GOTHIC YIDDISH?

Charles Nydorf has a blog proposing that Yiddish began as a form of the Gothic language:

Contact with an older form of Yiddish, got me back to thinking about the origins of the language and its relations to other members of the Germanic family. I remembered an observation of Professor Robert Austerlitz that although Yiddish was quite different from German, it was typologically very much a Germanic language. Perhaps, I thought, its origin lay not in a German dialect but in another Germanic language. I starting looking at other Germanic languages with which the early Ashkenazim could have come into contact in Europe. The first possibility I looked at was Old Scandinavian which was spoken by Varangian settlers in Ukraine between about 800 and 1000. The match was not particularly good and I turned to the East Germanic languages, known through Gothic, that were spoken in eastern Europe between about 1 CE and 700. Gothic proved to be a surprisingly good typological match with Yiddish and I eventually concluded that the earliest Yiddish took a Gothic form.

Here‘s his post on “The Gothic Background of Yiddish.” I don’t know nearly enough to begin to evaluate this proposal, but as far as I know, the standard history of Yiddish puts its origin on the other side of the German-speaking world, in the Rhine region. Does anybody have any informed thoughts about this? (Thanks for the link, rootlesscosmo!)

Comments

  1. It’s an interesting idea, but it strikes me as highly implausible, for one very simple and very apparent reason. The West Germanic-ness of the Germanic component of Yiddish is unmistakable in Yiddish because of the High German consonant shift, which only took place in West Germanic.

  2. Excellent point.

  3. this is really quite a stretch, but a romantic (err..germanic) notion nonetheless

  4. Do I feel a Dravidian origin coming on?

  5. marie-lucie says:

    I read the posts referred to, and it seems to me that the author (who describes himself as an anthropologist, not a linguist, let alone a historical linguist) relies a lot on the vowels. In Germanic languages there has been a lot more differentiation of the vowels rather than the consonants (the West Germanic sound-shift notwithstanding, since it changed the consonants without changing their position and their relationship with each other). As consonants are formed by the contact of mouth parts with each other, interrupting the flow of air through the mouth, there are “anchor points” for the pronunciation of consonants, and they are less susceptible to change than the vowels, which are formed through changing the shape of the inside of the mouth, without specific points to hang on to. So the fact that the same vowel change may have occurred (or not) at different places in the Germanic-speaking world cannot be taken as the decisive factor in determining the place of a dialect within the “family tree”.

  6. John Emerson says:

    As I was going to say, bathrobe.
    You wonder if this is connected with the Khazar theory of the Ashkenazis. The Khazars and the Goths were tolerable close to one another geographically, though the Khazars appeared after the Goths had dwindled. But the Khazar theory is pretty much rejected, I think.

  7. John Emerson says:

    As I was going to say, bathrobe.
    You wonder if this is connected with the Khazar theory of the Ashkenazis. The Khazars and the Goths were tolerable close to one another geographically, though the Khazars appeared after the Goths had dwindled. But the Khazar theory is pretty much rejected, I think.

  8. The standard account of Jewish history places the earliest Ashkenazim in the Rhineland, southern Netherlands, and northern France in early medieval times, with migrations later into what we now call eastern Europe.
    Which means that there were not actually any Jews close enough to the Goths to adopt a language from them.
    Additionally, in modern Yiddish, there is a large component of vocabulary which a speaker of modern German would have little trouble recognizing as simply phonic variants of the standard modern German equivalents–and sometimes even closer:
    Zi (=Sie) a mensch!
    Er iz a starker.
    Vi(=wie) a loch in kopf.
    The differences generally lie in vocabulary taken from Hebrew or Slavic (primarily Russian and Polish) (for instance, tochis, which is actually the Ashkenazic pronounciation of the Hebrew word meaning “under” (tachat in Sefardic pronounciation), and used as a euphemism.)

  9. You wonder if this is connected with the Khazar theory of the Ashkenazis.
    This letter to the NYT thought so:

    If Ashkenazic Jews did originate primarily from converted Khazars, then Yiddish came primarily from Crimean Gothic, a Germanic language now extinct.

  10. moyshe kapoyer says:

    The real question is : why so many people feel it absolutely necessary to put forward new unbelievable theories about the origin of Yiddish? The entire litterary and linguistic history of Yiddish shows clearly and sufficiently where the language is born. Yes, what about Dravidians?

  11. michael farris says:

    Yes, what about Dravidians?
    Three new theories:
    1. They’re originally from SE Portugal.
    2. Theyre from just north of Kazakhstan.
    3. Southern Arabian peninsula (more or less around the Yemeni/Omani border region).
    All three theories have their supporters and detractors and the for and against arguments are so well known that it would be pointless to rehash them here.

  12. John Emerson says:

    I think that with regard to the Dravidians, the goal is not so much to decide between theories as to come up with additional theories. We know that the Navajo are descended from the Mongols, so that theory is right out, but the parallels between the Dravidian and the Mayan languages are really striking.

  13. John Emerson says:

    I think that with regard to the Dravidians, the goal is not so much to decide between theories as to come up with additional theories. We know that the Navajo are descended from the Mongols, so that theory is right out, but the parallels between the Dravidian and the Mayan languages are really striking.

  14. Does anybody have any informed thoughts about this?
    Well, my degree is in German studies, and I am somewhat familiar with Yiddish albeit only from Romanized sources (such as Siegmund Wolf’s Yiddish dictionary for German speakers), and I can assure you that Yiddish is full of Rhinelandic (if this is the English word) traits. For two years ago, I had to familiarize myself with Luxembourgish, which turned out to have interesting similarities with Yiddish – because both are basically Westmitteldeutsch. There is no reason whatsoever to start telling fairy stories about Yiddish, which is a well-known, well-studied, and well-researched language.

  15. Michael Farris says:

    “We know that the Navajo are descended from the Mongols, so that theory is right out, but the parallels between the Dravidian and the Mayan languages are really striking.”
    Oh John, John John (shakes head sadly)
    It’s not the Navajo but the Hopi that are descended from the Mongols (and Zuni from Semitic of course).
    And the parallels between Dravidian and Mayan are not “really striking” they are “vaguely amusing”.
    Now the Hmong-Mayan similaries are not “really striking” either but they do merit “optimistic, but cautious, examination”.
    As for additional Dravidian theories, I’m in favor of the multi-origin frame of mind myself. The Corsican connection is undeniable but it’s just as undeniably incomplete. So much work to be done still.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    Someone wrote a book saying that Zuni is actually Japanese, on the basis of 13 (very moderately) similar words.

