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The Graduate Yiddish Program

The goal of Columbia's graduate program in Yiddish Studies is to train future researchers and university teachers of Yiddish language and literature. Additionally, graduates will be able to serve the needs of museums, archives, schools, community centers, and other cultural and communal institutions worldwide. Finally, knowledge acquired in the program may also provide the basis for creative endeavors by writers, translators, musicians, singers, and actors.

Columbia University offers the M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in Yiddish Studies. Students are admitted to one of the participating departments, usually the Department of Germanic Languages (other participating departments are History, Middle East Languages and Cultures, and Religion). Students are required to satisfy degree requirements set by the departments as well as those set by the Interdepartmental Committee on Yiddish Studies; in Germanic Languages, only the Interdepartmental Committee's requirements must be met. Financial aid is available to qualified students. Further information on graduate student requirements is available from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Yiddish Studies page.

For Admission

Students are expected to have a high degree of proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking Yiddish and English; previous work in Hebrew, German, and/or a Slavic language is highly recommended, though not required. Applicants are admitted as candidates for the M.A. degree and potential candidates for the M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees. Continuation of study beyond the M.A. degree is not automatic, but must be authorized by the Interdepartmental Committee on Yiddish.

Full-time M.A. Program

Incoming students attend an orientation meeting with the Director of Yiddish Studies (DYS) to familiarize themselves with the program and select courses for the first semester. Requirements for the M.A. degree include two residence units (completed by attending classes for two semesters) and eight courses, six of which are for "E" credit and two for "R" credit. These must include: at least two semesters of graduate courses in Yiddish Studies; two semesters of Yiddish language courses at the advanced level or the equivalent, and two courses in Jewish history or modern Jewish literature. Any exceptions must be approved by the DYS. In addition to completing the Advanced Yiddish course, a reading knowledge of Hebrew or German is required; knowledge of a Slavic language is highly recommended.

Timeframe: Students will normally take three to five courses each semester, at least one of which is for "E" credit. While this means that the required number of courses can be completed within two semesters, many students may need an extra semester to finish the language instruction necessary to complete the requirements for the M.A.

Part-time M.A. Program

The M.A. degree may be earned through a program of part-time study. The requirements are the same as for the full-time M.A. degree, except that part time students may take up to four years to complete the degree. Programs should be planned in consultation with the Chair of the Interdepartmental Committee and the Director of Yiddish Studies in the Department of Germanic Languages.

For the M.Phil. Degree

Students who are admitted to the M.Phil. program following the successful completion of their M.A. are required to take an additional eight courses, six for "E" credit and two for "R" credit. Of those courses, two must be graduate courses in Yiddish studies. The remaining courses must be chosen from the fields listed below: Germanic Languages and Literatures, Hebrew Language and Literature, Jewish History, Comparative Literature, Judaism, Yiddish Studies, or courses offered in conjunction with the Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research or other accredited academic institutions in the New York area with which Columbia has reciprocity, subject to the determinant of the Registrar. Graduate courses in Slavic Languages and Literatures may be substituted for the above upon special permission. In addition, a reading knowledge is required of the second language not required for the M.A. degree.

Students should be able to complete all coursework in three semesters.

After completing the coursework, the student must pass the M.Phil. examination. Working with the DYS well in advance of the exam, each student will devise reading lists in three areas: general Yiddish studies, a major field of specialization within Yiddish Studies, and in one of the following outside fields: Modern Hebrew Literature, East European Jewish History, German Language and Literature, Comparative Literature, or Religion. Such consultation should take place at least three months before the exam. The exam consists of three three-day take-home essays, one in each of the separate fields.

For the Ph.D.

After the completion of all requirements for the M.Phil. degree, the student is expected to develop a dissertation prospectus within three months. The dissertation prospectus should contain a bibliography of relevant primary and secondary works and a relatively detailed overview of the proposed topic. The prospectus should give a working title for the thesis and each of its chapters. Wherever possible, precise information about chapter topics, existing critical debates, and the student's particular line of argument should be included. The prospectus is to be discussed in a meeting with the DYS and the adviser (if these are different individuals) and a subcommittee of the Interdepartmental Committee. The student must then write and defend a dissertation in Yiddish Studies.


Students are expected to teach in the language program as part of the requirements for their degree. Students teaching for the first time are required to take an introductory workshop before teaching and a language pedagogy course during their first semester of teaching. Students will be supervised by the Lecturer in Yiddish. Conscientious participation in the language program is essential for continued funding as well as for future employment.


Students are expected to write at least for two courses each semester and should turn in their written work before the start of the next semester. Incompletes, where unavoidable, must be completed by September 1. First year students must submit at least one paper per term.

Recent graduate student work

Work by recent Ph.D.'s and advanced graduate students has focused on areas as diverse as Yiddish literary criticism and history, American Jewish social and cultural history, and intellectual currents among Eastern European Jews. Recent graduates from the program, their research topics, and their current employment, include:

  • Andrew Sunshine
    • Ph.D. 1991, "Opening the mail: Interpersonal aspects of discourse and grammar in Middle Yiddish letters."
      Assistant Dean, Columbia College, and Co-editor and Research Associate, The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry.

  • Ori Kritz
    • Ph.D. 1993, "The poetics of anarchy: David Edelshtat's revolutionary poetry."
      Assistant Professor of Hebrew and Yiddish Literature, University of Oklahoma.

  • Daniela Mantovan
    • Ph.D. 1993, "Der Nister and his symbolist short stories (1913-1929): Patterns of imagination."
      Yiddish translator and instructor, Heidelberg.

  • Jeffrey Shandler
    • Ph.D. 1995, "While America watches: Television and the Holocaust in the United States, from 1945 to the present."
      Annenberg scholar, Rutgers.

  • Jan Schwarz
    • Ph.D. 1997, "'When the lamp of art is made to shine through life's foolscap': a study of the Yiddish literary autobiography."
      Lecturer in Yiddish at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.

  • Ellen Kellman
    • Ph.D. 2000, "The newspaper novel in the Jewish Daily Forward, 1900-1940 : fiction as entertainment and serious literature."
      Assistant Professor and Lecturer in Yiddish, Brandeis University.

  • Bettina Warnke
    • Ph.D. 2001, "Reforming the New York Yiddish theater : the cultural politics of immigrant intellectuals and the Yiddish press, 1887-1910."
      Assistant Professor of Yiddish, Department of Germanic Studies, The University of Texas, Austin.

  • Keith Weiser
    • Ph.D. 2001, "The politics of Yiddish : Noyekh Prilutski and the Folkspartey in Poland, 1900-1926."
      The Silber Family Chair for the Study of the Holocaust and Eastern European Jewry, York University, Toronto.

  • Beatrice Lang Caplan
    • Ph.D. 2004, "Orthodox Yiddish Literature in Interwar Poland."

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