The alfabet of the Hebrew and Yiddish languages (printed and written letters)


Jews in Lithuania, like all Ashkenazy Jews, used two Jewish languages: Hebrew with Aramaic elements and Yiddish. What differed, however, was the extent to which both languages were employed in personal and communal life. In a traditional community the Hebrew language played the role of the leshon ha-kodesh (another pronunciation - loshn-koidesh), i. e. "the sacred language". It functioned in the fields of religious law, liturgy, religious education and literature. It was not a spoken language (colloquial speech) both because of its high status and its history. Yiddish, on the other hand, was the language of communication, and not necessarily in everyday life. According to the most prominent contemporary scholar of Yiddish Dr. D. Katz, "Yiddish was everybody's native language and the universal vernacular used in the intimacy of the home at one end of the language-use spectrum, and in the yeshiva and rabbinical court at the other".

Rich religious and secular literature was created in both of these languages. There were newspapers and magazines published. There exited a complex system of education - from yeshivas till the modern times' kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, departments for Judaic studies at universities. There were also rich libraries, the most famous one being founded by a scholar and bibliophile Matitjahu Strashun (1817-1885). The history of book printing (the first Jewish printing house in Lithuania was established in 1799) mirrors the history of Hebrew and Yiddish books in Lithuania.


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Jews in Lithuania, Vilnius, 1999-2000