  17. Come on now, we all know Zuni is essentially Basque.

  18. Panu: Thanks, that was my gut reaction but it’s good to hear it from somebody who knows what they’re talking about.

  19. michael farris says:

    So, we’re agreed. Zuni is descended simultaneously from Semitic, Japanese and Basque. I’m glad people are finally starting to see reason about this contentious issue!

  20. Why has no one researched the links between Old Norse and Nahuatl? Does anyone really believe it an accident that Cortez arrived on the shores of the New World at the exact moment the Aztec calendar had predicted the end of the world heralded by blue eyed strangers who would arrive from the east?

  21. marie-lucie says:

    the Khazar theory:
    I did not know about the Khazars, so I read up on them on Wikipedia. The Khazars were part of of the Turkic/Mongolian nomadic empire, and spoke a language or languages related to Turkish, not to an Indo-European language. For a population to switch to another language (especially one of very different structure) requires specific circumstances, which have been well-studied by linguists. Even if the Khazar population had converted massively to Judaism, there would have been no reason for them to adopt the language of the bringers of the new religion unless the Jews at that time had been the conquerors, massively dominant in terms of political power and cultural prestige, and speaking a single language useful over a wide area (like the Romans in Western Europe, or later the Arabs on the Southern shore of the Mediterranean). Furthermore, this theory would imply that the language of this Jewish superpower, used in both religion and politics, was of the Germanic family, basically Gothic, implying in turn that the local Germanic culture had itself been that of a local superpower imposing itself, etc.
    The theory that the Yiddish language had anything to do with the Khazars doesn’t make any sense, even if there were not already abundant proofs of its West Germanic origin: a language adopted (and adapted) by the Jews once they were settled in Germany, and later carried by them further East in Europe.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    the Aztec calendar had predicted the end of the world heralded by blue eyed strangers who would arrive from the east
    The Aztec calendar was organized around periods of 52 years, with the dreaded possibility of the world ending each time such a period ended.
    I believe that there was a prediction about the return of a light-skinned stranger who had been there centuries before. Light skin is not always accompanied by blond hair and/or blue eyes, even though many people jump to that conclusion. Most people of European origin do not fit that complete description, which is most common in Northern Europe but no so much in other parts.
    As far as a possible linguistic connection is concerned, Old Norse (the ancestor of the Scandinavian languages) was a member of the Germanic family, itself a member of the Indo-European group which is now spoken in most of Europe (and more recently the Americas), the Northern half of India, Iran, Afghanistan and a few other places. Nahuatl, the language still spoken (in several varieties) by the descendant of the Aztecs, is a part of the Uto-Aztecan group which has a number of subdivisions, spoken mostly in the Western US and some areas of Mexico. There is no reason to think that any languages of these two groups were in contact with each other before the period of European colonization.

  23. John Emerson says:

    The Aztec calendar was organized around periods of 52 years,
    The years were organized into four “suits” each of which was numbered from one to ten followed by the jack, queen, and king in that order.

  24. John Emerson says:

    The Aztec calendar was organized around periods of 52 years,
    The years were organized into four “suits” each of which was numbered from one to ten followed by the jack, queen, and king in that order.

  25. Yes, what about Dravidians?
    Once again, a thread in which proto-Hungarian origins are brazenly neglected. Have my efforts been for nothing? I wonder how this will be received in Mauritius.

  26. The years were organized into four “suits” each of which was numbered from one to ten followed by the jack, queen, and king in that order.
    No ace? Then the whole thing was organized around the Viking version of chess.
    And what about the Mandans. And those boat rings carved into the rocks up in North Dakota?

  27. marie-lucie says:

    The Mandans:
    Nijma: I suppose you refer to a) the fact that they used “bull boats” of leather, identical to the Celtic coracles, and b) the reports that they spoke Welsh.
    About b), the reports are quite old, and not documented by any record of actual words the Mandans said. A Welsh man later sent to investigate the reports came back with a purely negative conclusion: the language of the people was certainly not Welsh. Of course, it could have been because centuries would have separated the putative immigrant ancestors from their current descendants, and meanwhile the language could have changed greatly, but it would not have changed that much in a century or two between the recorded European visitors. Nor do Mandan culture and mythology seem at all close to what one would expect of Celtic descendants.
    Actual records of the Mandan language demonstrate that their language is/was of the Siouan family (named after the Sioux). The few survivors of post-contact epidemics merged with the Arikara and Hidatsa who speak/spoke varieties of Siouan. Of course, the Mandans could have switched from “Welsh” to Siouan in between the European visits, but the time is rather short, and one would expect that if so, they would still have preserved words for typical aspects of their culture (such as the bull boats) for which their neighbours might not have had a word. There is no evidence that this happened.
    So why did the first visitor(s) say that the Mandans spoke Welsh? It could have been because some of the sounds and intonation of their language sounded familiar to people who had heard (but did not understand) the Welsh language. For instance, the sound written ll in Welsh is not used in other European languages, and therefore is very striking for those first hearing it, although it is (coincidentally) fairly common in North America.
    A similar problem exists with the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues” in some churches, where people in trance are reported to speak Italian, Hebrew, or whatever. Linguists who have studied recordings of such utterances found that none of them were spoken in identifiable languages, even though witnesses said that they could understand them.

  28. mollymooly says:

    It wasn’t Welsh, it was the Irish brought by Saint Brendan

  29. rootlesscosmo says:

    @mollymooly:
    Which closes the circle nicely, since as we all know the Irish are the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

  30. A similar problem exists with the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues” in some churches
    After three decades, I can now confess. Forced to endure (as a captive audience: don’t ask) a session of speaking in tongues, I introduced Serbian sentences into the mix to allay the sheer boredom of the thing. These were duly taken up by the earnest babblers, much to the amusement of my native Serbian partner and fellow prisoner.

  31. Welsh? They should have sent someone who could speak Old Norse, or maybe Gothic.

    Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de Verendrye (b. 1683 at Trois Rivieres, Quebec), took an expedition from his forts in present-day Manitoba to what is now North Dakota, in search of a rumoured tribe of “white, blue-eyed Indians”. Along the banks of the Missouri River La Verendrye found a stone cairn with a small stone tablet inscribed on both sides with unfamiliar characters. Jesuit scholars in Quebec later described the writing on the stone as “Tartarian” — a runic script similar to Norse runes. Professor Peter Kalm of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences interviewed Captain La Verendrye about this discovery in Quebec in 1749. The tablet was reportedly shipped to France, stored with other archaeological artifacts in a church at Rouen, and buried under tons of rubble by a direct bomb hit during World War ll.

    Yup, the lost Western Settlement of Greenland.
    And then of course there’s the Kensington Stone.

