early Bible translations and ethical works are written in that "Iwre-Teutsch"; and down to the present time all ethical works and prayer-books have imitated the style found in the older productions. Such a procedure was made necessary by the fact that the "Ẓe'ena u-Re'ena" and similar works had become household books, appearing in an almost unchanged form and in countless editions for more than three centuries. This stage of the language is known under the name of "Tchines-Teutsch," i.e., "Prayer German," or "Korben-Minche-Teutsch," and "Sidder-Teutsch," i.e., "Prayer-book German," and is frequently used by modern writers in semiliturgic works, as by Abramowitsch in his hymns and Saturday prayers. Conformably to its ancient origin, it is comparatively free from Hebrew words.

For the spoken idiom there was no special term, though such words as "mame-loshen," i.e., "mother tongue," and "prost-Jüdisch," i.e., "simple Jewish," were used by writers of the earlier part of the nineteenth century; indeed, they are occasionally heard even now. The Mendelssohnian reform cast a slur on the "simple Jewish," and scornfully called it a "jargon." This contemptuous appellation has been adopted by Judæo-German writers in Russia, and is now the most current name for the language as used for literary purposes. The other common name, "Jüdisch," i.e., "Jewish," has been carried by Jewish emigrants to English-speaking countries, where it has given rise to the form "Yiddish."

Southern, Polish, and Lithuanian.

Judæo-German is not a uniform language; the term is a generic name for a number of dialects that differ considerably among themselves. Rumanian, Hungarian, and Lithuanian Jews speak varieties sufficiently intelligible to one another, just as Bavarians, Silesians, and Alsatians understand one another; but their dialects are distinct, and owe their origin to the different localities in Germany from which the Jews emigrated. From linguistic evidence, it may be assumed that a small territory, with Frankfort-on-the-Main for its center, represents all the variations current in the eastern part. This assumption is sustained by the survival of town names, such as Mainz, Speyer, Worms, as the family names of Russian and Polish Jews. Originally, no doubt, the various colonies spoke their separate dialects; but frequent migrations brought them into competition, and either a fusion took place or the more prominent caused the others to disappear. The dialects of Judæo-German may be conveniently grouped in three divisions: (1) the southern, spoken in the south of Russia, in parts of Galicia, and in Rumania, and corresponding more closely to a variety of Bavarian; (2) the Polish, the dialect of Poland and parts of Lithuania and Galicia; and (3) the Lithuanian, the dialect spoken in the greater part of Lithuania and bearing strong resemblances to the dialects of Henneberg and of parts of Saxony. The most characteristic difference is in the vocalism, the Lithuanian having almost entirely lost its long vowels, thePolish abounding in diphthongs, while the southern variety has proceeded farthest in the vowel-mutation.

There are many indications of the antiquity of Judæo-German. Many Middle High German forms have been preserved here that have disappeared from the modern German. The long "i" has given "ay" in the Lithuanian and "a" in the Polish, whereas Middle High German "ei" has become "ey" in the Lithuanian and "ay" in the southern dialects. The "u" in "kummen" has not mutated to "o" in the Lithuanian, but has gone over to "i" in the Polish and the southern varieties. Slavic words have frequently undergone the same mutations as German words; and similar mutations have taken place in the Hebrew element of Judæo-German. It is due to this adaptation of the Hebrew to the changed German language that the Polish pronunciation of Hebrew differs so much from the Sephardic.


The grammar has remained strictly Germanic, though much simplified in forms. The genitive has almost entirely disappeared from the declension; the plural formation has been enriched by the Hebrew "im," the German dialectic "ech," and the Hebrew "es," which last, however, is found also in German dialects. Judæo-German is exceedingly rich in diminutives; and this part of its structure is the only one that has been well investigated (by A. Landau). The verb has lost the imperfect tense; and all the prepositions govern the dative case. The order of words is much simpler than in modern German, being very much like that in English. The structure of the sentence is greatly influenced by the Slavic idioms; and Hebrew has left a few traces in the periodic arrangement of the parts.

Judæo-German as used for literary purposes is even more varied than the spoken dialects. The writers attempt to use the native dialect; but, being unhampered by an established grammar, and being accustomed to look upon Judæo-German as a corruption of literary German, they make more or less near approaches to the latter. The pure vernacular was first written in the beginning of the nineteenth century by Phinehas Mendel Lefin, a Galician; and varieties of the southern dialect have since been used by most of the writers of Judæo-German, from Ettinger to Abramowitsch. At first the Lithuanian dialect was but rarely used in literature, Dick being the most prominent writer in the Lithuanian half a century ago. At present, however, the northern idiom seems to be in the ascendent. This is particularly the case with the periodical literature in America, where hardly any other form is met with. The Polish vernacular has a few adherents, and has been used with especial vigor by Perez.

