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Jewish German
description by Esther Jahns

Jewish German has been spoken by Jews in German-speaking countries and regions from the 18th century to the present. The Jewish communities in contemporary Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are diverse. One important aspect of this heterogeneity can be seen (and heard) in the diverse linguistic biographies of Jews in those countries.


The historical language of Jews in the territory of today’s Germany, Austria, Switzerland and in Eastern parts of France (Alsace) was Western Yiddish (Fleischer 2018; stay tuned for our upcoming Western Yiddish page).  From the 18th century onwards, Jews in Germany gradually gave up Yiddish in favor of more standard varieties of German. This happened faster among the more educated society in the cities, especially due to the Haskalah (Enlightenment), with Moses Mendelssohn as its main promoter and its center in Berlin. Yiddish, or elements from it, were kept longer among Jews in rural areas, especially in the Southwestern parts, but also in Northwestern Germany (Matras 1991; Reershemius 2007).


After WWII, the Jewish community in Germany consisted of some families that survived the Holocaust, as well as displaced persons (DPs) who entered Germany during or after the war. Both the German families and the DPs as well as their descendants are often referred to as “local Jews,” speaking German and Yiddish (Eastern or Western), but also Polish and other Eastern European languages (Kranz 2016). From the 1990s onwards, Jews from the (former) Soviet Union started to migrate to Germany. Many of them speak Russian as their first language and are therefore often referred to as “Russian Jews” (Kranz 2016) in public discourse. This is, however, a broad simplification of the actual situation concerning both nationality and language use.

Quick Facts

Names of language: Jewish German, Judäo-Deutsch

Territories where it was/is spoken:

Germany, Austria, Switzerland


Estimated # speakers:

1900: 500,000

2024: ~40,000




Writing systems:

Latin alphabet


Poetry, prose, theater, periodicals

Language Family:

West Germanic

This migration led to a drastic change in the Jewish community in Germany. Today, Jews with Russian or another language from the former Soviet Union are estimated to represent between 75% and 90% of the Jewish community in Germany (Belkin 2017). Another numerically large group in Germany’s Jewish community, especially in Berlin, is Israelis who arrived in the past two decades. These are the largest groups often referred to in public discourse. The community is, however, much more diverse, with Jews from different backgrounds and with other linguistic resources as well.  

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research estimates “core Jewish populations” in 2024 as follows: 118,000 in Germany, 10,300 in Austria, and 18,800 in Switzerland. Jewish congregations, so-called Einheitsgemeinden (‘unity-community’) that are organized under the roof of the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (‘Central Council of Jews in Germany’) numbered 91,839 members in 2021.


This description and the German Jewish Lexicon are so far based on a study of Jewish German speakers in Berlin (Jahns 2024), but it can be assumed that Jews in other German, Austrian, and Swiss cities as well as in rural areas use some of the collected items as well. Hopefully, Jewish German speakers from all regions will add more items to the lexicon.

Jewish German can be best described as German spoken or written by Jews with a repertoire of distinctive features, especially words and formulaic sequences. Jews integrate these words and formulaic sequences into German primarily when communicating with other Jews. Due to shared ancestry and religion, these items stem mainly from Yiddish and Hebrew. Even though some Yiddish and Hebrew elements have entered mainstream German or regional dialects of it, e.g., Mischpoche (‘family’) or Schlamassel (‘mess’), the majority of the elements from the repertoire are not known or understood by non-Jews.

Speakers themselves do not consider their use of the repertoire a language in its own right, nor do they use the label Judäo-Deutsch (we decided on this name instead of Jüdisches Deutsche as the latter was used to describe different language uses in the past; see Über uns for an explanation in German).

The repertoire consists mainly of nouns from Hebrew and Yiddish covering both everyday and religious vocabulary, e.g., Yiddish Schames (‘caretaker of a synagogue’), Hebrew Siddur (‘prayer book’), Yiddish Kischkes (‘bowel’), Hebrew Machane (‘summer camp’).

In addition to elements from Yiddish and Hebrew that are also part of other contemporary Jewish repertoires, Jewish German displays other distinctive features. The following examples are used by speakers in Berlin. These features might differ across different German-speaking regions. The equivalent to Synna (synagogue), for example, is Sünni in Swiss Jewish German.

  • German elements that are not known or not used by non-Jewish German speakers. Examples are Beter/Beterin (‘Member of congregation’ masc./fem. form), Jahrzeit (loan translation from Yiddish meaning anniversary of death), Hohe Feiertage (‘high holidays’). 

  • Known by some (often older) Jewish speakers are also elements that can be considered Western Yiddish and that are therefore known to a lesser extent (if at all) by Jews in other countries, e.g., Jadke (‘butcher’), mewulwe (‘confused’), Plotkes (‘rumors’).

  • Due to the linguistic closeness of Yiddish and German, some Yiddish elements are integrated into German in a unique way to make sure that they are understood as part of the repertoire. The noun mensch has a slightly different meaning in Yiddish and German. While in German it denotes a human being in the general sense, in Yiddish it describes an especially good and loyal person. Therefore, users of Jewish German have two strategies to make sure the Yiddish meaning is understood. When written, they include the letter t, i.e., Mentsch, and when spoken they use the Yiddish indefinite article a, which does not exist in German; “Sie ist a Mensch!” (‘She is a very good person!’).

  • The access to and use of elements from different languages also leads to innovative words and formulaic sequences. Speakers use hybrid forms that consist of elements from different languages, for example Chanukkaleuchter (‘candleholder for Hanukkah) or Minhag Buch (‘book with local customs’), both of which combine German and Hebrew words.

  • We also find acronyms and clippings, such as GN for Goim Naches (‘non-Jews pleasure’), Synna for Synagoge (‘synagogue’), die Bat for die Bat Mitzwa, and SchaScha for Schabbat Schalom.

Example Sentences

Ich fahre auf Machane.

I am going to the summer camp.

Warum chappst du dir das jetzt?

Why are you grabbing this now?

Sie macht das dawka.

She does it on purpose.

Hast du Moire vor Gespenstern?

Are you afraid of ghosts?


Haschem soll dich bentschen.

God shall bless you.

In der Schule haben die Kinder Chugim, z.B.

Chug Tanzen oder Chug Basteln.

The children have clubs in school, e.g.,

dancing club or crafting club.



While the contemporary repertoire is mainly used in spoken language, written literature exists as well. The following book from the Swiss author Thomas Meyer (2012) can be seen as one example: Wolkenbruchs wunderliche Reise in die Arme einer Schickse. Zürich: Diogenes. Periodicals like the weekly Jüdische Allgemeine use a small number of items from the Jewish repertoire. Additional research is necessary to determine the extent of use of the repertoire in German literature and other writings.


All in all, this repertoire is a dynamic resource that allows for variation. Some words are still known but no longer used, and others have spread beyond the Jewish community. Jews in Berlin and German-speaking countries more broadly make different uses of the repertoire and also vary their speech according to the addressee. Therefore, what Benor wrote about American Jews is true for the Jewish community in German-speaking countries as well: “By using certain resources in certain situations and with certain audiences, they can present themselves not only as Jews but also as certain types of Jews” (Benor 2009: 234–235).

To cite: Jahns, Esther. 2024. Jewish German. Jewish Language Website, Sarah Bunin Benor (ed.). Los Angeles: Jewish Language Project. Attribution: Creative Commons Share-Alike 4.0 International.

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