"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On the Importance of Speaking Yiddish

On the Importance of Speaking Yiddish

Rabbi Y. Oliver

There are many reasons to learn Yiddish and speak Yiddish, most notably that (for European Jews) it is the “mameh loshon,” the distinctive Jewish language that sets us apart from the gentile nations in our speech.

However, as a chossid there is an additional very important reason: to understand the Rebbe.
Sadly there are many
chassidim who not only do not learn sichos from the original, but don’t even have the language skills to do so! They don’t know Yiddish.
Even if they regularly learn the
sichos available in English or Hebrew:

1. A translation is not the same as the original;

2. There are many, many
sichos that have not been translated into English or Hebrew;
They can’t understand the Rebbe speaking. We have such a wealth of inspiring audio (see here) and video recordings of the Rebbe speaking. Personally, I feel so uplifted when I hear the Rebbe speak, and boruch Hashem I can understand every word he’s saying. I see others viewing subtitles, and I feel sorry for them. The subtitles are good, but ... they just don’t do justice to the original. Not because they’re not well translated (they usually are), but because when you hear the words and the feeling in the words and understand it at the same time, the impact is far more powerful than when you hear the words and read text.
I have great difficulty imagining how one can feel a strong identity as a
chossid, which means feeling an intensely deep bond with the Rebbe and with the Rebbe’s teachings and directives ... when he doesn't even understand the language that the Rebbe speaks! To realize how absurd this is, just imagine being married to someone and interacting solely through an interpreter!

I understand that some people may think that they don’t have the time or opportunity to learn Yiddish. But is that a reason not to try? Why not at least make it a goal, one word at a time? Perhaps learn a few words a day. Not advanced words, but basic words. It doesn’t take long to develop a basic vocabulary, to figure out the tenses, singular and plural, masculine and feminine. There are books can be obtained that explain these rules. After those basics are in place, the rest is much more easy. Especially since the Rebbe does’t speak a sophisticated Yiddish, and mixes in a lot of
loshon kodesh.

Really, try it. It makes such a big difference. Instead of feeling that the Rebbe is speaking Chinese, you’ll feel that he’s speaking to you—and he is.

(See this book on Yiddish.)


  1. I'm one of the ones you feel pity on. I never heard Yiddish in my home (although my parents were brought up on it). I've tried to self-teach using Unzer Buch and working directly from the Rebbe's sichos with a dictionary, and I have learned some, but not enough to carry on a conversation, nor to understand directly without depending upon a translator (or the subtitles).

    There is the online school eYiddish.org, but I can't pony up $350 for ten lessons.

    Is there a way to teach Yiddish to folk like me, who have little time and little money?

    Perhaps a chavurah-type group, where the learners get together and teach each other?

  2. I taught myself Yiddish by learning the Rebbe's sichos with the help of a dictionary, and with other bochrim my age, or older bochrim.

    Regardless, the key to learning a new language is consistency. You need to regularly work at it. If you let a month go by without reading a word in the language you're supposedly learning, much of the earlier vocab. will be forgotten. Of course, you could also ask someone whom you know locally who does know Yiddish to learn a sicha with you regularly. Much success!

  3. A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn Yiddish, so I sat down with a [familiar] sicha and translated word for word from the dictionary. After a page, I was translating two words a paragraph, instead of the whole thing, then one word per, then two words a page.

    Then I came to Israel, and learning modern Hebrew + the availability of the [easier] Hebrew sichot = bye-bye Yiddish. One day, IY"H, I'll get back to it.

  4. What is your solution to the problem for Yidden, especially Chassidim to learn yiddish besides immersing themselves in a community that only speaks Yiddish and no English?

  5. Good question!

    1. by regularly learning texts written in Yiddish;

    2. listening to Yiddish being spoken (for a Chabad Chossid, that would include first and foremost listening to the Rebbe speaking);

    3. speaking in Yiddish with anyone else who already knows how to speak it--and when socially appropriate, even with those who don't know how to speak it so well, but are willing to "break their teeth" together with you, because they recognise the importance of learning the language.

  6. Yasher koach. Isn’t there a letter or a sicha of the Rebbe that talks about holiness of Yiddish?

  7. where? can you direct me too them?

  8. Sure, G-d willing I'll post some sources on it.

  9. Wow I just assumed you must have grown up in a Yiddish speaking home. I have a Likkutei Sichos dictionary. I just start going through sichos, one word at a time, with persistence? That's you how you learned Yiddish? With Hashem's help I want to make learning Yiddish a goal!

    I wrote an entry about Yiddish, quoting from the Rebbe why it's a holy and elevated tongue unto itself, with a charming video at the end of the Rebbe's encouraging Mr. Chase to speak in Yiddish by the groundbreaking at 770:



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