Special Issue

Translation: Gendered Literary Debates in Yiddish

This spe­cial issue of In geveb is a read­er of pri­ma­ry doc­u­ments that illu­mi­nate the stances and strate­gies accom­pa­ny­ing the emer­gence of women writ­ers in mod­ern Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture. Women oper­at­ed with­in a lit­er­ary and crit­i­cal appa­ra­tus that typ­i­cal­ly fore­ground­ed the ideas and opin­ions of men, yet we found ample evi­dence of women’s cre­ative expres­sions of agency and anger, as they staged inter­ven­tions on behalf of them­selves or oth­ers. In fact, we were sur­prised, giv­en the rel­a­tive dearth of female lit­er­ary crit­ics in Yid­dish, to find women occa­sion­al­ly review­ing each other’s work, in ways that pre­fig­ure lat­er fem­i­nist read­ings of the same writ­ers. We have cho­sen, in this selec­tion, to give pref­er­ence to these voic­es, while includ­ing sev­er­al inter­est­ing texts by men that show the range of pub­lic respons­es a woman writer could expect to encounter. We also chose to focus on the 1910s and 20s, the era when Yid­dish lit­er­ary activ­i­ty peaked and bat­tles over it were most fierce­ly fought. We have, at times, anno­tat­ed some items to enable non-spe­cial­ist study.

Cen­tral to the Yid­dish lit­er­ary debate about women writ­ers are the 1927 arti­cles by Melekh Rav­itch, decry­ing the rise of the woman poet, and Kadya Molodowsky’s response. Indeed, this pair of arti­cles is so fre­quent­ly cit­ed that it is sur­pris­ing to find they have not pre­vi­ous­ly been ful­ly trans­lat­ed. Rav­itch was a lead­ing fig­ure in the lit­er­ary world and his crit­i­cal opin­ions car­ried great weight. Molodowsky was an emerg­ing poet, her first book due out short­ly: while lat­er a pow­er­house fig­ure, she was at the time still a new writer with less cred­i­bil­i­ty than the man she opposed. Her con­fi­dence and wit in this short piece are impres­sive. Ear­li­er than that cen­tral debate, we found an exchange between the short sto­ry writer Yente Ser­datsky, who con­sid­ers the pos­si­bil­i­ties and fail­ings of Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture as it appeared in 1912, and a young humorist, Der lebe­dik­er” (Khay­im Gut­man), who deploys sar­casm but fails to engage mean­ing­ful­ly with Serdatsky’s points. Writ­ing a few years lat­er, Efroim Leyb Volf­son, under the pseu­do­nym A fotograf,” gives a gen­tler car­i­ca­ture of a num­ber of women writ­ers, some­times prais­ing them ful­some­ly, while still describ­ing women pri­mar­i­ly by their phys­i­cal attributes.

In con­trast to these doc­u­ments, Celia Drop­kin and Sore Reyzn defend their rights to be acknowl­edged as the cre­ators of their poet­ry. Mal­ka Lee’s mem­oir looks back on events in 1919 and 1920, in which men’s opin­ions of women’s writ­ing form the back­drop for her devel­op­ment as a writer. Short sto­ry writer Khane Blankshteyn and essay­ist Rokhl Auer­bach each take a seri­ous look at anoth­er woman writer, in a man­ner rarely accord­ed women by male critics.

In choos­ing these doc­u­ments we have had to omit many oth­ers. There­fore, we are issu­ing a gen­er­al call to any­one who would like to trans­late a doc­u­ment that would add to this col­lec­tion, whether a piece we have iden­ti­fied or a doc­u­ment they are already work­ing with, to allow a sec­ond batch to be pub­lished. Please be in con­tact with Faith Jones, faithjones@​gmail.​com, if you would like to be involved in this project.

We also extend our thanks to the col­leagues who helped us locate some of these doc­u­ments: Zachary Bak­er, Alli­son Schachter, and Karoli­na Szy­ma­ni­ak; and are grate­ful to In geveb and its edi­to­r­i­al team for pub­lish­ing this collection.




Texts & Translation

אַן אָפֿענער בריװ צו יענטע סערדאַצקי

An Open Letter to Yente Serdatsky

Chaim Gutman

Translation by Faith Jones, Anita Norich and David Mazower

A translation of Der lebediker’s satirical letter to Yente Serdatsky.

Texts & Translation

װײַבעריקום טאַלאַנטיקום אײַנלײַטיגונגס

Womanistic Talentistic Introductionarium

Froym-Leyb Volfson

Translation by David Mazower, Anita Norich and Faith Jones

A translation of Froym-Leyb Volfson’s satirical poem about women writers.

Texts & Translation

אַ קוש

A Kiss

Celia Dropkin

Translation by Faith Jones, Anita Norich and David Mazower

A translation of Celia Dropkin’s “A kush.”

Texts & Translation

צו מײַן ברודער אַבֿרהם רײזען

To My Brother Avrom Reisen

Sarah Reisen

Translation by Faith Jones, Anita Norich and David Mazower

A translation of Sarah Reisen’s poem to her brother, Avrom.

Texts & Translation

אַ פּאָר שעה אין פֿרױען־װעלט

A Few Hours in Women’s World

Chana Blankshteyn

Translation by Anita Norich, Faith Jones and David Mazower

A translation of Chana Blankshteyn’s repotage on Sore Reyzn’s speech in the Women’s Union in March 1927.

Texts & Translation

מײדלעך, פֿרױען, װײַבער—ייִדישע דיכטערינס

Girls, Women, Ladies–Yiddish Poetesses

Melekh Ravitch

Translation by Anita Norich, Faith Jones and David Mazower

A translation of Melech Ravitsh’s “Meydelkh, froyen, vayber—yidishe dikhterins.”

Texts & Translation

מײדלעך, פֿרױען, װײַבער און...נבואה

Girls, Women, Ladies and... Prophecy

Kadya Molodovsky

Translation by Anita Norich, Faith Jones and David Mazower

A translation of Kadya Molodowsky’s response to Melech Ravitsh’s article about women writers.

Texts & Translation

פֿראַדל שטאָק

Fradl Shtok

Rokhl Auerbach

Translation by Anita Norich, David Mazower and Faith Jones

A translation of Rokhl Auerbach’s review of Fradl Shtok’s short story collection.


Anita Norich

University of Michigan

David Mazower

Yiddish Book Center