The paper seeks to expand the area of modern Yiddish culture beyond literary fiction. It explores the rise of modern Yiddish theatre, press, poetry, and political literature in Imperial Russia in the 1880s. The essay argues that these forms of Yiddish cultural expression first became significant and widespread phenomena in the 1880s. It also highlights the emergence of a diverse Yiddish readership and audience, with different levels of Jewish and European cultural background, in order to counter the common dichotomy that Yiddish was for the masses, whereas Hebrew and Russian were used by the Jewish elites. Finally, the article places the rise of Modern Yiddish culture within the context of major social and economic transformations in East European Jewry: urbanization, population growth, and downward economic mobility. Overall, the article refines and revises certain conclusions offered in the author’s book The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture (2005).

issue 17 / September 2020 by David E. Fishman