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A Goy Who Speaks YiddishChristians and the Jewish Language in Early Modern Germany$
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Aya Elyada

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780804781930

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804781930.001.0001

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The Thieves' Jargon

The Thieves' Jargon

Yiddish and Jewish Criminality

(p.99) Six The Thieves' Jargon
A Goy Who Speaks Yiddish
Stanford University Press

Yiddish was widely believed to be the “secret language” not only of Jewish merchants but also of Jewish criminals, beggars, paupers, and vagrants, a perception further reinforced by the linguistic affinity between Yiddish and Rotwelsch, the secret language of the German underworld. Jewish criminality was associated with the serious poverty in early modern Germany, where the Jews were among the poorest of the poor. Their dire economic situation drove growing numbers of Jews to commit crimes ranging from pocketpicking to burglary, theft, and disposal of stolen goods. From the beginning of the eighteenth century, increasing interest in Jewish criminals and criminality brought attention to Yiddish literature on the thieves' language. Crime-related Yiddish literature focused on such activities as banditry during the period. Early modern criminological literature stressed the link between Yiddish and the thieves' jargon that also found clear expression in the Christian literature on Yiddish. In the courtroom, the Yiddish language presented Christian authorities with yet another challenge: the Judeneid or Jewish oath.

Keywords:   Yiddish language, Jews, criminality, Yiddish literature, criminological literature, thieves' jargon, Jewish oath, Rotwelsch, banditry, Germany

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