The Times (U.K.) has a nice obit for Mordkhe (Mordecai) Schaechter, “indefatigable and prolific champion and scholar of the Yiddish language”:

Mordechai Schaechter, known by his own wish as Mordkhe, spent a passionate lifetime seeking to resuscitate the Yiddish language of Central European Jewry into a daily means of communication….
When Schaechter began his relentless crusade, the market for Yiddish had shrunk to academia. And there he played a key role in cementing a language that had for centuries been dismissed as no more than a folk dialect, into a subject worthy of academic status on the same level as any other language, be it English, Russian, Arabic or Chinese.
For 12 years until his retirement at the age of 66, he was senior lecturer in Yiddish studies at Columbia University. He taught the language into his seventies at Yeshiva University in New York, at the prestigious Jewish Theological Seminary in that city and at a joint programme run by Columbia and the Yivo Institute for Jewish research in New York; and his academic writings remain on the compulsory reading list of every university Yiddish course…
Apart from Yiddish, Schaechter was fluent in English and German, and had a working knowledge of Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and Hebrew.

Alevasholem. (Thanks for the link, Paul.)
The New York Times also ran an obit, with a sadly typical error involving language for which they had to append a correction: “An obituary on Feb. 16 about Mordkhe Schaechter, a leading Yiddish linguist, misidentified the language in which his doctoral dissertation was written. It was German — not Yiddish, which was the subject of the dissertation.”


  1. In the obit, the phrase Written in the Hebrew alphabet and containing Semitic, Germanic and other components isn’t technically wrong, but it misrepresents the relationships. Better: A Germanic language with Semitic, Slavic, and other components and written in the Hebrew alphabet. (You could go back and forth forever about which contributed more, Semitic or Slavic languages.)
    By the way, Yiddish is apparently an officially recognized minority language in Sweden, and there’s some evidence that it is also so in Moldova and the Netherlands.

  2. For anyone interested in the etymology of his surname, gives ‘shochet’ as an English rendering, which the OED describes as ‘a Jewish slaughterer, a person officially certified as competent to kill cattle and poultry in the manner prescribed by Jewish law.’ Apparently from a Hebrew root, not the Germanic of the English ‘slay’.

  3. John, it may be that the writers wanted to avoid objections from devotees of Paul Wexler with their phrasing.

  4. Something about him on my blog:
    …and an obit for him in the Forward:
    His name was not Mordechai. He wished to be known as Mordkhe, curiously enough, because that was his name. Sheesh.
    He is missed a great deal.

  5. Sorry: here are links.
    Forward obit

  6. I wish I weren’t such a pedant, but this paragraph from the Times (U.K.) obit is just weird:
    “Today Yiddish is used as the language of instruction in Talmudical colleges which train Orthodox rabbis and teachers, but is rarely spoken outside, even by its teachers and students.”
    The teachers and students are the ones speaking Yiddish, and they do so in the hundreds of thousands, to their children and grandchildren. Not one of the more widely spoken languages, by any means, but the excerpt does misstate the case, I think.
    The NYT’s obit is better because it focuses on the person. The Times’ obit writer made the mistake of pontificating about the language as well on the basis of limited knowledge. (Something the NYT has done often enough.)

  7. Excellent points all, and thanks for the links!

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