  32. Siganus Sutor says:

    Marie-Lucie: Light skin is not always accompanied by blond hair
    And vice versa: you have dark-skinned Australians (or Melanesians) who have blond hair, although not a lot of them I believe (I the people, not the hair).

  33. Siganus Sutor says:

    Marie-Lucie: Light skin is not always accompanied by blond hair
    And vice versa: you have dark-skinned Australians (or Melanesians) who have blond hair, although not a lot of them I believe (I mean the people, not the hair).

  34. Siganus Sutor says:

    Noetica: I wonder how this will be received in Mauritius.
    If I were you I’d take great care when dealing with anything Dravidian in Mauritius. This can be a very sensitive issue. (For instance “Tamil” is very often considered to be a religion and Christians of Tamil origin — Muruga forbid — are barred from entering some Tamil organisations.) About fifteen years ago, the order of languages on new banknotes was changed (“by mistake”): Tamil was printed below Hindi, whereas on the previous series it was the other way around. There was a big Dravidian uproar and all the new banknotes — which cost a few dozen million rupees — were destroyed.
    By the way, when speaking about the language the Ferengis use the written form gotique, as opposed to gothique, supposedly to differentiate the language from architectural matters. Given what has now been said about the origin of Yiddish, one can wonder if there has ever been a “gothic synagogue”…

  35. I like the sound of “a big Dravidian uproar.” I imagine John Emerson will be even more pleased.

  36. John Emerson says:

    Real Gothic Architecture.
    The Crimean Goths.
    I’ve shown admirable restraint in not link-whoring before now. If I do say so myself.

  37. John Emerson says:

    Real Gothic Architecture.
    The Crimean Goths.
    I’ve shown admirable restraint in not link-whoring before now. If I do say so myself.

  38. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Very interesting, and some nice pictures, Emersonj. By all means be a link whore.
    So how do you propose to deal with Chartres? Is it neo-Gothic? I think that name’s occupied. Fake-Gothic sounds kind of plasticy. Post-Gothic? Thing is, some of us are used to calling it plain old Gothic. Can’t you use Visigothic and Ostrogothic? It’s got more class, anyway.

  39. Yes, feel free to link-whore any time. They are, after all, interesting links.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    Still haven’t read the original, and I need to go to bed, but…

    it seems to me that the author […] relies a lot on the vowels..

    And that works? Bizarre. That’s because Yiddish shares what I call “vowel steamrollering” with Middle and New High German and no other Germanic language: a messy process that turns all vowels into [ɛ] unless they escape, or at least closer to [ɛ] than they were before (by Umlaut — the results of which were then unrounded in Yiddish, becoming [ɛ] and [i]). Then there’s syncope and apocope (most of the uniformized vowels are dropped altogether), something shared with southern New High German. And so on.
    The features of the sound system that I find weirdest all appear to be features of the western border of the German-speaking area.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    Incidentally, the Hebrew words in Yiddish are vowel-steamrollered, too.

  42. fimus scarabaeus says:

    vedy interesting.
    when everyones genes be mapped then looking at the language and sound making genes then we will know if the escapees from the Baltic and or La mere Adriatic did in fact infect the cultures of the Americas before Copernicus did say the world be spherical..

  43. My good friends Michael Alpert and Zev Feldman are better known as Klezmer musicians, but they are both avid linguists and fluent speakers of Yiddish as well. They actually communicate in Wulfila-based Gothic when sending each other SMS messages on their cell phones.

  44. Þiuþeig!

  45. Robert Berger says:

    It’s highly unlikely that most of today’s Jews are of Turkic origin, although some Karaim still do speak a Turkic language, if I remember correctly.
    Jews today don’t resemble Turkic people at all physically.
    Modern Yiddish shows some similarities in pronuciation to the Saxon dialect still spoken around Leipzig and Dresden.
    Could Tamil terrorists be called Branch Dravidians ?

  46. Robert Berger says:

    It’s highly unlikely that most of today’s Jews are of Turkic origin, although some Karaim still do speak a Turkic language, if I remember correctly.
    Jews today don’t resemble Turkic people at all physically.
    Modern Yiddish shows some similarities in pronuciation to the Saxon dialect still spoken around Leipzig and Dresden.
    Could Tamil terrorists be called Branch Dravidians ?

  47. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Wow, that’s really interesting, Robert. When I lived in Hamburg someone told me that that Saxon dialect was generally considered in, I guess, N. Germany to be the ‘ugliest’ German spoken. Leaving aside the rudeness etc., do you think that attitude could be tied to the previous generations’ anti-semitism?

  48. michael farris says:

    IME Saxon is described not so much as ‘ugly’ but ‘funny sounding’, there’s a kind of lisp to it. My workplace had a German teacher who had a strong Saxony accent and it too me a while to figure out that was just his accent and not a speech impediment.

  49. John Emerson says:

    At my college there was a German teacher beloved by the students who was laughed at by the faculty because of his dialect. I thought he was Swabian but maybe he was Saxon.

  50. John Emerson says:

    At my college there was a German teacher beloved by the students who was laughed at by the faculty because of his dialect. I thought he was Swabian but maybe he was Saxon.

  51. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Right. Funny sounding was part of it, but I’m pretty sure ugly was too. ‘Not a speech impediment’ is faint praise for an accent. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. I wonder how modern Yiddish resembles it, lithp? …David?

  52. David Marjanović says:

    lithp? …David?

    Me? I have never heard Saxon. In fact, I’ve never even heard Yiddish live, though I’m not aware of any lisp in it… But Ashkenazi Hebrew turned all those “th”s you can find in the King James Bible into [s], and some such words then entered German from Yiddish, for example Mäuse, literally “mice” but also a dysphemism for “money”, from ma’oth “small coins”.

  53. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I have never heard Saxon.
    Huh. Here I was thinking Saxon was a well-known accent or dialect that most of the other German speakers discussed at breakfast and then made jokes about on the way to work. Oh well.

  54. Michael Farris says:

    A couple of links about Saxon both of which describe it as the least popular dialect:
    http://www.3sat.de/3sat.php?http://www.3sat.de/nano/cstuecke/41457/
    http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,1256732,00.html
    The latter has a transcript and link to the original program with examples of Saxon.
    The ‘something like a lisp’ isn’t a classic English lisp but there is a hissy very front s that you can hear (and a kind of puckered mouth delivery. It was more extreme in the live speakers I’ve heard (from Dresden IIRC).

  55. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yeah, with the dead speakers I guess it’s more of a rattle.

  56. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Interesting about the soft consonants, in the Deutschewelle article. The way they’ve transcribed it, it reminds me of Danish relative to Norwegian.

