Tanya Basu asks what the future holds for the Ashkenazi language:
Joseph Berger, a religion reporter for The New York Times, explores [the future of Yiddish] in his book, The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America, published Tuesday. In it, Berger recounts meeting Rabbi Hertz Frankel, the principal of a Satmar girl’s school in Brooklyn, home to the largest concentration of Yiddish speakers in America, along with a large population of Orthodox Jews. Frankel comments on how secular Judaism has contributed to the death of Yiddish and a simultaneous loss of traditional Jewish identity:
The secular community is dead, dead, dead. There’s no Yiddish press, no Yiddish theater [not quite accurate since there is one still-vibrant group, the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene]. Dead, dead, dead. There were hundreds of Sholem Aleichem schools, Peretz schools. Where are they? How many Yiddish books are being published? The secular people dominated everything and now they’ve lost. Hasidim are pushing everyone to be more religious, more Jewish.
Rabbi Frankel’s bemoaning of the potential extinction of Yiddish illuminates a greater issue: The language has become synonymous with Orthodox Judaism and has lost its meaning within the secular parts of the faith. It’s a dying language among mainstream Jewish Americans but a thriving one among the Hasidim, who speak the language almost exclusively.