The scant literary development of Judæo-German previous to the middle of the nineteenth century has left the vocabulary poor; and various means have been used to supply its needs. Some have freely introduced the common terms of the other European languages, while others persist in coining new words from Hebrew stems. Others, again, have adopted the current words of the country; so that one may find Russian, Polish, Bohemian, Slovenian, Hungarian, and Rumanian elements in the Judæo-German of the various writers. In America the literary dialect is made to approach German more closely; but there is also a large infusion of English words.

The following series of extracts, representing four centuries and most of the countries in which Judæo-German is spoken, gives but an imperfect idea of all the shades of the vernacular; an investigation of the history of the language from its incipiency to the present time has not yet been made. The examples are given in the transcriptions in which they are found in recent works.

Specimens of Judæo-German. (Of the fifteenth century; in Grünbaum, "Chrestomathie.")

Got kunig oberster Got er wont im himel, et ist stark im himel, sterk seines gewalt sie wert derhecht. Ewig un' aumer er wert kunigen. Wen as dein namen Got aso ist dein lob, du bist hert zu derzornen un' du bist senft zu wiligen un' nit du begerst an zu töten der da ist schuldig zu töten um sein sund wenn neuert das er wider kert von seinen tods, du wartest zu ihm ob er wider kert un' tut zu hant du onpfangst ihn, wen du Got du bist ir beschefer un' drum du weist un' kenst wol ir gedeknis, wen sie sein vleisch un' blut.

(1544; ib.)

Zu dem Ubersiger zu Knecht Gots zu das er hot geret zu Got, Red des Gesang das dosig, am Tag da hat beschirmt in Got von tener al sein veinden un' von hant . Un' er sprach, ich wil liben dich Got mein Sterk, Got mein Velsen un' mein Geheg un' mein Ontrinner, mein Got mein Sterk, ich beschuz mich an im, mein Schilt un' Horn meiner Hulf, mein Sterk,

(1586; ib.)

Wol dem man der nit in der rat get, un' in weg der sünder nit er stet, in gesess der speter nit er sizt, neiert auf recht der gibt er sein sin ue' wiz. Die recht der halt er in groser acht, da inen lernt er tag un' nacht, der selbig wert sein as ein baum der vun wasser nit stet weit, welcher sein ops gibt in seiner zeit.

(1615; ib.)

Es is ein zeit zum schweigen, es is auch ein zeit zum reden. ale ding hot seine zeit, schweigen iz wol gut, reden vil besser wen es not thut; es is nit ale mol wol getan wen man schweigt, den wen dich einer an deiner eren un' antast, heisst dich ein oder der gleichen, un' du woltest derzu schweigen, so thustu nit wol dran.

(1648; ib.)

der Vater von that verkauft . Un' is ein mal derbei gestanden, un' wenn einer is gekommen un' hat gewolt kaufen da fragt Wie alt bistu? Da entfert er fufzig oder sechzig jar, da sagt er wieder: du bist nun alt sechzig jar un' du wilst dich bucken zu einem das da ein tag alt ist? Da hat sich der selbiger geschemt un' is weg gegangen.

(1753; ib.)

Kumt her libe manen un' frauen, un' tut das schen anschauen, mit drei hundert und etliche die da seinen ale aus die gemacht, un' ach aus den un' gemacht.

Specimens of the Nineteenth Century. (Lithuania; "Am Urquell," 111.)

Der dales iz mit dem. ǐd'n wi a gǔf mit a n'šóme. Der id bikónt ceχ mit dem dales wen er iz noχ ba der mamen in boǔjχ. In dales wet der id gibór'n, ujfgihódewet, hot χassene, dernoχ kinder, lebt un' štarbt.

(Poland; Lublin, in "Mittheilungen," 11.)

De brumfn iz tajer, de mûs iz klejn, aχ nit trinkn iz âχ nit šejn: byn iχ gegangn inter der tîr, hob iχ getrinkn on a šîr.

(South; Odessa; ib.)

Jajnkele majner, šwarzer cigajner, wi bisti giwejn? Af jener wel't. Wus hosti gizejn? A bajtl' mit gelt. Farwus ost ništ ginimen? Men git iber di hent.

(Galicia; ib.)

Oj waj! Gimer tâj! Tâj iz biter, gimer ciker! Ciker iz zîs, gimer fîs! Fîs iz fät, Lajg meχ in bät.

(Moravia; "Am Urquell," vi.)

Schloif Kindele schloif, dort in jenem Hoif, steen zwa Schäfeloch bloube, wöllen mei Kindele hoube, kümmt der Halter mit de Geigen, thüt de Schäfeloch zusammen treiben.

(Slavonia; ib.)

Willst de wohin föhren, nimm drei Kočijašes auf: aner sagt dir auf, anem sagst du auf, mit'm dritten föhrst de.

