Please upgrade to a newer browser.

The Lehrhaus website works best in modern browsers like Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 4, Google Chrome 10, Safari 3 and newer. If you are not using one of these, you may encounter visual glitches or other problems.

The Language Wars

This course was offered in Winter/Spring, 2015.

“Turkish is like a borrowed suit; French is gala dress; Judeo-Spanish is the worn dressing gown in which one is most at ease.” — A French teacher in Constantinople, 1908 (Aron Rodrigue, Jews and Arabs).

Most twenty-first century Jews are being raised to speak a single language, but multilingualism colors the Jewish experience in the diaspora. Responding in part to antisemitic vitriol about Jewish languages as “jargons,” Jews eventually became the sole combatants in their very own language wars. Violent struggles—both literal and literary—played out on street corners, stages, newspapers, and pulpits to determine how Jews should speak to their children in the privacy of their homes. Battles raged between German and Yiddish, Yiddish and Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic and French, Hebrew and Ladino, Yiddish and English among others. The language a Jew spoke was a conscious political choice, or a forcibly politicized one. Jew against Jew, old divisions dissolved as religious and secular Jews fought on all sides of these battles. This is a story about Jewish nationalisms, Jewish “self-hatred”, Jewish conceptions of gender, and the very aesthetics of Jewishness. As languages like Yiddish and Ladino are experiencing a twenty-first century revival, new modes of expressing Jewish identity emerge in a monolingual age.

The Language Wars is being offered as a follow-up to Naomi Seidman's talk The Holocaust in Every Tongue at the Lehrhaus 360 program Alive! Children of Buchenwald.


# Sessions
Date & time

Sunday, March 8
2:00 - 4:00 pm

Session Time Days Location Instructors
Mar 08 2:00 PM–4:00 PM Sun SFPL Shaina Hammerman


San Francisco Public Library

100 Larkin St.

San Francisco, CA 94102



Shaina Hammerman

Shaina HammermanShaina Hammerman holds a Ph.D. in Jewish History and Culture from the Graduate Theological Union. She teaches courses on Jewish film, literature, religion, and cultural history at universities, libraries, and synagogues across the Bay Area. Her book, Black Hat, Silver Screen: The Hasid in Film will be published by Indiana University Press in 2017. Learn more about Dr. Shaina Hammerman at shainahammerman.com.