  57. Robert Berger says:

    Saxon dialect has a tendency to pronounce words with diphthongs such as klein to rhyme with English words such as sane or Spain. Meister is pronounced Meester.

  58. Robert Berger says:

    Saxon dialect has a tendency to pronounce words with diphthongs such as klein to rhyme with English words such as sane or Spain. Meister is pronounced Meester.

  59. diphthongs such as klein to rhyme with English words such as sane or Spain
    That’s funny, I thought klein was supposed to rhyme with sane and Spain…. Oops, I’m Australian 🙂

  60. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Zer Rhein in Spine…

  61. Charles Nydorf says:

    Quite a few people were kind of enough to comment on my blog. First, I want to say that I too have wondered about Dravidian which typologically has many things in common with the languages that Greenberg groups as Eurasian (see Colin Masica’s book on South Asia as a language area) but doesn’t seem to have much lexical or morphological resemblance to these languages.
    Getting back to the subject of the relationship between Yiddish and Gothic, one post cited the many things that Yiddish has in common with the West Germanic branch of the Germanic family as evidence that Yiddish cannot be derived from Gothic which belonged to the East Germanic branch. My view is that oldest Germanic features of Yiddish, the ones that go back to the time when Yiddish first became an independent language are East Germanic. These include features of the vowel system such as glide insertion, an r/x umlaut, and a very small vowel system with characteristic East Germanic mergers. I also think it can be shown that Yiddish consonantal features such as widespread uvular ‘r’ and regional merger of hissing and hushing sibilants can be traced back to East Germanic. Among morphological features, the most striking East Germanic one in Yiddish is the ‘n’ verbal infix. These features go back to the origins of Yiddish at about 350 CE. Later in its history Yiddish did borrow very heavily from High German with the borrowing reaching its peak in the early 1300’s. It is this heavy borrowing from German, a West Germanic language, that accounts for the many West Germanic features of modern Yiddish.
    Some comments reflected the view that Yiddish could not derive from Gothic because Yiddish originated on the Rhineland. This view was put forward, very tentatively, by Max Weinreich and has since passed into many popular accounts of Yiddish. But it is not one that is widely accepted by modern historical linguists with the largest group arguing that Yiddish began to be spoken around Regensburg on the Danube around 900. I agree that Yiddish probably did originate on the Danube but I think it probably goes back to the much earlier Visigothic settlements closer to the Black Sea.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Charles Nydorf,
    It would help it you defined “typologically”. Each language shows a number of typological features, which individually can be shared with a wide variety of other languages which are not necessarily related to it. For instance, in the days of structuralism the linguist Charles Hockett wrote a book in which he sorted out the numbers and types of consonants and vowels in a wide variety of languages. The languages that shared the same number and type were very different from each other and a typological classification based on their sounds would have been totally useless for determining whether or not those various languages were related to each other.
    You already quoted Austerlitz as saying that Yiddish was typologically very Germanic (meaning that it shared not just one such feature, or even type of feature, but several, with other Germanic languages). So when you mention similar typological features in Gothic and Yiddish, apart from the ones the two languages share by virtue of both being Germanic, what do you have in mind?

  63. A. Sasportas says:

    Shaul Stampfer debunked the belief that the Khqzarian royal family and the Khazarian nobility converted to Judaism in his article “Did the Khazars Convert to Judaism?” (Jewish Social Studies, vol. 19, no. 3, Spring-Summer 2013, pp. 1-72). Has anyone tried to rebut any of his arguments?

  64. David Marjanović says:

    What are those arguments?

  65. i somehow don’t think i’ve wandered into this thread before!
    the gothic theory is interesting, aesthetically. but it seems odd to try to connect gothic to yiddish, rather than to the jewish communities that existed in southeastern europe long before there’s any documentation of yiddish in the area (though mainly, i think, well after gothic was much of a going concern). they, of course, were pretty clearly slavic-speaking, greek-speaking, and crimean-tatar-speaking…

    just gonna drop in a nod to alexander beider’s The Origins of Yiddish Dialects from a few years ago (reviewed here). i’m partway into it right now, and finding it fascinating (if a bit above my technical-historical-linguistics capacity to really assess). i’ll take alexis manaster ramer’s word (in one of his raft of notes on yiddish that oughta be collected somewhere besides academia.edu, but as far as i know aren’t) that it’s at least well-reasoned enough to be assessed…

    something manaster ramer and beider agree on, though, is that the key linguistic line within yiddish isn’t between (so-called) Eastern and Western Yiddish (roughly, the areas with and without a significant slavic component to the language) but between the westernmost dialects and the rest. neither says so, but that line (just east of hamburg) pretty exactly corresponds to the historical line between the ritual practices of “ashkenaz” (to the west) and “estraykh” and “poyln” (to the east). which only adds fuel to my wondering when people extended the german-jewish ethnonym to *eastern european* jews. (i have… …theories.) if any Hatters have come across writing that directly addresses that, i’d love to hear about it!

  66. Which ritual practices, for example?

  67. I haven’t yet read Stampfer’s paper, but I read a summary here. The idea of a myth of an exotic nation in the mountains converting to Judaism reminds me of that of Prester John.

    Google Scholar shows a few dozen papers referencing Stampfer’s paper. From the titles, none of them seem to be a rebuttal, at least as a main topic.

  68. Did the Khazars Convert to Judaism?.

    Abs:

    The view that some or all of the Khazars, a central Asian people, converted to Judaism at some point during the ninth or tenth century is widely accepted. A careful examination of the sources, however, shows that some of them are pseudepigraphic, and the rest are of questionable reliability. Many of the most reliable contemporary texts that mention Khazars say nothing about their conversion, nor is there any archaeological evidence for it. This leads to the conclusion that such a conversion never took place.

    Skipping ahead quite a bit:

    Much of my argument here is based on the startling lack of reference to the Jewishness of the Khazars in a very wide variety of sources that might be expected to show an interest in the topic, in addition to the fact that there is no strong evidence for the conversion. Arguments from silence are not popular among historians, as John Bagnell Bury notes:

    The records of ancient and medieval history are starred with lacunae; we are ignorant of whole groups of phenomena, or have but a slight knowledge of other groups; and what we do know must often be seen in false perspective and receive undue attention on account of the adjacent obscurities.

