Jews and the language of Eastern Slavs

Alexander Kulik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The dating and localization of Jewish presence, origin and cultural characteristics of Jewish population in the Medieval Eastern Europe became a subject of tense discussion and extreme evaluations, often connected to extra-academic ideological agendas. The question of the spoken language of the Jews inhabiting Slavic lands during the Middle Ages is one of these unresolved questions. The most basic problem hindering the development of this field was a failure to differentiate among Slavic materials of different provenance, i.e., among pieces of linguistic evidence emerging from thoroughly different historical contexts. This involves, first of all, demarcating between West and East Slavic data. Scant as it may seem, the evidence on the knowledge of East Slavic among early East European Jews is incomparably richer than the data on any other language they may have spoken during this period. This evidence is also very diverse and representative. The emerging picture may impact different fields of knowledge and prompt a reevaluation of many historical and linguistic problems. The linguistic situation reflected in our early sources may indicate a peculiar type of coexistence between Jews and their Slavic neighbors, one that differs from later models of either extreme isolationism or no less extreme assimilation attested in this region. What we are suggesting is a model in which the boundaries between the two groups could take shape along confessional rather than ethno-cultural lines.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)105-143
Number of pages39
JournalJewish Quarterly Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


  • Cananite (Knaanic)
  • East Slavic
  • Eastern Ashkenaz
  • Eastern Europe
  • Jews
  • Literacy
  • Lithuania
  • Medieval Hebrew literature
  • Migration
  • Rus'
  • Slavic glosses
  • Spoken language
  • Vernacular
  • Yiddish


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