By Aya Elyada
Elyada’s research of quite a lot of philological and theological works, in addition to textbooks, dictionaries, ethnographical writings, and translations, demonstrates that Christian Yiddishism had implications past its basically linguistic and philological dimensions. certainly, Christian texts on Yiddish exhibit not just the ways that Christians perceived and outlined Jews and Judaism, but in addition, in a contrasting vein, how they considered their very own language, faith, and culture.
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Additional info for A Goy Who Speaks Yiddish: Christians and the Jewish Language in Early Modern Germany
44 In the second stage, when going out to spread the Christian message among the Jews, the missionaries intentionally used their competence in Yiddish to conceal, or at least obscure, their Christian identity for as long as possible. 46 In some cases, missionaries used Yiddish to attract the attention of Jews and lure them into conversation. We hear, for example, of missionaries sitting in taverns and inns who, when a Jew entered the room, would start speaking Yiddish with each other, or pretend to be reading a Yiddish book.
Title page of Elias Schadeus’ Yiddish translation of five books of the New Testament (Strasbourg 1592). Source: Sammlung Tychsen, Harald Fischer Verlag. 26 Yiddish in the Service of Christian Theology aulus Fagius in Constance. 15 During the following century, however, these early endeavors to use Yiddish as a linguistic tool for missionary work among the Jews were apparently no longer pursued. 16 Instead, authors were now usually content with denouncing the Jews for their blindness and stubbornness (Verstockung).
Many of the relevant authors used Yiddish sources in order to demonstrate Jewish superstition and blasphemy,17 but they published their anti-Jewish polemics in Latin or German, rendering them inaccessible to most Jewish readers. Only at the end of the seventeenth century, with the rise of the Pietist movement and its emphasis on the responsibility of individual Christians to actively assist in the conversion of the Jews, did missionary work in Yiddish begin in earnest. The theoretical foundations of this project were laid in 1699 by the jurist and Orientalist Johann Christoph Wagenseil from Altdorf.