    Historians are rightly concerned that silence can be the consequence of the limited quantity of source material. At the same time, there are cases in which there is no other tool to apply; an unwillingness to apply it allows false statements to be taken as reflecting reality. There are no simple criteria for determining whether a given claim from silence is well based. As John Lange notes, “Specific instances of the argument from silence have to be evaluated on their individual merits. There can be no wholesale conclusion from the foregoing, except perhaps that the argument from silence cannot be logically conclusive.” The use of the argument from silence in the case of the Khazars is far stronger than the usual use of the argument, as in most cases the silence is demonstrably significant, though the concern remains that a given author may have had some unknown reason for avoiding mention of the topic. In the case of the Khazars, the fact that the silence is repeated in an entire range of sources—Jewish, Byzantine, Khazar, written, and archaeological—serves to multiply the improbability and strengthen the argument. A counterargument to the argument from silence must provide an alternative explanation for the silence in question. In the case of the Khazars, this would entail multiple explanations that miraculously coincided.

  69. The idea of a myth of an exotic nation in the mountains converting to Judaism reminds me of that of Prester John.

    Heh. Stampfer, too:

    The stories about the Jewish Khazars could simply be regarded as fantastic tales or legends. As such, they would certainly not be unique or even exceptional, either in the Jewish or in the general medieval context. They would fit in among the stories of the ten lost tribes, of Jews living on the far side of the Sambatyon River, of Prester John, Alexander’s wall or gate, the Red Jews, dog-men, Solomon’s seal, Amazons, Judeisapta, and many others—stories that were very popular, often cited and once believed.

  70. In Beiber’s 2017 discussion of the topic in The Forward, he doesn’t reference Stampfer at all, and his mention of the conversion story itself has the tacit allowance that it could be real:

    The editor wanted me to write a paper explaining the traces of Jews from medieval Khazaria that she was certain I had observed in my research.

    I tried to politely decline her proposal. I told her that my paper on that topic would be too short for inclusion, because it would consist of just one sentence: “The corpus of personal names and surnames borne by Jews in Eastern Europe during the last six centuries, as well as the Yiddish language as a whole, do not contain any link to Khazaria.”

    [. . .]

    While a series of independent sources does testify to the existence in the 10th century of Jews in the Kingdom of Khazaria, and while some of these sources also indicate that the ruling elite of Khazaria embraced Judaism, the Khazarian state was destroyed by Russians during the 960s. In other words, we can be confident that Judaism was not particularly widespread in that kingdom.

    And Ari Feldman, writing about the genetic negative evidence in 2017, also fails to reference Stampfer.

    But Harry Ostrer on the topic in 2017, does cite Stampfer’s work.

    (2017 is when 23andMe published, and then withdrew, statements linking Jews to Khazars. Many protests were made.)

    For whatever that’s worth.

  71. David Marjanović says:

    alexander beider’s The Origins of Yiddish Dialects […] i’m partway into it right now

    Yay! Please report back when you’re through it! I’ve only read blurbs and reviews, but they look very convincing. And wouldn’t it be funny if both Standard German and Non-Westernmost Yiddish had originated in Prague! Both of them are odd mixtures & compromises of Bavarian (south of Bohemia) and East Central German (north of Bohemia).

    that line (just east of hamburg) pretty exactly corresponds to the historical line between the ritual practices of “ashkenaz” (to the west) and “estraykh” and “poyln” (to the east).

    Interesting indeed.

  72. David Marjanović says:

    Previous discussion of the review is here, to which I should add more phonetics. From the review:

    The division into distinct dialect areas, which goes back to when Germans first settled there in the Middle Ages, ought to complicate Beider’s calculations, because the features which he cites to show that Yiddish cannot derive from any one of these Bohemian-adjacent dialects apply just as well to the corresponding parts of Bohemian. For example, the Upper Saxon and Silesian parts of northern Bohemian exhibit the same shift of ô > ū (tūt for MHG tôt, “dead”), and the Bavarian parts exhibit the same shift of b- > p- (pōd for MHG bade, “bath”), which are both absent in Yiddish (EY toyt, bod). German neutralization of consonants (full or partial merging of k, t, p with g, d, b) characterizes Upper Saxon, East Franconian, and Bavarian—including the corresponding parts of Bohemian—but not EY, Czech Yiddish, or East German Yiddish. Should we then conclude that Yiddish derives its unmerged consonants from only the northeastern Silesian part of Bohemian but its original ô vowel (reflected in EY toyt) from elsewhere?

    Some of these things look to me like innovations that are simply younger than the origin of EY.

    The [oː] > [uː] shift must postdate the shift of the MHG [uː] to au, which arrived in Silesia in the 14th century and in Upper Saxony in the 15th according to the map here (and of course the one from MHG [ɔː] to [oː]).

    The occurrence of p in Bavarian sources has been way overrated. What’s going on is that /b/ is voiceless, /p/ is a rare loanword phoneme (and of course absent in the areas with “German neutralization of consonants” as well as eastern Austria), and p was often used to indicate the voicelessness of /b/ and/or the absence of a contrast into Early New High German times. Slavic substrates map these voiceless /b d g/ to the voiced /b d g/ of Slavic; this has happened in Carinthian German, so it’s not surprising it happened in EY.

    “German neutralization of consonants” (binnen(hoch)deutsche Konsonantenschwächung, “Interior German consonant weakening/lenition”) is partial indeed in Bavarian, differently so in different ones, and most of it must be rather recent, I’d guess later than Luther (though all I can actually find is the very short German Wikipedia article saying it was present in Upper Saxon in the 17th century).

  73. i somehow don’t think i’ve wandered into this thread before!

    I was hoping it would attract your attention!

  74. At the very least the Kievan Letter from the Cairo Geniza, with its Turkic signatories and a line of Turkic runic script, leaves little doubt that there was a lasting Jewish tradition in the Khazar world. Maybe just assimilation of the descendants of the immigrant Jews, maybe conversion of the brides (common in the migrants to the far-flung areas) but in some way, shape or form the Jews must have been local for generations, and reasonably high in their social status.

    There is also a small but intriguing percentage of Central / Northern Asian-like DNA in the genomes of the Eastern Ashkenazim, which is nevertheless too high to be easily explained by this genetic admixture coming with the Slavic DNA (contemporary Eastern Slavs also have a similarly small percentage of Central / Northern Asian DNA which has been roughly traced to the Khazar times, but it isn’t high enough to account for the fraction in the Ashkenazi Jewish genomes). So it remains possible that a handful of the ancestors of the Eastern Ashkenazim had some Khazar genetic ancestry. Although the alternative explanations are possible too (perhaps the nascent XVI c. Lithuanian Ashkenazi community assimilated some Karaites or even Lipka Tatars, or perhaps some segments of the Slavic society at the time had considerably higher fraction of the Khazar-like DNA than the more uniformly mixed Slavic genomes of the contemporary era).