(Hungary; Reb Simmel Andrichan.)

E toppelter Rüch tome hot sich on ihm medabbek gewesen, un dos geht bei ihm a wie bei e Brunn mit zwa Emmern. Kummt der gute Rüch herauf, flieht der Böse unten raus, un e su aach umgekehrt.

(Berlin; "Intimes aus der Liliengass.")

Haiszt ä Geschäft! Den ganzen geschlogenen Tag steih ich erüm, und kain Mensch braucht ä poar Hoisen, a lumpige West, chotschik bin ich nischt im Stande los zu werden.


The western European languages were early used by the Jews in Hebrew transliteration. There are in existence various documents in Spanish, Provençal, French, and German that reach back into the thirteenth, and probably into the twelfth, century. The oldest German specimen is a benediction of the womb. The spelling differs little from that current in the other western dialects, and seems to be a direct evolution from the one in vogue in Spain and France. י, ה, ו, א do duty for all vowel combinations, while ע is almost entirely absent. The deviations, if any, from the standard German are slight: ="leg dich"; ="buche"; ="legen"; ="rechte"; ="visch"; = "menschlichs"; ="drie"; ="instet"; ="wilius." A similar orthography is followed in the glosses of R. Moses ha-Darshan of the thirteenth century. Explicit rules for spelling are given by Isserlein (d. 1460) in the appendix to his "Sittenbuch." The main change from the earlier practise consists in the use of א to represent "a" and "o," whereas "o" was previously expressed as in Spanish and French by ו. This important change indicates the early mutation of the German "a" to the Judæo-German "o." No material deviations from the spelling established by Isserlein are met with before the middle of the nineteenth century.

Specimens of Spelling.(16th cent.; Buxtorf.)(1696; "Sefer Ma'ase ha-Shem.")(1871; "Sippure Ḳedoshim.")Pronunciation.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century א is found fully established as "a" and "o," and is silent at the end of words after vowels and in the beginning before ו and י; ע is universally tonic "e," and at present also atonic "e," for which at first י was used; ו is "u"; stands for "ej" and "aj"; is "ou" and "oj." This is true in the Lithuanian dialect. But since in the south and in Poland German "ā" has mutated through "o" to "u," א represents such "u"; similarly ו stands there for "i," for "oy," "ey," etc. As mentioned above, the so-called Polish pronunciation of Hebrew is nothing else than the mutated German pronunciation, on parallel lines with the changes in German words. Consequently it is not always possible to speak of the pronunciation, but the pronunciations, of Hebrew words; for they vary from place to place. Hebrew words in Judæo-German have suffered still further change owing to the fact that closed syllables are treated differently from open ones, that frequently the construct state or a similar form is the origin of the form in use, and that analogies of various kinds have produced still further deviation from the original Hebrew. All other foreign words are spelled phonetically and offer no difficulty; they have not mutated together with the native German words.

The greatest obstacles to reading Judæo-German are the compound words in which the stem is Hebrew while the suffixes are German and Slavic; here the etymological Hebrew, the semihistorical German, and the phonetic Slavic spellings meet in one and the same word. Only those texts which are pointed, and this is now frequently the case, offer a safe guide. Here pathaḥ = "a," ḳameẓ = "o," segol = "e," ẓere = "ey," shureḳ = "u," ḥireḳ = "i." The shewas are all silent in Lithuanian, but the other dialects pronounce them according to the mutations of the German vowels. The transliteration of the consonants has undergone fewer changes and is consequently much simpler. In modern times and not ב is used for "w," hence only one letter occurs with rafeh, namely פ for "f." In printed books פּ stands generally for "p," while is "f." The Slavic sound "z" is rendered by , and English "j" by , and so forth. The chaos of spelling is best illustrated by the rules laid down and followed by the "Jüdische Volksbibliothek": (1) Write Judæo-German as you speak. (2) Write so that the Polish and the Lithuanian reader alike may understand you. (3) Remember that you are writing for the common people. (4) The German words are to be spelled as in German. (5) Spell differently words of the same sound but different signification; for example: "Stein," and , "stehn"; "zehn," and , "Zähne"; etc.

Specimens of Present-Day Spelling.(Lemberg.)(Wilna.)(Kiev; "Jüdische Volksbibliothek.")(Jitomir; Lifschitz's "Dictionary.")(America.)Influence on Other Languages.

