Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why there were 10 commandments that Moses announced to the people. Watch the video for the answer.

Moses Ten Commandments - Mel Brooks

Barry Sisters: "Eshet Chail"

Originally known as the Bagelman Sisters, the Barry Sisters were the most popular singers in the genre called Yiddish Swing, which popularized and Jazzified Yiddish folk songs. They also sang popular tunes with Yiddish lyrics.
Here is their early recording.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Author(s): $29.50

From the ninth century on, there was an indigenous Jewish community in the city of Kaifeng in northeastern China. Separated by thousands of miles from the rest of the world, and largely cut off from contact with the main centers of Jewish life, the Kaifeng Jews developed a distinctive culture that was unquestionably Jewish but progressively absorbed Chinese elements. Their greatest problem was not separation from other Jews so much as the openness and tolerance of Chinese society. Intermarriages occurred frequently, and Jews were fully accepted as merchants, government officials, and neighbors. Over time, they were so completely assimilated that few of their descendants carry any memory of Jewish ancestry and physically look much like other Chinese. The story of the Kaifeng Jews is dramatic and colorful, and offers many profound lessons. It will be indispensable to anyone interested in Jewish or Chinese history. Professor Xu Xin of Nanjing University is the foremost authority today on the history and sociology of Kaifeng Jewry. He has written and lectured widely on this subject, and his first book, Legends of the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng, was an outstanding critical success.
A Jewish Spark Rekindled in China
by Michael Freund
This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post Magazine on November 23, 2001
Though he is only 23 years old, Shi Lei of Kaifeng, China, is laboring hard to reclaim centuries of Jewish tradition and heritage, much of which has all but faded away in his native land.
A descendant of a once prosperous and thriving Jewish community located on the south bank of China's Yellow River, Shi Lei (pronounced Sher Lay) is now enrolled in the one-year Jewish studies program at Bar-Ilan University outside Tel Aviv, where he is busy studying Hebrew and learning about Jewish history and culture.
Shi Lei is heir to a proud legacy that was handed down from father to son over the generations. His ancestors were Chinese Jews, part of a community that enjoyed nearly a millennium of peaceful relations with their Chinese neighbors.
“My ancestors came to Kaifeng, China about 1000 years ago,” Shi Lei says. “In 1163, the Jews in my city bought a piece of land in a downtown area in Kaifeng and set up a synagogue, which stood in place for about 700 years, before it fell into ruin.”
China provided its Jews with a welcome and comfortable home, free of many of the insecurities that plagued Jewish communities elsewhere in the diaspora. There are no known recorded incidents of anti-Semitism in China, and the Jews were free to engage in trades and the professions.
At its peak, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Kaifeng Jewry numbered about 5,000 people. Concerned, perhaps, about their community’s sense of collective memory, the Jews of Kaifeng decided to erect steles (stone monuments), on which they inscribed the history of their sojourn in China. Two of the steles, which were erected in 1489, 1512, 1663 and 1669, now sit in the Kaifeng Municipal Museum, a lasting testimony to the Jewish life that once thrived there.
According to Dr. Wendy Abraham, a leading scholar on the history of Kaifeng Jewry, many Chinese Jews had risen to high ranks in the Chinese civil service system by the 17th century. But by the middle of the 1800s, widespread assimilation and intermarriage had all but erased the Chinese Jews’ practice and knowledge of Judaism. After the last rabbi of the community died sometime in the first half of the 19th century, Kaifeng’s Jewish community all but disbanded.
Nowadays, there is no community in Kaifeng per se, just a few hundred individuals who identify themselves as descendants of the city’s Jewish community. “There is no rabbi, no synagogue. There is nothing left, only memory. Only memory,” says Shi Lei.
And it was a compelling desire to investigate that memory that led Shi Lei to come to Israel for a year.
As a child, Shi Lei remembers his father and other family members telling him that he is of Jewish descent. “My father told me: ‘you are Jewish’, but I didn’t know the meaning behind this word. What is a Jew? What is Judaism? I didn’t know so much. All I knew was the word ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish’”, he says.
Shi Lei’s grandfather would recount to him the distant memories he still preserved of Jewish practice. “When my grandfather was a kid, maybe when he was 8 years old or so, he saw the celebration of the Passover,” says Shi Lei. “His father, my grandfather’s father, used a traditional Chinese writing brush to dip in chicken’s blood mixed with water. After dipping, he would dip this on the doorpost of his home.” The ritual echoes the Biblical command given by G-d to the Children of Israel prior to the exodus from Egypt.
Other vague memories of Jewish customs were also passed down. “My grandfather, when he was a kid, he saw some kipahs, or yarmulkes, which were put in the medicine chest of his mother. But my grandfather doesn’t know when,” says Shi Lei. But even these remnants of Jewish ritual have been lost with the passage of time: “Now, so many things just disappeared. We don’t know why, they just disappeared — yarmulkes, but also the celebration of the Passover. We don’t do it anymore now,” Shi Lei says somewhat wistfully.
As he grew older, Shi Lei read everything he could find about Jewish history and culture, slowly expanding his knowledge base about his ancestors’ way of life. “As my knowledge about this was growing, I gradually, little by little, more and more, I had the strong wish that I want to study Judaism and Jewish history.”
