COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Yiddish courses at the University of Maryland, one of the few schools to consistently teach the language used for centuries by European Jews, are threatened by budget cuts.

The Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies recently announced it would be dropping it in the fall, shocking lovers of the Germanic language.

“U- Maryland has had the biggest commitment to Yiddish as a language anywhere in a hundred-mile radius,” said Harvey Spiro, president of Yiddish of Greater Washington, which organized a letter-writing campaign. “We’re not a particularly political organization, but this kicked us in the gut.”

The center has funding to pay its longtime instructor through the next academic year, but after that, it is unlikely to continue funding a full-time faculty member dedicated to the language, said Hayim Lapin, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Maryland.

“This is not about Yiddish,” Lapin said. “What this is about is responding to the budget crisis and actually cutting back on just about all of our visiting faculty and programming, so we have less Bible than we had. We have less history than we had. We have less or no Yiddish.”

Professor Miriam Isaacs, who has taught elementary and intermediate Yiddish at Maryland for 15 years, said she was worried about the impact of the decision.

“We’re at a critical point in that the generation of Holocaust survivors, my parents, they’re not around anymore,” said Isaacs, who was born in postwar Germany and spoke Yiddish as her first language.

“Or if they’re around, they can’t do a lot of translating. So if nobody learns it, you know, the Holocaust Museum archive is full of Yiddish materials. The University of Maryland has been acquiring Yiddish books galore. Who is going to read them? Who is going to be able to have access to them?”

The number of speakers worldwide was estimated at about 11 million before World War II, but half were killed in the Holocaust.

Postwar pogroms in Stalinist Russia and migrations to the United States and Israel further cut the number of Yiddish speakers, now estimated at fewer than 2 million, largely in Orthodox communities in New York, Jerusalem, Antwerp and a few other cities.

The language dates back to the 11th-century Jews who settled along the Rhine River and is written with the Hebrew alphabet but is essentially Germanic in grammar and structure. Yiddish words come primarily from German, Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic sources.

Jonathan Brent, executive director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, a leading center for the study of the language, said he has seen a growing interest in the language in Eastern Europe and the United States.

“There’s a vast world for young people to discover that their grandparents and great-grandparents and people they never heard of created,” Brent said. “And they’re the inheritors of it.”

Isaacs said the Yiddish offerings at Maryland have attracted mostly Jewish students.

“They are rarely Jewish studies majors, because the Jewish studies majors have so much Hebrew they have to take that they hardly ever have room to take Yiddish,” she says.

“So it tends to be students who have relatives who speak Yiddish and want to connect to their relatives. And who also want to see it stay alive, and who enjoy the culture, and have good associations with the language.”

Lapin said limited student interest and declining returns on the endowments that fund the center led to the decision. While it’s unlikely the center will have the money for a full-time instructor after next year, Lapin said he hopes to offer Yiddish language instruction on a per-course basis when there is enough demand.

“Yiddish was significant enough to my colleagues that when we discussed making the budgetary decisions, it was the one area where we said, ‘Well, can we at least keep somebody on doing it on a per-course basis?’ ” Lapin said. “So this is something we’re serious about and trying to sort out.”