The Rise of the Modern Yiddish Theater

The Rise of the Modern Yiddish Theater

Alyssa Quint
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 01/24/2019
ISBN: 978-0-253-03862-3
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Alyssa Quint focuses on the early years of the modern Yiddish theater, from roughly 1876 to 1883, through the works of one of its best-known and most colorful figures, Avrom Goldfaden. Goldfaden (né Goldenfaden, 1840-1908) was one of the first playwrights to stage a commercially viable Yiddish-language theater, first in Romania and then in Russia. Goldfaden's work was rapidly disseminated in print and his plays were performed frequently for Jewish audiences. Sholem Aleichem considered him as a forger of a new language that "breathed the European spirit into our old jargon." Quint uses Goldfaden's theatrical works as a way to understand the social life of Jewish theater in Imperial Russia. Through a study of his libretti, she looks at the experiences of Russian Jewish actors, male and female, to explore connections between culture as artistic production and culture in the sense of broader social structures. Quint explores how Jewish actors who played Goldfaden's work on stage absorbed the theater into their everyday lives. Goldfaden's theater gives a rich view into the conduct, ideology, religion, and politics of Jews during an important moment in the history of late Imperial Russia.

Author Bio

Alyssa Quint is Vilna Collections Scholar-in-Residence at YIVO Institute of Jewish Research. She is editor (with Justin Daniel Cammy, Dara Horn, and Rachel Rubinstein) of Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon. She is also a member of the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project.



Imagine a history of the English novel that makes scant reference to Sterne or Austen, a study of American literature that leaves out all mention of Irving or Poe, or an assessment of German Romantic poetry that ignores Heine. That is roughly the state of scholarship in English on the Yiddish theater, which has no major work devoted to Avrom Goldfaden, one of the founders of the professional Yiddish stage. Alyssa Quint's pathbreaking work is valuable not only for the attention paid to the texts of Goldfaden's Yiddish work, but for its discussion of how the texts emerged from their milieu and how they, in turn, influenced that world.


Barbara Henry, editor (with Joel Berkowitz) of Inventing the Modern Yiddish Stage: Essays in Drama, Performance, and Show Business


In lively prose and penetrating analysis, Quint turns the fascinating life of Avrom Goldfaden into a multi-dimensional history of the Yiddish theater's formative years, and a study of the origins of Jewish modernity itself.


Jeffery Veidinger, author of Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire

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Table of Contents


Note on Transliteration

The Social Life of Jewish Theater in the Russian Empire: An Introduction

1. Goldfaden, Elite (1876–1883)

2. The Rise of the Yiddish Actor

3. The Rise of the Jewish Audience

4. The Rise of the Jewish Playwright

5. The Rise of the Female Yiddish Actor

6. The Ban, Cultural Momentum, and the Modern Yiddish Theater

Afterword: The Fall and Rise of Avrom Goldfaden

Appendix I: Synopses of Goldfaden's Operettas

Appendix II: The Sorceress

Appendix III: Excerpt from the memoirs of Avrom Fishzon