Arranging Reality - The Editing Mechanisms of the World’s First Yiddish Newspaper, the Kurant (Amsterdam 1686-1687)

Hilde Pach's dissertation on the Kurant, the oldest known Yiddish newspaper in the world, is now available online.

Here is a summary of the book:

In 1902, the Amsterdam book collector and librarian David Montezinos bought a volume containing one hundred issues of a Yiddish newspaper printed in Amsterdam, the Kurant, (1686 -1687). It is the oldest known Yiddish newspaper in the world.

The Kurant carries news from all over the world, translated from Dutch newspapers. From August 9, 1686 until June 3, 1687 it was printed and published by the Ashkenazi Uri Faybesh Halevi, and from June 6 until December 5, 1687 the printer and publisher was the Sephardi David de Castro Tartas. The translator and editor was Moushe bar Avrom Ovinu, a former Christian whose mother tongue was German. 

Although seventeenth-century newspapers often used the same sources and copied each other’s texts, they ‘arranged reality’ by selecting certain reports and by stressing certain subjects, thus presenting readers with a view on what was happening in the world. 
By showing in detail the selecting and editing mechanisms of the editor of the Kurant I tried to determine the intentions of the makers and the needs and interests of the (intended) readers, the Ashkenazi Jews in Amsterdam.

I found that the editor skillfully adapted the news to make it more attractive and useful for Yiddish-speaking readers. He simplified the text and added a nonpartisan perspective. The choice of subjects in the Kurant is dramatically different from that of the Dutch sources. The Kurant shows much more interest in the armed conflicts between the European armies and the Turks, and less in political news. 
Despite the impressive efforts of the editor of the Kurant, the question is whether the Ashkenazi Jews could identify with it. It may have quenched their thirst for information, tailored to their needs and interests. Yet readers may have found the Kurant too little ‘Jewish’ in character. In any case, the limited number of potential readers makes it unlikely that the world’s first Yiddish newspaper was a successful enterprise.

Download the book here.