Words of the Week

“Chabon expresses discomfort with ‘monocultural places’ with ‘one language, one religion,’ but the application of these words to Judaism is simply astonishing. Virtually every Jewish community in history has developed its own dialect. There are five Judeo-Arabic dialects alone. There is a dizzying variety of Jewish culture and multiform expressions of Jewish religiosity. Chabon, however, has no access to this amazing, diversity because he speaks no Jewish language. One is reminded of Edelshtein’s complaint about American Jewish writers in Cynthia Ozick’s classic story ‘Envy; or Yiddish in America’

You have to KNOW SOMETHING! At least the difference between a rav and a rebbeh! . . . Their Yiddish! One word here, one word there. Shikseh on one page, putz on the other, and that’s the whole vocabulary!

Chabon writes ‘I ply my craft in English, that most magnificent of creoles,’ as if speaking English, with all its layers and loan words, makes one multilingual all by itself. Perhaps sensing this, he adds: ‘my personal house of language is haunted by the dybbuk of Yiddish.’ Alas, it is a small dybbuk (the one Edelshtein noticed) and not very frightening—or knowledgeable.”

Source: Elli Fischer, “Michael Chabon’s Sacred and Profane Cliché Machine” (Jewish Review of Books)