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Literacy, Bilingualism, and Gender in a Hasidic CommunityAyala FaderNew York University, New York, NY, USA

This paper focuses on language socialization activities in a community of Hasidic Jews, showing the ways that local ideologies of texts and knowledge interact with local ideologies of language and gender. Drawing on texts, literacy practices, metalinguistic commentary, and censoring practices at different points along the female life cycle, the paper examines girls shift from Yiddish-English bilingualism to English dominance upon entering the first grade, despite complaints by teachers and parents. Literacy practices, in particular shifting ideologies of English, are shown to unintentionally render girls rejection of Yiddish as their vernacular less threatening to communal boundaries because they blur the boundaries of language itself. Ethnographic investigation of how language(s) and literacy are socialized across the life cycle is critical to providing a lens through which to view broader cultural processes, which shape the reproduction of persons, languages, and communities.

INTRODUCTION One Sabbath afternoon in Brooklyn, a Hasidic rabbi spoke to a crowded synagogue about the need to protect children from inappropriate books. To emphasize the potential danger inherent to texts, he reminded his listeners that a Torah scribed by a gentile or heretic must be burned. He explained that even if it is letter-perfect, the hashkofe (outlook) of the scribe enters the actual letters as he forms them. If an observant Jew were to read that Torah, he continued, the words could enter his mind and corrupt him. This anecdote sheds light on local ideologies of literacy and language: even a sacred text written in a holy language

Direct all correspondence to: Dr. Ayala Fader, 152 West 94th Street, #4, New York, NY 10025, USA. E-mail: ayalafader@juno.com Linguistics and Education 12(3): 261 283. Copyright D 2001 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0898 5898



has the possibility of corrupting a reader if the intention or outlook of the writer is corrupt. Jewish religious literacy practices have been a major force in the maintenance of Jewish identity and difference in diaspora. Hasidic Jews today, one denomination along a continuum of Jewish religiosity, are notable for, among other things, a strict and literal interpretation of sacred texts. A focus on texts is one aspect of an increasing religious conservatism more generally among orthodox Jews in North America, including Hasidic Jews (Soleveitchik, 1994). The importance of religious texts, enacted in Hasidic mens study of the Torah, shapes a particular ideology of literacy: The acts of reading and writing are understood as a powerful force for either contaminating or uplifting an individuals soul. Nonreligious texts and literacy practices are similarly thought to have the potential to corrupt or elevate a person. In a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, especially in childrens socialization contexts, secular texts are monitored and controlled by parents, rabbis, and teachers in order to protect against the unwanted influence of those outside of this fundamentalist religious community. Communal attempts to control secular texts and literacy practices are one way that Hasidic Jews maintain and reproduce differences both within (e.g., gender and age) and across (e.g., gentile and Jewish) community boundaries in the multicultural context of New York. Hasidic literacy practices, however, are complicated by multiple languages (Yiddish, English, and liturgical Hebrew) read and/or spoken in Brooklyn and their associations with gender. Multilingual texts and the ideologies associated with these languages play an important part in the production of gendered identities. It is particularly in socialization contextsclassrooms and homes that males and females differential access to and experiences with texts shape linguistic competencies. Gender differences are marked and reproduced through language choice and exposure to certain realms of knowledge in texts. Further, the social organization of gendered identities is a key site for Hasidic legitimations of their sacred covenant with God. In this article, I show how Hasidic literacy practices contribute to the production of gendered linguistic competencies in which men and women are believed to have innately different and complementary positions in the moral universe. In particular, I investigate girls shift from Yiddish English bilingualism to English dominance upon entering the first grade, despite explicit valorization of Yiddish by teachers and parents. I do this in an examination of texts and literacy practices at three different points along the female life cycle: early childhood, young adulthood, and adulthood. First, I analyze textbooks and fiction, metalinguistic commentary, and literacy activities in classrooms and homes in order to show how local ideologies about texts and knowledge interact with local ideologies of language and gender.



Then, through a consideration of censoring practices, I examine how parents and teachers, drawing on a local ideology of literacy, are more vigilant over the content of books than the choice of code. In part, this may be explained by a recent innovation in a genre of childrens English-language fiction, which creates new associations and possibilities for English to express the morality generally associated with Yiddish texts. I conclude that English-language literacy practices unintentionally render girls rejection of Yiddish as their vernacular less problematic because they blur the boundaries and ideologies of language itself. An investigation into the socialization of multilingual literacy practices can form a hub for tracing how linguistic practices get located within the broader workings of the maintenance and production of ethnic and gendered identities. LITERACY, LANGUAGE IDEOLOGIES, AND LANGUAGE SOCIALIZATION My analysis of literacy activities and texts in Hasidic homes and schools integrates two related bodies of work using the theoretical frame of language socialization: ethnographic approaches to literacy, especially to childrens literacy, and recent research on language ideologies. By integrating these bodies of work, I aim to embed the study of linguistic practices within the framework of broader cultural processes. In particular, my goal is to investigate the practices of identification and differentiation, which produce subjectivities and communities. Recent ethnographic approaches to literacy have started from a position which locates literacy within institutional circumstances and cultural practices (Collins, 1995). In particular, I draw on Brian Streets elaboration of the ideological model of literacy. This model approaches literacy as a set of practices, which is implicated in operations of social power, and thus, integral to the formation of identities and subjectivities (Street, 1984, 1993). Scholars who approach literacy in this way are committed to understanding literacy practices in socio-historical perspective and contexts (e.g., Collins, 1998; Kulick & Stroud, 1990; Reder & Wikelund, 1993; Rockhill, 1993; Schieffelin, 2000). Similarly, my analysis draws heavily on interactions within a girls Hasidic school and examines how changes in codes and reading practices are important factors in shaping gendered subjectivities. The work of scholars investigating literacy practices involving children has been particularly insightful. This body of research focuses on the relationships among literacy practices, local ideologies around literacy, and the reproduction of social inequities (e.g., Heath, 1982; Schieffelin & Gilmore, 1986). These approaches to the socialization of literacy practices support my own position that everyday linguistic interactions shape broader cultural processes.



Language ideologies have proven a particular fertile place to link up linguistic practice to a wider set of cultural practices. For example, Kathryn Woolard (1998, p. 3) suggests:. . . Ideologies of language are not about language alone. Rather, they envision and enact ties of language to identity, to aesthetics, to morality, and to epistemology. Through such linkages, they underpin not only linguistic form and use but also the very notion of the person and the social group, as well as such fundamental social institutions as religious ritual, child socialization, gender relations, the nation state, schooling and law.

Language ideologies, in particular, often make explicit the processes of differentiation and identification that create and maintain community boundaries. The work of Irvine and Gal (2000), for example, has shown that linguistic ideologies can be a site where difference is articulated and reproduced in specific semiotic ways. Ideologies of language articulated in literacy practices are similarly about difference, identity formation, and community. As Street (1993, p. 137) notes, Literacy, like language, register, and dialect may become a focus for drawing boundaries against outsiders . . .. My work shows how ideologies of language, embedded in literacy practices, are an important site where Hasidic difference from other Jews and gentiles is legitimized and reproduced. The language socialization research paradigm (Ochs & Schieffelin, 1984; Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986) provides an approach that integrates ideologies of language, literacy practices, and broader social processes of differentiation and identification. The paradigm makes activities between children and caregivers the primary site for delving into broader cultural themes and relationships (Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986). Language socialization focuses on how children are socialized through the use of language

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