  75. I tend to agree with Stampfer’s conclusion, that there is no compelling reason to believe the Khazar conversion story, with the elites converting to Judaism and a very strong Jewish component to Khazar culture. All the near-contemporary documentary evidence for the conversion story have serious problems, except as evidence that the Khazar conversion story was in circulation within a couple centuries of the fall of the Khazar state. Moreover, genetic evidence now rules out the idea that eastern European Jews were of predominantly Khazar ancestry.

    However, while I think he is basically right, Stampfer does indulge in a bit of kettle logic in that article. Depending on what he finds convenient at a given juncture, he may accept that there was a small but meaningful population of Near Eastern Jews in Khazaria, or he may claim that there is no evidence of any migration of Jews into Khazar territory.

  76. @Y:

    it’s a whole lot of small-scale things – not being observant, i’m not really competent to try to summarize it… a bit of poking around on the frum/haredi internet will turn you up guides to the different minhogim, and accounts of differences, since they’re all still in active use. the shift to textual authority (from mimetic community practice) means they’ve become more rigorously codified, but also that a lot of their internal variation and idiosyncracy has been flattened out, as well as (i believe) some of the differences among them.

    what i do know is that “minhag ashkenaz” (rhine valley east to hamburg), “minhag estraykh” (upper danube; parts of hungary; i think bohemia), and “minhag polin” (the rest of pre- and non-hasidic yiddish-speaking eastern europe) are quite distinct – and more importantly, understood to be quite distinct – though closer to each other than they are to sefardic, romaniote, italian, and other european minhogim. the whole picture got messier in the 1700s, because the hasidic movement adopted a whole different minhag (confusingly called “minhag sefarad” because it’s inspired partly by sefardi kabbalists like luria), and that became very widespread in most of the territory of minhag polin…

  77. John Cowan says:

    rozele: You might find my precis of a Beider article interesting. Of course, two caveats: I may have (probably did) misunderstand Beider, and he may have (probably has) changed his mind to some degree.

    though closer to each other

    I remember reading about a small town someplace in Europe in which for the first time in probably decades there was a minyan one day, so they had to work out what parts of minhag ashkenaz (here probably used in a more general sense), minhag actual-sefarad (a couple of Jews from Turkey, I think), and Reform minhag amerika they were going to use. In particular, the American is the only one who can, like, sing. They are in a disused warehouse, if I recall correctly, so they put the women behind the men….

    “If there are only two Jews on this island, why have you built three synagogues?”

    “Simple. I go to mine, he goes to his, and we both boycott the son-of-a-bitch up on the hill.”

  78. January First-of-May says:

    At the very least the Kievan Letter from the Cairo Geniza, with its Turkic signatories and a line of Turkic runic script, leaves little doubt that there was a lasting Jewish tradition in the Khazar world.

    Jewish communities existed just about everywhere they could get to; that’s not necessarily proof of anything.

    OTOH, there’s a rare but well-attested mid-9th century (837/8 AD) coin type saying “Moses is the messenger of God” [Musa rasul Allah] instead of the expected “Muhammad is the messenger of God” (which probably implies Judaism, if mostly only because it doesn’t really fit anything else), and those coins appear to be die-linked to another type from the same period whose legends explicitly mention the Khazars…

  79. Another paper worth a look in Constantin Zuckerman’s On the Kievan Letter from the Genizah of Cairo, from academia.edu (or from your bound issues of Ruthenica, X, 2011, 7–56). The first section, in particular, clears away some of the uncritical enthusiasm for the Kievan letter as witness for a Jewish Khazaria. He reviews a paper by Moshe Gil, another denier, but evidently much less rigorous than Stampfer, and concludes (p. 18),

    Though published in a leading journal in the field of Jewish history, Zion, Gil’s piece, by its disdain for sources and modern scholarship (which the author chooses deliberately to ignore), stands on equal grounds with Sand’s. Both contenders’ approach is a far cry from the attitude adopted nine centuries earlier by R. Yehuda ben Barzilai from Barcelona. In his well-known responsum […], he does not hide his embarrassment at the question how could it happen that the Khazars, after converting to Judaism, continued to perform sacrifices. He openly admits that his first inclination was to put their conversion in doubt. Then, after much inquiry and after collating the different versions of king Joseph’s letter — their divergences were one of the reasons for R. Yehuda’s doubts — he came to the conclusion that the Khazars did convert, that their kings were Jews… and that nevertheless they performed sacrifices.

    Stampfer mentions Zuckerman’s paper as well as R. Yehuda’s letter, but unfortunately does not extract from them as much as he should have.

  80. On the Kievan letter from the Genizah of Cairo

    Searching for works that cite Zuckerman turned up:

    Golden, Peter B. “The Khazars as ‘Sons of Abraham’.” Хазарский альманах (2016).

    Footnote 2:

    Conversions to Judaism while not the norm were not unknown in Antiquity and in the Middle Ages. The conversion of the Khazars was the most notable of these occurrences. Judaism has wavered on the issue of proselytization, often reflecting the political circumstances in which Diaspora Jewish communities found themselves [Golden, 1983, p. 132–134]. The question of the conversion has often become politicized [cf. Shnirelman, 2002] and most recently it has figured in the polemics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a topic too extensive to take up here. Recently, several Israeli scholars have sought to deny the conversion entirely, dismissing it as a literary fabrication [cf. Gil, 2011, p. 429–441; Stampfer, 2013, p. 1–72] or, contrarily, to use it to de-Hebraicize/de-Judaize Ashkenazic Jewry (Sand, 2009). Neither of these viewpoints has found wide scholarly acceptance [cf. Zuckerman, 2011, p. 14–18 for a devastating critique of Gil’s claims and consequently those of Stampfer who largely follows the latter). On the historiography of the “Khazar Problem,” [see: Ващенко, 2006].

    (Gil 2011 is: “Gil M. Did the Khazars convert to Judaism? // Revue des Études Juives. Vol. 170. No 3–4. Paris, 2011.”)

    Oy.

  81. I believe this disease of historiography is called hypercriticism.

    There are sources which mention that Khazar converted to Judaism. There are sources which are silent on the issue. There are no sources which deny Khazar conversion.

    The sources which mention Khazar conversion are numerous, come from Jews and Muslims alike who lived in countries very faraway from each other – Spain, Egypt, Iraq.

    While I am not fond of that Arab pornographer Ibn Fadlan, there can be no doubt that he indeed visited Volga in 922 AD and his report is very explicit on this issue:

    The Khazars and their king are all Jews, and the Slavs and everyone who neighbors with them (are) in obedience to him (the king), and he addresses them (verbally) as to those in a slave state, and they obey him with obedience …

    In fact, the king of Volga Bulgars explained to Ibn Fadlan that the only reason for embassy of Ibn Fadlan was bringing subsidy from Baghdad Calif al-Muqtadir which he intended for building fortress to defend against Jews.

