Letter from Yudl Mark to Nokhem Shtif, 1924. From Yudl Mark in Ukmergė, Lithuania, to Nokhem Shtif in Berlin (?), 15 July 1924. Mark is writing on behalf of one Nakhmen Dimanshteyn and another friend in Rezhitze to request that Shtif write an introduction to the duo's book of folk songs. Mark also mentions that he has recommended Shtif for the post of editor of Dos folk and apologizes for doing so without asking for Shtif's permission. He also discusses fundraising for a Jewish secondary school, and appeals to Shtif to lecture more widely on the subject of Yiddish literature. Yiddish. RG 3, Yiddish Literature and Language Collection, F2440. (YIVO. Published with permission.)

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Mark, Yudl

(1897–1975), Yiddish linguist, educator, and political activist. Born in Palanga, Lithuania (in the Russian Empire), Yudl Mark was educated by private Jewish teachers and at local Russian schools. From 1915 to 1918, he studied at the historical-philological faculty of Petrograd University. He belonged to historian Simon Dubnow’s intellectual circle, whose followers formed the Folkspartey, or Jewish People’s Party.

Montage of portraits of the second graduating class of teachers of the Yiddish Real-Gymnasium, Ukmergė, Lithuania, 1925. (Center) Yiddish educator and scholar Yudl Mark. Photograph by M. Levi. (YIVO)

Nokhem Shtif and Zelig Kalmanovitch inspired Mark to study Yiddish linguistics. He served as a Folkspartey functionary in Latvia and Lithuania from 1918, becoming secretary general of the Jewish National Council in Lithuania in 1923. He was also among the most active Yiddish educators in the Baltic countries, and was the central figure in the trendsetting Yiddish gymnasium in the Lithuanian town of Vilkomir (mod. Ukmergė). As one of the founders of YIVO, he contributed to its philological publications. In addition, from 1930 to 1934 he edited the Kovno-based daily Folksblat (People’s Newspaper) and was a correspondent for the New York Forverts (Forward). He also wrote textbooks and works on literature and pedagogy, and translated from German and other languages. Mark settled in America in 1936 and subsequently edited the YIVO journal Di yidishe shprakh (The Yiddish Language), launched in 1941.

A committed traditionalist, Mark opposed the introduction of radical reforms into any component of Yiddish culture, instead advocating the preservation of East European Jewish traditions in modern secular Judaism. He regarded the Yiddish writing system as part of the Jewish cultural heritage and felt that the rules should be modified only with great care. Mark therefore rejected components of Max Weinreich’s language-planning reforms, most notably the radically transformed orthography. He disagreed with such central points of the new YIVO spelling as the minimized usage of the “silent alef” and the separation of prefixes in adverbs. He also censured the extreme purism of Weinreich and his followers, particularly their attempts to “purify” Yiddish from many widely used words that they labeled daytshmerizms—redundant borrowings from German.

Mark spelled out his vision of klal-yidish, the modern Yiddish standard, in numerous articles, as well as in his Gramatik fun der yidisher klal-shprakh (A Grammar of Standard Yiddish), published posthumously in 1978. His approach is further reflected in the first four volumes of the Groyser verterbukh fun der yidisher shprakh (Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language; published between 1961 and 1980), which he edited first in New York and later in Jerusalem. The dictionary appeared with a disclaimer from YIVO, which did not allow the use of the institute’s imprint because the compilers’ spellings differed from the YIVO orthography. After Mark’s death, mismanagement and continuing scholarly disputes paralyzed the dictionary project.

Suggested Reading

Yudel Mark, “A Study of the Frequency of Hebraisms in Yiddish: Preliminary Report,” in The Field of Yiddish, ed. Uriel Weinreich, pp. 28–47 (New York, 1954); Yudel Mark, “Zelig Kalmanovitsh,” Di goldene keyt 93 (1977): 127–143.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1,1, YIVO (Vilna): Administration, Records, 1925-1941; RG 1142, Joseph and Chana Mlotek, Papers, 1950-1990; RG 1300, Rachel (Shoshke) Erlich, Papers, 1934-1984; RG 319, Isaac Milbauer, Papers, 1930-1959; RG 357, Mark Schweid, Papers, ca. 1920s-1969; RG 454, David and Leah Tomback, Papers, 1930s-1960s; RG 489, Chaim Barkan, Papers, ca. 1927-1966; RG 492, Jacob M. Rothbart, Papers, ca. 1918-1970s; RG 539, Israel Steinbaum, Papers, 1942-1965; RG 540, Yudel Mark, Papers, 1930s-1975; RG 546, Judah Achilles Joffe, Papers, 1893-1966; RG 561, Rashel Weprinsky, Papers, 1936, 1958-1966.