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VISNSHAFT AF YIDDISH: Science in Translation

Tue, December 17, 10:15 to 11:45am, Hilton Bayfront San Diego, Sapphire 410B

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


Modern scientific knowledge has repeatedly interacted with European Jewish culture in complicated ways, from the long historical association between Jews and medicine to science’s deadly mobilization under the Third Reich. Yet in spite of multiple links and historical stakes, modern scientific knowledge remains an under-examined aspect in the study of Yiddish literature and press. This panel sheds new light on the relationship between Jewish culture and modern science by looking at VISENSHAFT AF YIDDISH, science in Yiddish. These four papers interpret how various forms of modern science have been understood in the Yiddish-speaking and -reading world.

Papers will explore the Yiddish creation and translation of scientific theories from fields including evolutionary biology, race science, and psychology, approaching a swath of intersecting scientific fields from the early twentieth century. This panel will explore how Yiddish texts negotiate scientific knowledge in relation to other modern political, artistic, philosophical, and religious movements. Together, this panel will consider the affordances or challenges that this branch of knowledge provides Yiddish literary and political authors. How does science provide authors a means to engage with their chosen literary forms, modernity, and the natural world? How do Yiddish authors treat popular scientific theories? How is scientific knowledge, and the very language of science, translated into Yiddish?

Naomi Seidman will explore Max Weinreich's sociological study of Jewish youth, DER VEG TSU UNDZER YUGNT, through the lens of YIDISHE VISNSHAFT. Samuel Spinner will investigate why Fishl Schneersohn wrote science in Yiddish and suggests that within Schneersohn’s joint literary-scientific project, only the novel was capable of explaining the complexity of human experience; it was thus also a basis for effective therapy. Tova Benjamin examines the Yiddish-language popular scientific monthly LEBN UN VISENSHAFT (Vilna, 1909-1912), in which the category of VISNSHAFT provided a uniquely effective medium for socialists to articulate an alternate political future for Russia, and the place of Jewish populations inside it. Dory Fox considers Israel Joshua Singer’s novel, DI MISHPOKHE KARNOVSKI, a Yiddish novel whose thick investments in typology and in biological knowledge make it challenging for the text to produce a coherent critique of race science

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