    So the issue appears pretty clear to me.

    The king (well both kings) of Khazaria converted to Judaism along with a sizable chunk of the Khazar elite. Ordinary Khazars remained Turkic pagans, because no one bothered converting them. There were also numerous Muslims and even Christians living in the Khaganate. In addition to converted Khazars, there were several communities of Jews proper in the Khazar territory – in North Caucasus (current Mountain Jews are their direct descendants) and apparently some Jewish traders (called rahdanites by Ibn Khordadbeh) who engaged in trans-Eurasian trade from France to China and had an important hub in the Khazar capital.

  82. Radhanites. I thought they’d come up here on LH at least once, but apparently not.

  83. I must have automatically parsed them as Persian rah(way)+dan(know).

  84. David Marjanović says:

    As the article states, you’re not the first!

  85. thanks for that, JC!
    and that synagogue’s situation is interesting, not uncommon, and has some deep precedents… if i remember right, there was for some amount of time a minhag kaffa that was a locally-specific deliberate blending of romaniote, knaanic (the pre-yiddish slavic-zone jewish culture), krymchak (jewish crimean tatar) and a few other things. all, of course, in strict contrast to crimean karaite practice as well as the source minhogim…

    and on the khazars:

    to me, most of the fuss and furor that the idea of jewish khazars provokes – which is entirely independent of the version proposed, or the evidence offered – is almost entirely about defending a completely ahistorical notion of jewish bloodline purity (the key thing that antisemitic and zionist forms of ‘race science’ agree on).

    whatever the case may have been with the khazars, we know of other places where rulers and aristocracies found becoming jewish an appealing and useful way to opt out of conflicts that were framed as ‘religious’ by various states (the himyarite kingdom in southern arabia is the classic example, of course).

    and more importantly, it’s pretty clear that almost every jewish community and culture emerges primarily through collective (or accumulated individual) affiliation to jewishness by people who were not previously jewish, with some of that taking place through marriage with jews from elsewhere, and most of it not. the motives, generally, seem similar to the ruling-class examples: taking a step outside the main tensions of a fraught social/political landscape. the histories of recently-emerged communities like the abayudaya (lugwere and lusoga speakers in uganda) give us a model that fits very well with less-well-documented cases, from the juhuri (‘mountain jews’ – tat speakers in the eastern caucasus) to the malabar/cochin communities (malayalam speakers in kerala).

    i harp on this here because *language* is so key to understanding these histories.

    if, for example, juhuri communities were (as some claim) descendants of persian/babylonian jewish transplants, it would show in their language: we’d expect to see a lot in the mix that we could trace back to (some period of) more southerly [judeo-]persian(s), [judeo-]aramaic(s), or [judeo-]arabic(s). the same would be true if they were descendents of jewish khazars, but with some form of [judeo-]turkic. but i’ve never heard either version even claimed about the [judeo-]tat they speak. and similarly across the board of jewish languages, from [judeo-]lugwere to [judeo-]tajik to [judeo-]malayalam: the easiest way to understand the languages that jewish communities speak is that they are the languages that their ancestors spoke before and during the process of becoming jewish.

    part of what’s so fascinating about yiddish is that, very unusually for a jewish language, there is a history of migration transparently present in the language itself – but without *any* clear counterpart to it in documented events, the way there is for judezmo. which is why work like beider’s, that tries to set aside some of the a priori ideas (mainly based on an axiom of bloodline purity) that have shaped research into the histories of both the language and the people who speak it, is so important. not uncriticizable, of course! but that’s part of what i think manaster ramer is getting at when he calls it a first step…

    (I’m also *fascinated* by the ways that shlomo sand has become a straw man for writers like golden. sand’s book is primarily an impeccable historiographical argument about the suturing of biblical history onto the separate histories of jewish communities to turn them into a single Blut und Boden nationalist narrative. he pairs that with an explicitly cursory run through a range of specific-community histories, to point out what’s written out to make that narrative work. but folks like golden see any step away from that very bloodline narrative as “de-judaizing”, even though the halakhic tradition itself defines descent as a result of affiliation, not the other way around. )

  86. David Eddyshaw says:

    to me, most of the fuss and furor that the idea of jewish khazars provokes – which is entirely independent of the version proposed, or the evidence offered – is almost entirely about defending a completely ahistorical notion of jewish bloodline purity (the key thing that antisemitic and zionist forms of ‘race science’ agree on).

    This is spot on.

  87. the opposite of “blood purity” isn’t panmixia, is it?

    DNA says loud and clear what the history books and the traditional law don’t. Most of the male bloodlines of both Ashkenazi and Iberian / Italian Jews are from the Middle East. Along their ways of diaspora, they picked a lot of Western Mediterranean DNA (and Eastern Ashkenazim, also Slavic DNA) but most of it came on female lines, and the Middle Eastern female ancestral lines are now a minority. There is nothing unique to this pattern of male migration and female inclusion; it happened countless times in human history. Halacha may seem to point to a different narrative, with a unique maternal-descent concept, but while the tradition puts am atypical emphasis on the feminine lines, the actual ancestry points to a rather typical process.

    ( Giyur doesn’t really contradict the traditional Jewish law, of course, it’s more like it has been outlawed by the laws of the Christian governments and churches for so long that the idea of near-impossibility of conversions from Christianity became a part of the tradition)

  88. All absolutely right about the blood purity bullshit. And on the other side, fuck Arthur Koestler.

  89. @Dmitry:
    do you know anything about the sample sizes and geographic scope of lineage communities in those studies? i would expect fairly different results from different parts of the (so-called eastern-) yiddish jewish home territory, to say nothing of the larger set that gets lumped together as “ashkenazi”…

    and i suspect part of that “idea of near impossibility…” is also a projection of 19th-century levels of state-enforced church hierarchy control over people’s lives back to periods where much of eastern europe was functionally non-state territory, and much of what was nominally incorporated into states was only meaningfully so at the level of the feudal landholders (as opposed to villagers and townspeople).

  90. i would expect fairly different results from different parts of the (so-called eastern-) yiddish jewish home territory

    We can’t go back to the graves in these places, Halacha proscribes it. And there’s hardly anyone alive there. Some insular expat communities might have preserved the genetic makeup of the old shtetles, but they generally eschew genetic studies of ancestry, since Halacha isn’t in favor of it either.