In July 2000, Shi Lei met Rabbi Marvin Tokayer of Great Neck, New York, who was leading a study and tour group to China, as he has done on many occasions over the past two decades. Rabbi Tokayer, a former Chief Rabbi of Japan and author of some 28 books on Jews and the Far East, was deeply impressed with Shi Lei and his sincerity about exploring his heritage.
Rabbi Tokayer had always been troubled by the demise of the Kaifeng Jewish community in the 19th century, saying, “No one went to help them, and we let them disappear. This bothers me to this very day.” His meeting with Shi Lei, then, was especially fortuitous. “Suddenly,” he says, “I meet a recent college graduate in China, who knows English well and is a direct descendant of the original Jewish families. He is very proud of his ancestry and anxious to learn.” After Shi Lei served as a guide for Rabbi Tokayer’s tour group in Kaifeng, the participants became enamored with the young Chinese scholar. After consulting with Shi Lei and his family, Rabbi Tokayer contacted Bar-Ilan University and arranged for him to enroll in the one-year program.
Shi Lei was excited at the prospect of learning about Jewish traditions and culture. “After I knew that I am Jewish and that my ancestral land is Israel,” he says, “I had a strong wish to go to Israel to study. Rabbi Tokayer contacted Bar-Ilan University and the university promised to give me a full scholarship because I do not have any personal funds.” Thanks to a scholarship from the university, along with some funding from the members of Rabbi Tokayer’s tour group, Shi Lei is now busy juggling an intense program of study.
When I visited with Shi Lei at the Bar-Ilan campus, the excitement he felt about his lessons was palpable. He proudly showed me his daily schedule of classes, which include lectures in Jewish history, archaeology of the Holy Land, and Hebrew language. His personable nature and ready smile have served him well, as various people stop us in the hallway to greet him and say hello.
As the first descendant of Kaifeng Jewry to come to Israel to study, Shi Lei often encounters a great deal of curiosity and interest in his background. When he tells people of his Jewish ancestry, he says, “the first reaction of some is surprise, surprise, surprise, after which they always ask me many questions about the Jews, about the history of the Jews in China.”
After completing the one-year program at Bar-Ilan, Shi Lei plans to return to Kaifeng, where he hopes to find a job in academia researching Jewish history and culture in China. He is grateful to the Chinese government, which allowed him to study in Israel, and says that relations between China and the Jewish state are friendly.
Shi Lei encourages American Jews and Israelis to visit China, and to learn more about the history of Kaifeng’s Jewish community. Such visits, he says, are “really very helpful to Jewish descendants in Kaifeng, because they can tell us more about Jewish history and traditions. Most of us know nothing about Judaism or Jewish history.” In the past, visitors have sent Jewish books and other materials to Jews in Kaifeng, all of which have helped them to deepen their knowledge of their roots.
When asked about the number of Jewish descendants in Kaifeng, Shi Lei says, “To tell the truth, I don’t know how many people in Kaifeng identify themselves as Jewish. About ten years ago, the former curator of Kaifeng’s Municipal Museum, Wang Yisha, conducted an investigation of this issue. At that time, over 300 identified themselves as Jewish.”
All of the Jewish descendants belong to one of seven clans, each identifiable by its surname. Legend has it that during the Song dynasty over a thousand years ago, a Chinese emperor, unable to pronounce the Jews’ Hebrew-sounding names, bestowed his surname and the surnames of six of his ministers on the Chinese Jews. These seven names — Zhao, Li, Ai, Zhang, Gao, Jin and Shi — were used by Kaifeng’s Jews throughout the centuries, and it is to the Shi clan that Shi Lei traces his own roots.
But even among those who do preserve the memory of their Jewish heritage, there is no active communal life. “Every Jewish family in Kaifeng,” says Shi Lei, “every family is an orphan, an island in a lake, so this family has no connection with that family and they don’t know each other.” “When the new year in China comes, some other people from the Shi clan, they come to my grandparents home and visit my grandparents so that at that time we can meet each other. So you can see it is only about individuals.”
Nevertheless, Shi Lei has gotten to know some of the other Jewish descendants in the city. “As the foreign visitors came to visit us often, it grew necessary to choose some representatives from every family, who would sit together and talk to each other and meet with the visiting groups. So through this, we get to know more and more Jewish descendants in the city.”
Despite these positive developments, it would be wrong to speak of a revival of the Kaifeng Jewish community. Too many years have passed, too much has been lost, to try and rebuild a Jewish communal framework in the city.
The site of the former Kaifeng synagogue now serves as a hospital. It adjoins Jiao Jing Lane, which is Chinese for “Teaching Scripture Lane,” which passes through what was once the Jewish district of Kaifeng. Though the synagogue had been renovated and rebuilt a dozen times in the centuries after its establishment, by the 1860s it was no more. In 1866, a Reverend W.A.P. Martin visited Kaifeng and wrote that the only thing left of the once beautiful synagogue was a single, solitary stone.
Now, nearly a century and a half later, even that stone is gone.
Or is it?
Interestingly, when I asked Shi Lei the meaning of his name in Chinese, he told me that, roughly translated, it means a “strong stone.” I could not help but be moved by the symbolism.
For though Jewish life in Kaifeng, like the synagogue it once supported, is long gone, a single stone, one made of flesh and blood, still stands, proudly clinging to the heritage of his ancestors and grappling to reclaim it.
That stone, of course, is Shi Lei. And, as his name implies, he is a rock of strength and determination.
For more information about the history of Kaifeng's Jewish community, please consult:

