Wherever Jews have lived around the world, they have spoken and written in language distinct from their non-Jewish neighbors. Yiddish and Ladino – two of the most widely known Jewish languages – survived as distinct languages for centuries away from their lands of origin. Others are more similar to local non-Jewish languages but still distinct to varying degrees, including Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Italian, Judeo-Tadjik (Bukharian), and Jewish Malayalam.
Because of migrations and other historical events, many of these languages are on the verge of extinction, and most Jews today are unaware of their existence. It is imperative that we document and raise awareness about these languages in the next decade – for the sake of the elderly Jews who are their last speakers and for the sake of Jewish children who would benefit from knowing about their multifaceted heritage.
The HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project addresses these problems by creating online content and by raising and distributing funds for research and cultural production. This initiative was launched in 2020, building on and encompassing several projects led by Professor Sarah Bunin Benor.
To promote research on, awareness about, and engagement surrounding the many languages spoken and written by Jews throughout history and around the world.
- Every known Jewish language variety will be well documented
- Resources regarding Jewish languages will be publicly available on the internet, thereby increasing comparative research, postvernacular activities, resources for Jewish educational institutions, and knowledge about the linguistic diversity of Jewish communities around the world
- Jews will feel a stronger connection to far-flung Jewish communities, past and present
Past and Present Initiatives
- 2002-2020: Jewish Language Website, an online repository of information and resources, including descriptions of 21 languages, samples of texts and audiovisual materials, maps, lists of translators and researchers, syllabi, and bibliographies.
- 2008-2009: Survey of American Jewish Language and Identity, a quantitative study investigating to what extent American Jews and non-Jews use certain words and other linguistic features from Yiddish, Hebrew, and New York English.
- 2012-2020: Jewish Lexicon Project, a collection of interactive online dictionaries of words used by Jews within several contemporary languages:
Jewish English Lexicon
Léxico Judío Latinoamericano (Jewish Latin American Spanish Lexicon)
Lexikon över Judisk Svenska (Jewish Swedish Lexicon)
Glossaire du français juif (Jewish French Lexicon)
Словаря еврейского этнолекта русского языка (Jewish Russian Lexicon)
- 2012-2020: Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps, a mostly qualitative study of how Jewish summer camps have used Hebrew, including in songs, signs, and Camp Hebraized English.
- 2018-2020: Hebrew Education in Part-Time Jewish Schools, a mixed-methods study investigating why and how supplementary schools teach Hebrew and how students, parents, and others perceive this education.
- 2019-2020: Survey of American Jewish First Names, a quantitative study investigating to what extent American Jews and non-Jews associate certain names with Jews and which types of Jews use Biblical, Modern Hebrew, and other names.
- 2020: Passover Around the World: A Multimedia Concert, featuring Chad Gadya, Who Knows One, and other Passover songs in multiple languages, arranged in traditional and contemporary styles, as well as food samples from global Passover traditions.
- Jewish Names Website, including a database of Jewish surnames around the world and a search tool for Jewish baby names.
- Content/curriculum for youth, geared toward Jewish day schools, supplementary schools, camps, and youth groups
- Research and culture grants to encourage documentation of and engagement with endangered Jewish languages
- Additional activities, perhaps including a teaching fellowship for Jewish schools, public programs, conferences, and fellowships for early-career scholars.
Please contact Dr. Sarah Bunin Benor, Director of the Jewish Language Project, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Jewish Language Project is an initiative of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.