Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton February 28, 2014

Veiling knowledge: Hebrew sources in the Yiddish sermons of ultra-orthodox women

  • Dalit Assouline EMAIL logo


This article discusses a gender-based aspect of contemporary language contact among Israeli Yiddish-speaking Haredi Jews. The speakers are all bilingual, and their command of Israeli Hebrew undermines the traditional linguistic disparity between men's and women's access to sacred Jewish texts. These texts are studied solely by men, with the result that, throughout the generations, men's command of “the holy tongue” (Hebrew and Aramaic) was much higher than that of the women. Today, in contrast, the familiarity of Israeli Haredi women with Israeli Hebrew facilitates their understanding of such materials. This is a new phenomenon, giving women access to sacred texts which had formerly been available only to men. Consequently, in quoting from sacred texts, when they speak in public (for example, in giving sermons to other women in their community), Israeli Haredi women employ various strategies in order to camouflage their true linguistic competence, so as not to display knowledge of the holy tongue on a level higher than that perceived as socially legitimate for women. Linguistic and discourse-based analyses of these strategies – in marked contrast to those of their American Yiddish-speaking counterparts – illustrate a facet of the continuing Haredi efforts to preserve a traditional way of life in a changing world.

Published Online: 2014-2-28
Published in Print: 2014-3-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 27.3.2023 from
Scroll Up Arrow