Cross Scripts: Inscribing Hebrew into Jewish American Literature

Hana Wirth-Nesher*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Most Jewish immigrants to America during the early 20th century arrived speaking Yiddish or Ladino and using Hebrew and Aramaic for liturgical purposes. When subsequent generations abandoned the first two languages, Hebrew and Aramaic were retained, used primarily for liturgy and rites of passage. Jewish American writers have often inserted Hebrew into their English texts by either reproducing the original alphabet or transliterating into Latin letters. This essay focuses on diverse strategies for representing liturgical Hebrew with an emphasis on the poetic, thematic, and sociolinguistic aspects of these expressions of both home and the foreign. Hebrew transliteration is discussed for its literary (rather than phonetic) rendering, for its multilingual creative contact with the other languages and cultures of each narrative. Among the authors whose works are discussed are Philip Roth, Michael Chabon, Nathan Englander, Joshua Cohen, Achy Obejas, and Gary Shteyngart.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-107
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Jewish Languages
Issue number1 2
StatePublished - 2020


  • Jewish American literature
  • Jewish writing
  • multilingual writing
  • transliteration


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