    So most of the genetic studies are conducted with the melting-pot Jewry, often categorized by countries of origin, but hardly ever by the regional and cultural community of origins. The one exception is the strongly Litvak-dominated South Africa. The best-researched melting-pot broader Ashkenazi community is also dominated by the Litvak ancestry (not to be confused with the Litvish tradition or the ex-Grand Duchy territory, both of which are narrower due to the XIX c. migrations to Eastern and Southern Ukraine, and spread of Lubavicher Chassidism). But it is also the most ancestrally admixed Ashkenazi population, so whichever conclusions are reached with the study cohort which is rich in Litvak DNA, should also hold for the other Ashkenazi communities.

    Ancestry.com recently developed an algorithm to separate Galitzianer genetic ancestry from the broadly Litvak ancestry, but it goes without saying that the two are exceedingly close. The separation is only possible because of the non-overlapping sets of ancestors a few hundred years ago, not because of the distinct composition of the ethnic mixes.

  91. The Ashkenazis-are-Khazar-descendants theory, which has now faded from academic discourse, found favor with post-Zionist and non-Zionist Israelis, who consider the Zionist movement to rest on a foundation of myths to begin with; by some secular Israelis, resentful of the oversized power of Jewish Orthodoxy on Israeli politics; by some Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, resentful of Ashkenazi political and social domination; and by non-Jewish anti-Zionists, Palestinian, Iranian, and others, who wish to negate the claim of Ashkenazi Zionists to Palestine, and who resent the rhetorical power of the Holocaust. Even though the claim for genetic support of the theory was ephemeral, it lives on in the minds of those who wish it to live on.

    The Khazar-Ashkenazi theory, not coincidentally, came to fore at about the same time as that of the New Historians, who aimed to deconstruct the foundation myths of the state of Israel, particularly with regards to its relation to the Palestinians; and the New Archaeologists, in particular Israel Finkelstein, who called to question much of the historicity of the Old Testament’s accounts of the Kingdom of Israel. Incidentally, from the little I’ve read about Finkelstein’s work, some of his arguments revolve around a lack of evidence, like Stampfer’s: in particular, he takes the lack of evidence for a widespread Israelie Kingdom based in Jerusalem to mean that the biblical accounts of it were a mere propagandist creation.

    I have much sympathy with the iconoclasts here, because the myths they would break have in my opinion caused great harm on many levels, some of which I have seen myself. I also like the truth, pleasant or not to have the last word.

    In the end, my utterly uninformed thought on all three topics (Khazars, the 1948 war, David’s kingdom) is to maintain a cynical attitude toward any bold claim made by Israeli historians, especially if it results in a best-selling book with a catchy title. I trust that everyone working in these fields wants to believe they are unmotivated and free from political prejudice. Stampfer in particular takes pains to be very clear about the ideological implications of his work. I will forever be questioning whether indeed such inclinations don’t unconsciously push authors’ conclusions.

    P.S. Re Finkelstein, see “I Am the Very Model of a Biblical Philologist”.

  92. John Cowan says:

    Lyrics, for those who already know the melody. In addition there is I Am the Very Model of a Doctor of New Testament”.

    proved the Philistines were almost certainly Canadian

    Though Canadians may jostle
    you will rank as an apostle
       in the high old Limey band
    As you walk down Piccadilly
    with a Tudor rose or lily
       in your very English hand.

  93. o, bunthorne!
    (always a favorite of mine…)

    @Dimitry:

    whichever conclusions are reached with the study cohort which is rich in Litvak DNA, should also hold for the other Ashkenazi communities.

    i would strongly disagree with this assumption, if “litvak ancestry” is being used in anything like a common-usage way*. (while entirely agreeing that litvaks make a convenient group to focus on, since the migration pattern to south africa gives a reasonably isolated contemporary group with a regionally distinct lineage)

    historically, most yiddish jews (let’s stop using “ashkenazim” – there’s no reason to consider the communities from the rhineland to the pale of settlement that the term currently lumps together as having a unified history) aren’t litvaks. the generally-agreed numbers for the early 1900s have ~1/3 of yiddish speakers using NE/lithuanian yiddish, and 2/3 the dialects on the other side of the major isogloss bundle (SE/ukrainian & C/ME/&c/polish). my impression is that those are actually just regional population numbers for the areas understood to be dominated by the three main dialect groups. so the numbers for the NEY speaking minority is basically the population that roughly corresponds to current belarus, lithuania, latvia, and a little of northeastern ukraine…

    more importantly, though, the litvak communities are distinctive partly because unlike the SEY (~ current ukraine, moldova, eastern romania) and MEY (~ current poland, slovakia, hungary, western romania) speaking communities, they were on territory without previous (non-yiddish-speaking) jewish settlements. leaving the khazars out of it, the non-litvak areas are bracketed by the early slavic-speaking communities we know about in rus’ (“eastern knaan”) and bohemia (“western knaan”), and the crimean communities. they also include areas where 19thC informants told researchers that their (jewish) grandparents had been slavic- not yiddish-speakers. so even before we get into looking at the various populations of folks who affiliated with jewishness, litvaks are going to be decidedly atypical in not incorporating other jewish communities with varied histories.

    * if not, or if i’m otherwise misinterpreting what you mean, forgive my disconnection from the geneticists’ art!

  94. geneticists’ art
    Most of the geneticists don’t even want to hear all these gory details about dialect and sectarian communities and their population dynamics, to great consternation of Al Beider who once attended one of the genetics-centered meetings and came back rather depressed.

    But of course it is important to understand that the historic Polyn wasn’t the same as the turn-of-the-XX-century areal of the population descended from Polyn, and that the descendants of the Litvaks spread far beyond the historic boundaries of the GDL. Three main factors there was the depopulation of the Jewish “Ukraine” in the Chmielnicki genocidal times and the Ruin that followed, the opening of Eastern and Southern Ukraine to Jewish settlement under Russian roots, and emancipation of Prussian Jews.

    Basically the “genetic Litvaks” already lived in Podlasie and Mazovia in what we now consider Poland, and even more moved there when Russia legalized moves from the Pale to Congress Poland. In the meantime parts of these historically Litvak lands were partitioned into Prussia, and the Jews spread from there to the West. In the same time the Litvaks repopulated Dnieper’s Left Bank and much of Novorossia, and moved from Courland and Vitebsk governorates North and East. This may have been partly due to the historical modus operandi of the Litvaks, who prized the younger sons’ migration to the new territories.

    So at the height of the Jewish Europe, much of Ukraine and Poland and a significant part of Germany were settled by the Litvaks, despite originally having substantial local Jewish populations.

Speak Your Mind

*