New Yiddish Dictionary Explores Intracacies of Language

Delves Into Idioms and Sayings That Other Works Left Out

For Further Reference: Users of the new Yiddish-English dictionary can delve into untranslated works by I.B. Singer, seen above at the 1981 Miami Book Fair.
Wikimedia Commons
For Further Reference: Users of the new Yiddish-English dictionary can delve into untranslated works by I.B. Singer, seen above at the 1981 Miami Book Fair.

By Eitan Kensky

Published February 18, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Comprehensive Yiddish-English Dictionary
Edited by Solon Beinfeld and Harry Bochner
Indiana University Press, 744 pages, $45

The binding of my copy of Uriel Weinreich’s “Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary” broke sometime between my third and fourth semesters studying the language. The beginning Yiddish student can get by with only the glossary in the back of Weinreich’s “College Yiddish,” or with Sheva Zucker’s “Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature, and Culture,” but it’s impossible to move into real Yiddish texts — or even to read the publications designed for students, like the Forverts’s Vayter (Forward)” or the Medem Library’s “Der Yidisher Tam-Tam (The Yiddish Tam-Tam)” — without a good dictionary.

Weinreich has been the gateway dictionary for the past 45 years, the first any Yiddish student buys, Weinreich is an (intentionally) limited dictionary, and users soon need a more inclusive one, like the new “Comprehensive Yiddish-English Dictionary,” edited by Solon Beinfeld and Harry Bochner, a translation of sorts of Yitskhok Niborski and Bernard Vaisbrot’s Dictionnaire Yiddish-Français (2002). I was already making use of Alexander Harkavy’s much more extensive, “Yiddish-Hebrew-English Dictionary” (1928) by the time the Weinreich’s pages started falling out, and Harkavy was my go-to dictionary by the time the Weinreich’s spine split.

The book almost perfectly divided itself into two separate Yiddish-English, English-Yiddish dictionaries. Somehow I got the idea that it was better to repair my copy than to buy a new one. I bought binder’s glue, book boards and special tools for evenly spreading the paste. That night I poorly measured, miscut and rebound my Weinreich as a hardcover. A year later, the new glue stopped holding. It’s still the only copy I own.

It hasn’t been that long since I started learning Yiddish, but it’s doubtful that new students will have the same connection with Weinreich’s dictionary that I had. This isn’t an article about technology: There’s no question that digitized dictionaries have changed the study of Yiddish, that dictionaries designed for the Internet can provide fuller definitions from Yiddish literature, and that alternate technologies, like the ability, as seen on the Forverts’s website, to get a translation by highlighting a word on a Web page, will eliminate some need for traditional dictionaries.

The connection to Weinreich’s dictionary will change because the “Comprehensive Yiddish-English Dictionary” is a masterpiece, an essential resource for anyone who wants to know more about Yiddish. [Editors note: The Forward Association made a substantial grant to support the work on the Dictionary.]


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.