The origins of Yiddish scholarship and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research / Cecile Esther Kuznitz.
This dissertation examines the origins of Yiddish scholarship and history of its foremost exponent, the Yidisher visnshaftlekher institut [“Yiddish Scientific Institute”], known by its Yiddish acronym YIVO and today in English as the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. From its establishment in Vilna (then Wilno, Poland and now Vilnius, Lithuania) in 1925 until the outbreak of World War II, YIVO pioneered the study of Yiddish-speaking Jewry as well as the use of Yiddish for scholarly research. As a pre-eminent institution of Yiddish culture, it played a central role in both modern Jewish scholarship and Jewish Diaspora Nationalism, a movement that advocated autonomy for Jews as a minority within the countries of their residence and a national culture based in the Yiddish language. Since it arose in the context of Jewish nationalism, YIVO's scholarship was closely bound up with the burning debates of its time and place. Since it served as the flagship institution of a broad-based cultural movement, it was inextricably linked to the needs and aspirations of the Yiddish-speaking folk [“common people”] that it wished to both study and serve. As YIVO was inevitably drawn into the fierce political conflicts of interwar Eastern Europe, its scholars constantly struggled to combine the highest standards of intellectual integrity with an engagement in communal needs and contemporary issues. YIVO was born in the wake of the First World War, at a moment when Diaspora Nationalists seemed on the verge of realizing their most far-reaching plans. Yet as the optimism of the immediate post-World War I years gave way to rising economic and political crisis, YIVO's leaders were faced with the constant dilemma of reconciling their lofty goals with a sobering set of material constraints. YIVO's history illuminates both the possibilities and pitfalls of combining scholarship and nationalism, culture and politics, objectivity and engagement. Its achievement was to negotiate the competing demands of its ambitious mandate to produce work of both immediate import and lasting value, demonstrating how scholarship could become a powerful tool in the effort to forge a modern Jewish identity.
Record last modified: 2018-05-24 14:02:00
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