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The Yiddish Press

Over 150 Yiddish dailies, weeklies, monthlies, journals, and yearbooks appeared in New York City between 1885 and 1914. They played a strong role in the lives of Jewish immigrants by keeping them informed about world affairs in their own language and by providing a forum for immigrant writers and political activists.

In this excerpt from his work about ghetto life, the journalist Hutchins Hapgood's describes Yiddish papers in 1897, the year one of the most famous of all Yiddish papers, the Jewish Daily Forward, was founded.

 

 

 

 

Yiddish newspapers have, as compared with their contemporaries in the English language, the strong interest of great freedom of expression. They are controlled rather by passion than by capital. It is their joy to pounce on controlling wealth and to take the side of the laborer against the employer. A large proportion of the articles are signed, a custom in striding contrast with that of the American newspaper. . . . the new freedom of the Jews, who in Russia had no journal in the common Yiddish, runs in these New York papers into an emotional extreme, a license which is apt to distort the news and to give over the editorial pages to virulent party disputes.

Nevertheless, the Yiddish press, particularly the socialist branch of it, is an educative element of great value in the ghetto. It has helped essentially to extend the intellectual horizon of the Jew beyond the boundaries of the Talmud, and has largely displaced the rabbi in the position of teacher of the people . . . for the first time [they] lay the news of the world before the poor Jewish people.

The make-up of the Yiddish newspaper is in a general way similar to that of its American contemporary. The former is much smaller, however. . . . The staff is very limited, consisting of a few editors, and usually, only one reporter for the local news of the quarter. They give more space proportionately than any American paper to pure literature . . . and to scientific articles. The interesting feature of these newspapers, however, consists in their rivalries and their differences in principle.

Yiddish journalism in New York began about thirty years ago, and continued in unimportant and unrepresentative newspapers until about twelve years ago [1885], when the Tageblatt, the first daily newspaper, and the Arbeiterzeitung (an important socialist weekly . . . ) came into existence. The Tageblatt . . . is the most conservative, it is national and Orthodox, and fights tooth and nail for whatever is distinctly Jewish in customs, literature, language and religion. It hates the reform sects in religion. . . .

Sympathetic with workingmen and not antagonistic to the employers of the ghetto, the Tageblatt conventionally unites all the Jewish interests it consistently can, and has admittedly the largest circulation of any daily paper in the ghetto. . . .

The socialist weekly, the Arbeiterzeitung, marked the beginning of the most vital journalism of the East Side, and stood in striking contrast to the Tageblatt. . . . The purpose of the organizers of the Arbeiterzeitung publishing association was to educate the people, promulgate the doctrines of socialism, and be altogether the organ of the workman against the employer. From the outset, beginning in 1890, the Arbeiterzeitung was a popular and influential paper.

 

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