UCL Hebrew & Jewish Studies


Yiddish in London Habad schools

01 December 2020, 6:00 pm–7:30 pm

image of ditto copied yiddish worksheet

This talk will be delivered in Yiddish, with a live English translation available.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

All | UCL staff | UCL students | UCL alumni | Invitation Only






Hasidic Yiddish at UCL


Gower Street


אידיש אין די ליובאוויטשער שולען אין לונדון: א פאמפעדיקל - פון אינגעלאך צו מיידעלאך

Yiddish in the Lubavitch Schools in London: a Pendulum - from Boys to Girls

The Lubavitch community in London, and the school intake, is a mixture of children from families where Yiddish is spoken at home, and families where only English (or in some cases Ivrit) is spoken. How significant is Yiddish in this school system? One sees a kind of pendulum. In the 19870s and 80s, there was a heavy emphasis on Yiddish for the boys. Study of Khumash, the primary skill, took place with Yiddish taytsh, from Hebrew into Yiddish. There was also an attempt to translate into two languages: from Hebrew into Yiddish and English. One teacher, Rabbi Ritchie (Reuven) Witkes made Yiddish the language of conversation in his class, not only the language of study. Any boy who passed through his class for a year came out with a reasonable command of Yiddish.

At this point there were efforts to teach Yiddish to the girls, but they did not compare with the level achieved by the boys.

In the last two decades things changed for the boys. After considerable communal debate, it was decided to translate Khumash into English directly, in order to strengthen Hebrew skills. Hence, for the boys, the level of Yiddish study dropped.

But at the same time, for the girls in the Girls’ Senior School, the level of Yiddish study advanced. This was because of detailed study of the Yiddish Sikhos of the Rebbe for four years of schooling, 1.5 or 2 lessons per week. Students use a compact Yiddish dictionary designed for the study of the Rebbe’s Sikhos.

There will always be a need for Yiddish in the Lubavitch education system, because the late Rebbe (d. 1994) always speaks in Yiddish, as seen in the hundreds of hours of popular video recordings of his hasidic gatherings. Perhaps in the next swing of the pendulum, some kind of extra-curricular Yiddish study will be provided for the boys.

More on the Ada Rapoport-Albert seminar series on contemporary Hasidic Yiddish

About the Speaker

Dr Tali Loewenthal

at UCL

More about Dr Tali Loewenthal