The wide-spread dissemination of the German Jews in the central and eastern parts of Europe has not been without an influence on the languages of the nations among whom they have lived. The German, Russian, and Polish languages have incorporated a certain number of Judæo-German words into their vocabularies. The number of such words in Russian is naturally small; in Polish it is not always possible to ascertain whether a given word of German origin has come in directly or through the medium of the Judæo-German; the etymologist has to confine himself, therefore, to those of Hebrew origin in which the changed vocalism points unmistakably to a borrowing from the living dialect of the Jews. A thorough investigation will, probably, prove a greater indebtedness to the Jews than has heretofore been imagined. In German the Judæo-German element is, naturally, confined to the Hebrew stems; such words are: "acheln," "begern," "betuches," "bocher," "dalles," "dallinger," "dibbern," "dokes," "doufes," "flöten," "ganfen," "gauner," "goi," "kaffer," "kapores," "knassen," "kohl," "koscher," "matze," "mauschel," "meschugge," "moos," "schabbes," "schacher," "schächten," "schäkern," "schicker," "schicksel," "schlammassel," "schmuss," "schofel," "schote," "stusz," "trefe," "zores." The remarkable thing in this collection is that many of these words have come in through the "thieves' slang," in which the Hebrew element is not inconsiderable. Steinschneider dissents from the supposition that the vagabonds acquired these terms from their Jewish comrades, on the ground that the number of such Jewish rogues in the Middle Ages was inconsiderable. However this may have been, the thieves found the less-understood Jewish words convenient for their purposes; and thence the words passed through the students' slang into the conversational German.

History of Investigation.

Judæo-German has fared very badly with scientific scholars. While every unimportant dialect of Europe, spoken it may be by but a few thousand people, has found its investigator, Judæo-German, spoken by more than 4,000,000 people, has had a small number of apologists and scarcely any investigators. A large amount of work remains to be done before anything like a history of the language can be written. From the standpoint not only of Judæo-German, but of German itself, a thorough study will repay the philologist. A large number of Middle High German words has been preserved here that have disappeared from modern German. Such are: "onweren," for "ahne werden" = "to lose"; "lajlach," Middle High German "lîlach" = "a spread"; "dermonen," Middle High German "ermanen" = "to remember"; "gewinnen" = "to bear"; "nechten" = "yesterday"; "gich," Middle High German "gâch" = "quick"; etc.

One of the most crying needs is a study of the various local subdialects. Saineanu, in his "Studiu" (see bibliography below), has subjected the Rumanian variety to a general review, while A. Landau, in the "Deutsche Mundarten" (vol. i., part i.), has written a good disquisition on the diminutive in the East-Galician. Wiener, "On the Judæo-German Spoken by the Russian Jews" (in "The American Journal of Philology," vol. xiv.), deals in a general way with the Lithuanian dialect. There are no faithfully transcribed texts, no collections in a uniform scientific alphabet. A few tentative renderings of local varieties may be found in "Am Urquell, Monatsschrift für Volkskunde," published by F. S. Krauss; in "Mitteilungen der Gesellsehaft für Jüdische Volkskunde," published by M. Grunwald at Hamburg; and in a few scattered articles in the "Zeitschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde," the "Globus," and the "Zeitschrift für Ethnologie." A few specimens of East-Galician are given in "Zbiór Wiadomości do Antropologii Kra Jowej," vol. xvii., Cracow, 1893; but they contain countless printer's errors.

The older form of Judæo-German has been even more neglected than the modern dialects. Nothing has been done to ascertain the value of sounds in the older writings or to collect the peculiar words contained in them. Zunz ("G. V.") and Güdemann ("Quellenschriften" and "Gesch.") have gathered a few of the more peculiar words, while the older dictionaries of Callenberg, Bibliophilus, and Selig deal only with the Hebrew element in Judæo-German. Grünbaum, in his "Jüdisch-Deutsche Chrestomathie," has discussed a large number of words contained in the extracts of his chrestomathy; but no one period, no one book, has yet been treated in its entirety. Rosenberg's "Ueber eine Sammlung Deutscher Volks- und Gesellschafts-Lieder in Hebräischen Lettern" (Berlin, 1888) deals only with the contents of that interesting collection and not with the language.

There is a number of Judæo-German dictionaries which may serve as a starting-point for lexicological studies. The Judæo-German-Russian and Russian-Judæo-German ones by Lifschitz are particularly valuable on account of the very large collection of rarer words of the southern variety. The one by Dreisin is interesting because it gives the meanings in the Lithuanian and southern dialects. Harkavy has published a Judæo-German-English and English-Judæo-German dictionary, though it must be said that the Judæo-German which it contains is mainly corrupt German.

  • L. Şaineanu, Studiu Dialectologic Asupra Graiului Evreo-German, Bucharest, 1889 (in Rumanian), which gives a list of twenty-eight works with a short discussion of each.
  • A much larger number is given by A. Landauin Deutsche Mundarten, vol. i., part ii., Vienna, 1896.
  • It will also be profitable to consult the Judæo-German magazines, especially the Jüdische Volksbibliothek and the Hausfreund, for books dealing with the language;
  • see also Wiener, The History of Yiddish Literature in the Nineteenth Century, ch. ii., New York, 1899.
G. L. Wie.
Images of pages