Sino-Judaic Institute
China-Judaic Studies Association

A wonderful novel, Peony, written by Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck, vividly describes the demise of Kaifeng?s Jewish community. Though a work of fiction, it is based on historical events. It is available over the internet at
China Judaic Studies Association
Promoting Judaic Studies in China
Jews in Kaifeng, China: A Brief History
By Professor Xu Xin, Director of the Center for Jewish Studies, Nanjing University
(Written November, 2003.)
The Jewish Diaspora in Kaifeng has the most documented history among all Jewish communities in pre-modern China (documents trace the beginning of the presence of Jews in China back to the 8th century although assumptions go beyond the Talmudic period). Available information, though fragmentary, indicates that Kaifeng Jewry was predominantly of Persian origin around the 11th century (Song Dynasty). It seems certain that the Silk Road, a major throughway between China and Persia at the time, was the route, and business opportunities was one of the attractions.
Kaifeng Jewry’s continuous history of about 800 years is extraordinary. By and large, the history of Jews in the Diaspora is conditioned not only by their own heritage, tradition, adaptability, and cohesiveness but also by the social environment of their country of residence. The development, growth, and fall of the Kaifeng Jewish community parallels in many ways the rise and decline of Chinese society in general and of the city of Kaifeng in particular.
Our limited knowledge about the early history of Kaifeng Jewry causes us to surmise that Chinese emperors permitted the Jews to remain in Kaifeng , to observe their own laws and customs, to acquire property and enjoy the same privileges as the native-born subjects of the dynasty. They adopted themselves very quickly and successfully in the new environment and lived peacefully and comfortably with the local people. Through their own efforts, they built up homes and businesses and began to enjoy a secure and stable life. According to their own records, they built a synagogue in 1163. Ever since then, the synagogue has been renovated or rebuilt for at least 10 times.
In the second half of the 14th century, Chinese society once again underwent a major change. Han Chinese overthrew the Mongols who ruled China between 1279-1368 and established the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). During this period, the Kaifeng Jewish community entered a Golden Age. The measures taken by the Ming opened the political door for Jews along with everyone else, providing a ladder by which Jews could rise in Chinese society. Unlike the Jews of Europe and the Middle East in the same period, they were encouraged to fully engage in the local society, including public affairs and government service.
Already allied with the powerful feudal ruling class, the Jews involved themselves ever more in the city’s commerce and learning. The 1489 inscription on a memorial stele provides some insights into the center of this expanding Jewry. Its commercial activities were probably not just local. Connections with Jews in other Chinese cities -- Ningbo, Ningxia, Yangzhou, and Hangzhou -- seem to have been commercial as well as religious. Success in the civil service examination system meant wealth, security, and recognition. It is not surprising that so many Jews flocked to enroll in Chinese schools, studied diligently, and prepared for the examinations. The achievements of Kaifeng Jews during the Ming dynasty were remarkable. More than 20 of them held degrees; 14 served as court officials or military officers, and four were official physicians, one of whom served the prince directly. For one small community, this was indeed noteworthy.
As a result, the Kaifeng Jews became Chinese in dress, language, and mode of life, although they still adhered strictly to their traditional religious rites and customs. Their achievements during this period won them a permanent place in Chinese history -- often mentioned in gazetteers.
