(1890–1950), Yiddish linguist. Elye Spivak was born in Vasilkov, Ukraine. The product of a traditional Jewish education and a secular self-education, he worked as a teacher in various places, including the Kultur-lige Yiddish schools in his hometown and Glukhov. In the early 1920s, he taught Yiddish at the Kiev Yiddish Teachers’ College and at Yiddish vocational schools in Kiev and Kharkov. Spivak was appointed professor of Yiddish linguistics at the Odessa Pedagogical Institute in 1925. When the Kiev Chair (later, Institute) for Jewish Culture opened its Odessa branch, he took an active part in its activities, working under the guidance of Yankev Reznik (1890–1944), a veteran of Yiddish education.
Spivak published some 50 textbooks and teaching aids for Soviet Yiddish educational institutions. Some of his textbooks were written with his friend Dovid Hofshteyn and others. Spivak also coedited the Kharkov pedagogical journal Ratnbildung (Soviet Education) from 1929 to 1931. After the death of Nokhem Shtif in 1933, Spivak became head of the philological section of the Kiev Institute for Jewish Culture and editor of its periodical Afn shprakhfront (On the Language Front). In May 1934, during the Kiev Yiddish Language Conference, he formulated the principles of word formation in Soviet Yiddish, admitting inter alia that the majority of lexical innovations were loanwords or calques from Russian. An advocate of retaining Slavisms in Yiddish, he played a central role in Soviet Yiddish language planning and summed up its achievements in his monograph Naye vortshafung (New Word Formation; 1939).
After the Stalinist purges of 1936 and 1937, when a number of Yiddish scholars were arrested and the institute was reduced to a kabinet (research unit), Spivak became its director and was elected a corresponding member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. His 1940 monograph Sholem-Aleykhems shprakh un stil (Sholem Aleichem’s Language and Style) marked the Yiddish writer’s eightieth anniversary, widely celebrated in the Soviet Union in 1939. In 1941, Spivak published Rusish-yidisher rekhtlekh-administrativer verterbukh (Dictionary of Legal and Administrative Terminology). His study Di shprakh in di teg fun der foterlendisher milkhome (The Language in the Time of the Patriotic War; 1946) was the last Yiddish linguistic publication in the Stalinist USSR. A victim of post–World War II Stalinist repression of Jewish cultural life, Spivak was arrested in January 1949 and died in the Moscow Lefortov Prison on 4 April 1950. With Moyshe Shapiro, he was among the principal compilers of the Russian–Yiddish dictionary published posthumously in 1984.
Gennady Estraikh, Soviet Yiddish: Language Planning and Linguistic Development (Oxford, 1999); Esther Rosenthal-Shnaiderman, Oyf vegn un umvegn, vol. 3, pp. 165–179 (Tel Aviv, 1982).