I. L. Peretz's "Bontshe the Silent"

Resource Kit by
Josh Lambert

Module Content



Classic Yiddish writer I. L. Peretz’s short story, “Bontshe shvayg” (“Bontshe the Silent”) first published in 1894, remains one of the most widely known, anthologized, and translated in all of Yiddish literature. Its central figure, Bontshe, is a man who never speaks up for himself, no matter what indignities he suffers. Peretz, who was called the “father of Yiddish literature,” was one of the most influential figures in modern Jewish culture, in part because of how cleverly he could adapt folk and religious materials to a range of ideological and narrative ends, and “Bontshe the Silent” is a perfect example of this skill. The story’s reception through time suggests the many different ways that Peretz’s work can be interpreted—alternately as a story about disempowerment, persecution, or humility. This kit provides some key resources for teaching the short story.

Cover image: Still of Jack Gilford as Bontshe Shvayg in the final moments of an American television adaptation of the story as part of the program “The World of Sholom Aleichem” (1959).