Vulgar Words and Belles Lettres: Yiddish Literature and American Obscenity


Leacock Building Room 14, 855 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 2T7, CA

Presented by Josh Lambert

The critic and translator Isaac Goldberg noted, in 1918, that "the theme of sex … is treated by Yiddish writers with far greater freedom than would be permitted to their American confreres." Half a century later, the poet and essayist Yankev Glatshteyn called Yiddish "one of the most modest languages in world literature." Treating a handful of celebrated American Yiddish texts by such authors as David Pinski, Sholem Asch, and Joseph Opatoshu, as well as the history of censorship of Yiddish literature in the U.S., this paper argues that Goldberg and Glatshteyn could both be right. This strange situation was the result of the unusual relationship between the Yiddish language and the American legal system.