Jewish Language Project

Promoting research and education on the many ways Jews have spoken and written

Wherever Jews have lived around the world, they have spoken and written in language distinct from their non-Jewish neighbors – from Yiddish and Ladino to Judeo-Italian and Judeo-Malayalam. 

 

Because of migrations and other historical events, many of these languages are on the verge of extinction, and most Jews today are unaware of their existence. It is imperative that we document and raise awareness about these languages in the next decade – for the sake of the elderly Jews who are their last speakers and for the sake of Jewish children who would benefit from knowing about their multifaceted heritage.

The HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project addresses these problems through our many initiatives. Since we launched in 2020, over 1.3 million people have visited our websites, and we have reached thousands of others through online events, videos, and educational social media posts. We have also convened organizations and scholars to document endangered Jewish languages and created collaborative dictionaries for emerging Jewish languages. The Jewish Language Project was launched in 2020, building on and encompassing several projects led by Professor Sarah Bunin Benor.

 

Mission

To promote research on, awareness about, and engagement surrounding the many languages spoken and written by Jews throughout history and around the world.

 

Vision

  • Every known Jewish language variety will be well documented

  • Resources regarding Jewish languages will be publicly available on the internet, thereby increasing comparative research, postvernacular activities, resources for Jewish educational institutions, and knowledge about the linguistic diversity of Jewish communities around the world

  • Jews will feel a stronger connection to far-flung Jewish communities, past and present

Current Initiatives

  1. Jewish Language Website: An online repository of information and resources, including descriptions of 23 languages, samples of texts and audiovisual materials, maps, lists of translators and researchers, syllabi, and bibliographies.

  2. Free Jewish Language and Names Consultation Service: Responding to queries about Jewish languages and names from journalists, filmmakers, educators, organizations, website visitors, etc. One of the most high-profile consultations was for Jewdle, a Jewish Wordle spin-off. As of April 2022, Jewdle has been using and linking to entries in the Jewish English Lexicon. We have also consulted with many rabbis and parents-to-be about Jewish baby names.

  3. Jewish Lexicon Project: A collection of interactive online dictionaries of words used by Jews within English, Latin American Spanish, Swedish, French, and Russian. Coming soon: Portuguese and German.

  4. Iranian Languages: Recording speakers of endangered Iranian Jewish languages, with our partners Wikitongues and Endangered Language Alliance.

  5. Captioning: Improving auto-captions on online videos in Jewish English.

  6. Jewish Pronunciations: Adding pronunciation recordings to the Jewish English Lexicon and analyzing them in relation to Jewish regional and religious diversity.

  7. Jewish Prayer in Many Languages: From Sephardic Seattle to Syrian Brooklyn - a concert/lecture series with Asher Shasho Levy. Also includes an online exhibit.

  8. Fun Facts: Regular social media posts with interesting facts about Jewish languages.

  9. Documenting Endangered Jewish Languages: a series of online events spotlighting the important work currently being done to record the last speakers of languages like Sephardic Jewish Papiamentu, Jewish Neo-Aramaic, Judeo-Shirazi, Judeo-Hamadani, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic.

  10. Jewish Language Consortium: Convening several organizations that document, educate about, and revitalize Jewish languages.

  11. Survey of American Jewish First Names: a quantitative study investigating to what extent American Jews and non-Jews associate certain names with Jews and which types of Jews use Hebrew and other names.

Past Initiatives

  1. Survey of American Jewish Language and Identity, a quantitative study investigating to what extent American Jews and non-Jews use certain words and other linguistic features from Yiddish, Hebrew, and New York English.

  2. Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps, a mostly qualitative study of how Jewish summer camps have used Hebrew, including in songs, signs, and Camp Hebraized English. The book won the 2021 National Jewish Book Award in Education and Jewish Identity.

  3. Hebrew Education in Part-Time Jewish Schools, a mixed-methods study investigating why and how supplementary schools teach Hebrew and how students, parents, and others perceive this education.
  4. Passover Around the World, including a multimedia concert featuring Chad Gadya, Who Knows One, and other Passover songs in multiple languages, a downloadable haggadah supplement featuring phrases and songs in many languages, and audiovisual materials from Passover celebrations in many countries.

  5. Jewish Languages and Names, a series of online lectures by Professor Sarah Bunin Benor.

Future initiatives

  1. Historical map displaying which languages Jews spoke in various times and places that will teach about Jewish linguistic diversity and give visitors access to cultural treasures from around the world.

  2. Grants to scholars and artists for research on and engagement with Jewish languages.

  3. Online dictionaries of longstanding Jewish languages with our partner Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.

  4. Database of Hebrew/Aramaic words in Jewish languages.

  5. Content/curriculum for youth, geared toward Jewish day schools, supplementary schools, camps, and youth groups.

  6. Jewish Names Website, including a database of Jewish surnames around the world and a search tool for Jewish baby names.

  7. Additional activities, perhaps including a teaching fellowship for Jewish schools, public programs, conferences, and fellowships for early-career scholars.

People - Meet the people who do this important work.

 
 

Sponsor

The Jewish Language Project is an initiative of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Founded in 1875, HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR’s scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications.

Funding

In addition to HUC-JIR, funding has come from the Dorot Foundation, Maurice Amado Foundation, USC Casden Institute, Association for Jewish Studies Arts and Culture Grant, and many individual contributors. We welcome additional contributions.

 
 

Press

Over the years, initiatives of the Jewish Language Project have been featured in several publications:

2009: Survey of American Jewish Language and Identity

Tablet logo.jfif
Forward logo.png
pakn-treger-logo.png
VICE-Media-White logo.png
Jewish Journal logo.png

2020: Passover Around the World

LA Times.jpg

2013: Jewish English Lexicon

Tablet logo.jfif
Forward logo.png
the_jewish_week_logo_3.jpg

2020: Hebrew Infusion at Jewish Summer Camps

Wisc chronicle logo.jfif
Tablet logo.jfif
Mosaic.jpg
Times of Israel.jpg

2021-22: Documenting Endangered Jewish Languages

Jewschool.jpg
JTA logo.jpg
Socaljewishnews.jpg

2021: Jewish Names of Pets

Forward logo.png
JTA logo.jpg

Other

Jewish Ideas Daily logo.jpg
Jewish Standard logo.png
JTA logo.jpg
the_jewish_week_logo_3.jpg
In geveb logo.jpg

About this website

Since 2002, this site has been produced and edited by Sarah Bunin Benor, Director of the Jewish Language Project and Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Linguistics at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, United States. Questions and comments can be directed to her by email or via our contact form.

Website goals

1. To provide an introduction to Jewish languages for the general public

2. To provide resources and curricular materials for educators about Jewish languages, past and present

3. To serve as a hub of information for the field of Jewish linguistic studies - the study of Jewish languages on an individual and comparative basis - encouraging collaboration among scholars of language use in various Jewish communities

4. To provide information for linguists and Jewish studies scholars who wish to incorporate Jewish languages into their research and teaching.

 

To cite this website

Benor, Sarah Bunin, ed. 2002-present. Jewish Language Website. Los Angeles: Jewish Language Project. jewishlanguages.org.