Professor Chone Shmeruk (1921–97), fellow of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, laureate of the Israel Prize in 1996, admired scholar and teacher, was one of the great students of the culture of the Ashkenazi Jews and its offshoots, especially in Poland and eastern Europe. Central to his work and world was Yiddish—the everyday language of millions of Jews, a living, lively tongue of tremendous creative force, and until the last generation the common language of religious tradition and secularism, of conservatism and modernism.
Shmeruk was a distinguished historian of the language and its literature, and of the religious, cultural, and social world it represented. He was both a scholar of sacred Jewish texts, possessed of enormous knowledge of traditional society and the literature of the ‘old study house’, and a highly professional, critical researcher, well versed in up-to-date academic disciplines. His interdisciplinary learning was combined with his deep understanding of the multilingual, multicultural world of east European Jews, his keen originality and curiosity, and his passion for the subjects of his inquiry. His writings covered an amazingly wide range of subjects: hasidism and Haskalah, folk literature, theatre, rabbinic literature, journalism and modern secular poetry, philology and linguistics, the bibliography and history of printing and the book, children's books, book illustrations, non-canonical literature (shund—the Yiddish lowbrow literature), and so on. Included in his Festschrift, Keminhag ashkenaz upolin: Sefer yovel lekhone shmeruk (‘Studies in Jewish Culture in Honour of Chone Shmeruk’, Jerusalem, 1993), was a bibliography of more than 200 books, articles, and reviews published in all these fields.
Shmeruk considered himself not only a scholar, but also a cultural agent, a selfappointed ambassador promoting research on the world of Polish Jewry whose voice had been silenced. He initiated many research projects, published many books, and, in accepted fashion, waged ‘holy wars’ within academe and without. In addition, he was endowed with a charisma that drew many students. His influence, indeed, on the present generation of scholars in the history and culture of east European Jewry, both in Israel and abroad, was enormous. Personally, I can say that it is largely thanks to him that I entered into this world. I feel indebted to him for this, and I miss him.