Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$root.page}}

Languages

Yiddish

If you are interested in taking Yiddish and have no previous experience, you are welcome to register for a 100 level course. If you would like to place into a higher level course, please email the Student Services Coordinator at js-student-services@umich.edu.

Why study Yiddish?

One of the most widely used languages among the Jewish people for over a thousand years, Yiddish is a hybrid of Germanic, Slavic, and Hebraic elements. Jews living in Eastern Europe brought Yiddish culture — music, drama, newspapers, film, poetry and prose — wherever they emigrated: to the United States, Argentina, South Africa, and Israel. Yiddish is a key to unlock the world of Jewish immigrants and to understand the dynamic society of East European Jews before the Holocaust. While never a sacred language like Hebrew, Yiddish is now the vernacular of Hasidic Jews in Israel and the United States.

“Why Study Yiddish?”

When asked the question, “Why study Yiddish?” a very Yiddish answer might be, “Why not?” Study of Yiddish may stem from a connection to its cultural heritage, its role as a window into Eastern European Jewish history and its importance for the Jewish American immigrant experience. Yiddish played and continues to play a significant part within the modern Jewish experience.

Learning the language enables students to engage with the study of historical, literary and religious texts, as well as politics, folklore, anthropology, and other contemporary aspects of the culture, such as film and media.

Students of Yiddish can progress to a high level of fluency at the University of Michigan. They can learn to read and speak, to write and compose. Texts studied in class include Yiddish children’s literature, folklore, literary and historical works, films, and music. All courses examine Yiddish within a broader context of Jewish history, sociology, politics, and culture.

Yiddish courses are offered at U-M under two different sets of numbers, Judaic Studies and Yiddish, by the Jean & Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures, respectively.

Judeo-Spanish (Ladino)

Judeo-Spanish, also called Ladino, Judezmo, Spanyolit, and other names, is a Romance language written and spoken by Sephardic Jews (Jews of Spanish and Portuguese background). Judeo-Spanish originated in the Iberian Peninsula and was carried abroad after Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497. Judeo-Spanish is an archaic form of Castilian Spanish that contains elements of languages such as Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Turkish, Greek, French, Portuguese, Bulgarian, and Italian. Written and spoken in areas such as Israel, the Balkans, North Africa, Greece, Turkey (and to a less extent also in the Americas), today Judeo-Spanish is in danger of extinction – although it is experiencing some kind of revival. Judeo-Spanish is usually written in Hebrew script, but in the 21st century it is more commonly written with the Latin alphabet. 

Modern and Biblical Hebrew

The Hebrew Language program is coordinated by the Middle East Studies department. Click here for more information about studying Hebrew at the University of Michigan.

People study Hebrew for a variety reasons: the desire to be able to read the Hebrew Bible in the original language, to acquire skills to read Hebrew literature and scholarship, or for heritage reasons, an ability to connect and understand Israeli culture, politics, and history. By taking the variety of Hebrew language courses available at the University of Michigan, students will be given the opportunity to study Hebrew at all levels, from beginning to advanced. Many culture courses on Jewish literature or Israeli and Jewish cinema offer optional Hebrew language sections. Knowledge of Hebrew allows students to achieve a deeper understanding of modern Israeli identities and obtain a rich Hebrew background.