Two major events with far-reaching effects -- a local catastrophe and a national upheaval -- heralded the end of Kaifeng Jewry’s Golden Age. Locally, the Yellow River flood in 1642 completely destroyed the city of Kaifeng. Nationally, a dynastic transition occurred between the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The worst flood the city had experienced since the 4th century almost totally destroyed Kaifeng. More than half of its Jewish populace died, with approximately 200 families managing to escape. The 1489 inscription states that there were 70 clans in the community and names 17 of them. When the survivors were finally able to return to their homes after the flood, the number of clans had been reduced to seven: Li, Jin, Shi, Zhao, Gao, Ai, and Zhang. All the others were gone.
Fortunately, before the flood the community had been on a very solid foundation socially and financially. Thus, its members could and did rebuild their lives and synagogue. All seven clans contributed money. Many individuals donated funds to repair or recopy Torah scrolls. In 1663, they completed a brand-new, magnificent synagogue on the ancient site. After they placed 13 Torah scrolls in the Ark they held a grand celebration. The community also erected a stone monument to commemorate the event -- the well-known 1663 inscription that provides so much detailed information about their history.
Although the community managed to rebuild its synagogue, signs of decline were emerging. The economic center of China had further shifted to the eastern coastal cities. As the overland trade routes diminished in importance, Kaifeng and other inland cities gradually grew more and more apart from the economic mainstream. Kaifeng became no more than a provincial capital. Its size shrank, as did its economy and business.
The beginning of the 18th century also saw the growth of tension and disputes between the Chinese government and the Catholic Church, because the Qing rulers were becoming increasingly anti-Christian and anti-foreign. In 1704, in connection with the "Rites Controversy," Pope Clement XI issued a decree to prohibit Chinese Christians from practicing Chinese rituals. This so annoyed Emperor Kang Xi that the Chinese government began to expel missionaries from the country.
In 1725, Emperor Yung-cheng ordered all missionaries working among the Chinese to either go to Macao, an island colony on the southern coast of China under Portuguese rule, or leave the country. In 1783, another order from the court dissolved the Society of Jesus in China. The expulsion solidified China’s isolation from the rest of the world and thus had a profound implications for the Kaifeng Jews. The expulsion of the Christian missionaries left them more alone than ever, for the European priests had been their only contact with the outside world since 1605 when Ai Tien, a Kaifeng Jew, met Father Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit. The Jews were now completely cut off from the Catholic missionaries, who we may suppose gave them some encouragement after earlier links were severed.
Taking everything into consideration, the Kaifeng Jewish community ceased to function as a viable religious or collective entity in the second half of the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century all the holy scriptures and books were gone. In 1914, the site of the synagogue was finally sold by the Jews to the Canadian Anglican Mission headed by Bishop Charlees White. It is no exaggeration to say that by now the history of the Kaifeng Jewish community, which had existed proudly and distinctively since the 11th century, was over.
The Jewish experience in Kaifeng, China, is unique and meaningful -- a consecutive history of about 800 years as an observant society. No doubt it was the most dynamic, active, and important Jewish community in Chinese as well as in world Jewish history. Rather than being saddened by the fact that the community had ceased to exist by the mid-19th century as the last rabbi of the community died without a successor, historians should be amazed by the fact that the community survived for such a long time among the vast sea of Chinese, keeping alive traditions in a powerful Chinese culture that absorbs nearly everything. Even today, after almost 200 years following the fall of the community, the Jewish identity of many individuals whose ancestors had been members of the community remains alive. In the beginning of the 21st century, the scions of Kaifeng Jewry still consider themselves Jewish and share a strong sense of ethnic identity.
The history of Kaifeng Jewry is certainly a part of the history of world Jewry. If it is ignored, our knowledge of the many byroads and possibilities of Jewish existence would be not merely be incomplete but seriously impoverished.

