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From February 2023, Yiddish will be taught at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) again. As a result, the UvA will be the only university in the Netherlands where this language, which is an important key to understanding Jewish history, is taught.
Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam, around 1912

For a long time, Yiddish was the everyday language of Jews in many European cities. That makes knowledge of the language indispensable when studying the Jewish history of Amsterdam, argues professor of Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac language and cultures Irene Zwiep. ‘While Hebrew was traditionally the language of the synagogue, scholarly traditions and high literature, Yiddish was actually the language of everyday life and books for the less learned. The history of daily Jewish life in Amsterdam cannot be written without knowledge of Yiddish. The libraries and archives are still filled with undiscovered treasures in this language.’

Language acquisition and in-depth course

The permanent staff of the degree programme Hebrew Language and Culture has recently been expanded, therefore, with a lecturer in Yiddish, the Antwerp-born Daniella Zaidman-Mauer. She is a native speaker of the language and will focus on Yiddish as it was spoken in Amsterdam until the mid-19th century in her research and teaching. From February 2023, it will be possible to take the course Taalverwerving Jiddisj (Yiddish Language Acquisition) at Bachelor’s level. In addition, an in-depth course on Yiddish language and culture will be launched in the 2023-2024 academic year. The courses will constitute an important extension of the Bachelor’s programme Hebrew Language and Culture, but will also be accessible to students from other degree programmes and to non-examination students.

The history of daily Jewish life in Amsterdam cannot be written without knowledge of Yiddish. Irene Zwiep, professor of Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac language and cultures

Jewish urban cultures

The teaching of Yiddish is part of a broader repositioning of the degree programme around the theme of Jewish urban cultures. In addition to the Hebrew and Jewish religious, cultural and intellectual tradition, there will also be an examination of the role that cities have played in Jewish history and how Jews have partly shaped the city. Moreover, special attention will be devoted to Amsterdam, which will be the main focus of two junior researchers. One of them will concentrate on the cultural identity of the Jewish Amsterdam neighbourhood in the city centre, in collaboration with the City of Amsterdam and the Jewish Cultural Quarter. The new Yiddish courses and the Jewish Urban Studies initiative at the UvA are supported by the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe.

Striking growth

Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Amsterdam is experiencing striking growth. While the number of Bachelor’s students has stabilised, the number of students in the Master’s programme has doubled in a short space of time – the programme now has 31 MA students. As a result, it has become one of the largest degree programmes of its kind in Europe.

Prof. dr. I.E. (Irene) Zwiep

Faculty of Humanities

Capaciteitsgroep Semitische talen en culturen