Jewish representatives to the Sejm (parliament), Poland, ca. 1920: (1) Rabbi Moszek Eli Halpern, (2) Noah Pryłucki, (3) Avraham Tsevi Perlmutter, (4) Dr. Berek Wajncier, (5) Yitsḥak Grünbaum, (6) Osjasz Thon, (7) Uri (Jerzy) Rosenblatt, (8) Ignacy Schiper. (YIVO)

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Pryłucki, Noah

(Noyekh Prilutski; 1882–1941), Yiddish scholar, journalist, and political leader. Noah Pryłucki was born into an affluent merchant family in Berdichev, Ukraine, but spent most of his childhood in Kremenets. Under the guidance of his father Tsevi, who was active in the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement and the Jewish press, he received both a general education in Russian state schools and a Jewish education at home. While still an adolescent, he began to write for Hebrew-, Yiddish-, and Russian-language Jewish periodicals.

Pryłucki became active in national minority politics in the Russian Empire while studying law at the University of Warsaw (1902–1905) and was eventually expelled for his activities. An excellent orator, he lectured widely on behalf of the Zionist socialist party Po‘ale Tsiyon. During the 1905 Russian Revolution, he agitated among students to support the demand for a state-sponsored Jewish national school with Yiddish as its language of instruction.

While completing his legal studies in Saint Petersburg (1905–1907), Pryłucki published belles lettres, feuilletons, and journalistic pieces in Hebrew and Russian. He also wrote regularly, especially on Polish–Jewish relations and Jewish nationalism, for the Warsaw Yiddish press. As the first regular Yiddish drama critic in the Russian Empire, Pryłucki applied the standards of European theater criticism to the Yiddish stage, seeking to elevate the artistic level of actors and audiences alike. By 1908, he had exchanged his Zionist leanings for Diaspora Nationalism. At the Czernowitz language conference, he championed the recognition of Yiddish as the national language of the Jewish people.

Jewish cultural figures at a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Czernowitz Yiddish conference, Cernăuți, Romania (now Chernivtsi, Ukr.), 1928. Pictured are (standing, left to right) artist Shloyme Lerner, actor Herts Grosbart, theatrical director Mordkhe Goldenberg, (seated, left to right) writer Itsik Manger, historian Noah Pryłucki, journalist Zalmen Reyzen, and pedagogue and linguist Yisroel Rubin. Photograph by Jacob Brüll. (YIVO)

Accompanied by his wife, the poet Paula Rozental, to whom he devoted a slim Yiddish volume of erotic poetry titled Farn mizbeyekh (Before the Altar; 1908), Pryłucki returned to Warsaw in 1909 to practice law. Still active as a journalist, he published collections of his articles: Natsionalizm un demokratizm (Nationalism and Democratism; 1907), Barg-aroyf (Uphill; 1917) and In Poyln (In Poland; 1921). As a literary patron and mentor, he published works by Yoyel Mastboym, Yoshue Perle, and I. M. Vaysenberg and others in anthologies such as Der yunger gayst (The Young Spirit) and Goldene funken (Golden Sparks), both published in 1909. He also headed a folklore and ethnographic circle, whose members, including A. Almi, Shmuel Lehman, and Pinkhes Graubard, helped to produce the innovative Noyekh Prilutskis zamlbikher far yidishn folklor, filologye un kultur-geshikhte (Noah Pryłucki’s Anthology of Yiddish Folklore, Philology, and Cultural History, 2 vols.; 1912 and 1917) and Yidishe folkslider (Yiddish Folk Songs, 2 vols.; 1911 and 1913). His works were the first scholarly collections of folklore to be printed entirely in Yiddish, using dialect transcriptions. Pryłucki was also among the founders of the Yiddish daily Der moment, for which he wrote regularly about politics and culture.

During World War I, Pryłucki was active in the Yiddish secular school movement and was a cofounder of the Diaspora Nationalist Folkspartey. His speeches before the Warsaw City Council were published in Polish (Mowy; 1920) and Yiddish (Noyekh Prilutskis redes in varshever shtot-rat [Noah Pryłucki’s Speeches in the Warsaw City Council]; 1922). Elected to the Polish Sejm in 1919, he aggressively championed the causes of Jewish equality, as well as national cultural autonomy. His activities won him the opprobrium of both rival Jewish parties, with whom he often refused to cooperate, and of the Polish right, which successfully conspired in 1921 to deprive him of his mandate (on a technicality). After visiting the United States in 1921 to raise funds for pogrom victims, he was reelected to the Sejm in 1922. His political activity declined after a party split in 1926, and he increasingly devoted himself to his scholarly interests, especially older Yiddish literature and dialectology.

From Noah Pryłucki in Warsaw to Zalmen Reyzen in Vilna, 6 June 1925, expressing disappointment at the fact that Reyzen didn't publish (in the Vilner tog) the transcript of the speech that he, Pryłucki, delivered in the Sejm (the Polish parliament). Yiddish. Polish and Yiddish letterhead: Nojach Pryłucki, Deputant, Polish Sejm. Warsaw, Leszno 28. RG 3, Yiddish Literature and Language Collection, F2610. (YIVO)

Pryłucki’s contributions to the field of Yiddish linguistics include laying the basis for the contemporary division of Yiddish dialects, efforts to make Yiddish spelling more phonetic, and work to standardize grammar and pronunciation. His research, hastily published and idiosyncratically edited, provides a voluminous body of raw material (especially about Polish Yiddish) for analysis. In 1924, he helped launch and coedited the language journal Yidishe filologye. A member of the philological section and administration of YIVO, he contributed energetically to its publications and edited its journal for language standardization, Yidish far ale (1938–1939).

Pryłucki fled Warsaw in September 1939 and took refuge in independent Lithuania. During the Soviet occupation, he was appointed to the inaugural chair in Yiddish Language and Culture at the University of Vilna in October 1940. He published his lectures on phonetics (Yidishe fonetik; 1940) and the results of his research on the history of Yiddish theater with Soviet support. In January 1941 he replaced Max Weinreich, who had fled to the United States, as the administrator of YIVO.

Shortly after the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, Pryłucki was arrested by the Gestapo and compelled to compose a list of incunabula housed in Vilna’s Strashun library. He was murdered by his captors on 18 August 1941. His archives are assumed lost or destroyed.

Suggested Reading

• Anonymous, “Draysik yor literarishe tetikayt fun Noyekh Prilutski,” Literarishe bleter 8.18 (May 1931): 329–332; Christopher Hutton, “Noyakh Prilutski, Philosopher of Language,” in History of Yiddish Studies, ed. Dov-Ber Kerler, pp. 15–23 (Chur, Switz., and Philadelphia, 1991); Dov Levin, “Tvishn hamer un serp: Di geshikhte fun yidishn visnshaftlekhn institut in Vilne unter der sovetisher memshole,” YIVO-bleter 46 (1980): 78–97.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1,1, YIVO (Vilna): Administration, Records, 1925-1941; RG 205, Kalman Marmor, Papers, 1880s-1950s; RG 208, Chaim Zhitlowsky, Papers, 1882-1953; RG 223, Abraham Sutzkever–Szmerke Kaczerginski, Collection, 1806-1945; RG 436, Joseph Opatoshu, Papers, 1901-1960; RG 85, Shalom Schwarzbard, Papers, 1917-1938 (finding aid).