Thursday 25 July 2019


MOYSHE SHAPIRO (May 6, 1899-December 28, 1973)

            He was a linguist, born in Khmelnik (Khmil'nyk), Podolia, Ukraine; his father was a Yiddish teacher. He attended religious elementary school and the Berdichev yeshiva, graduating from a high school in 1917. From age sixteen, he was studying on his own. In 1923 he was appointed director of a Jewish school, while he at the same time taught Yiddish language and literature, Russian language and literature, and mathematics. He debuted in print in 1928 with an article on language teaching in Ratnbildung (Soviet education) in Kharkov. Two years later he brought out, with Ruvn Lerner, a school booklet on orthography entitled Shrayb on grayzn, hilfbukh far shiler (Write without error, an auxiliary text for pupils) (Moscow: Central People’s Publishers, USSR), 94 pp. In 1933 he began a period as a research student in the linguistics section of the Kiev Institute for Jewish Culture at the Ukrainian Academy of Science. He contributed to the compilation, under Elye Spivak, of Matematishe terminologye (Mathematics terminology) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1935), 119 pp. In 1937 he defended his dissertation—“Peshkovskis gramatishe sistem un der formalizmin der yidisher gramatisher literatur” (Peshkovski’s grammatical system and formalism in the literature on Yiddish grammar)—and became a candidate in philological sciences. He published works were primarily on Yiddish grammar. Over the years 1936-1941, he published a series of writings in Afn shprakhfront (On the language front), including: “Fragn fun iberzetsn leninen in yidish” (Issues in translating Lenin into Yiddish), “Der gramatisher min in yidish” (Grammatical gender in Yiddish), and “Bazunderkeytn funem zatsboy in der yidisher folksshprakh loyt der shprakh fun sholem-aleykhems personakhn” (Particularities in sentence formation in Yiddish folk language according to the language of Sholem-Aleichem’s characters). At the same time, he continued his work in language methodology. In 1936, together with Khayim Loytsker and Moyshe Maydanski, he brought out Leyenbukh far shuln fun gramote (Reader for schools on grammar) (Kiev-Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities), 68 pp.; in 1938, together with Loytsker, a textbook on morphology, vol. one of Gramatik (Grammar) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities), 172 pp.; in 1939, with Maydanski, Ortografye un punktuatsye (Orthography and punctuation) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities), 151 pp.; and in 1940, again with Loytsker, Zamlung sistematishe diktantn, far der onfang un mitlshul (Collection of systematic dictations, for primary and middle school) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities), 143 pp. He also contributed to: Ukrainish-yidisher matematisher verterbukh (Ukrainian-Yiddish mathematics dictionary) (Kiev, 1935).

            During WWII he worked in the Uzbeki state pedagogical institute in Bukhara. Coming back to Kiev in 1944, he returned to his language research in the office of Yiddish language, literature, and folklore. In 1946 he and a group of leading linguists, under the direction of Elye Spivak, began compiling a Russian-Yiddish dictionary, but with the Stalinist persecution of Jewish culture, it was discontinued, the office closed, the manuscript of the dictionary confiscated, and the dictionary (in a considerably reworked form) only appeared in 1984, long after the death of the compilers. In line with the persecutions, he was deported to a labor camp in 1949, returning in the mid-1950s. In 1964 he began working in the Moldova Pedagogical Institute as a lecturer in the department of Russian language. He later lived in Moscow, and in his last years he published articles in Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland) on normative grammar, as well as offering Yiddish lessons in a regular column entitled “Shmuesn vegn yidisher shprakh” (Chats about the Yiddish language) (1969-1973). He died in Moscow.

Sources: Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1962), see index (he erroneously confuses Moyshe with Monye Shapiro); Yudel Mark, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 7 (1941); Sovetish heymland (Moscow) 1 (1969); Yankev Glatshteyn, In der velt mit yidish, eseyen (In the world with Yiddish, essays) (New York, 1972), pp. 375-77; M. Itkovitsh, in Morgn frayhayt (New York) (March 10, 1947); Yidishe shprakh (New York) 1-3 (1975).

Dr. Avrom Grinboym 

[Additional information from: Chaim Beider, Leksikon fun yidishe shrayber in ratn-farband (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union), ed. Boris Sandler and Gennady Estraikh (New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, Inc., 2011), pp. 374-75.]

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