Kaifeng and Kansas
Jews from Middle Kingdom, written by Jacques Cukierkorn for the March 2002 edition of Hadassah Magazine (page 60+) compares the settling of Kaifeng with the arrival of Jews in Kansas city. Inspired by a speech made by Xu Xin to a Kansas City synagogue, Cukierkorn stresses the point that "small Jewish communites have as much to teach the Jewish world as large ones."

Archaeological evidence for the Book of Exodus

The "Red Sea" includes the main body of the lower Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. The photos (below) of Egyptian artifacts at the bottom of the Red Sea were found at what is considered to be the most likely site where Moses and his nation crossed. After the waters closed on the pursuing forces, the artifacts remained until their discovery in modern times.

By analyzing such intricate details as the type of spokes in the chariot wheels, archaeologists concluded that the remnants belong to the Egyptian dynasty in power at the time of the Exodus.

Egyptian chariot wheels and spokes.

left: Ancient Egyptian script that told of the Hebrews' escape and the disaster for Egyptian forces at the Red Sea. This is a detailed account, apart from the Biblical account and, even without the other photos, should be enough to convince the most skeptical. These are only a few of a massive store of archaeological artifacts from the time.

left: Route of the Hebrews from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aqaba. This is the site where so many Egyptian military artifacts have been found over the past 35 years. (The Gulf of Aqaba is considered an extension of the Red Sea.)

left: An Egyptian military chariot's wheels and its axel on its side, bottom of the Red Sea.

right: Bones, presumed to be charioteers' and foot soldiers' (based upon the nature of all recovered artifacts and the script above), litter the death scene. To the right is one recovered at the undersea destruction site.

So much information is available concerning this subject on the internet that we'll leave it to readers to check out further details not included herein. Enter "Red Sea," "Moses," "Egypt" and "Artifacts" in quotation marks into a search and you can read about this subject for the next two years. Hint: The Wyatt Archaeological Research arm of the Wyatt Museum is a good place to start online for biblical archaeology on this and other Bible-related topics. Archaeologist and adventurer Ron Wyatt has unearthed many captivating finds confirming Biblical narratives.

Researcher ("Friends,") wrote: Scientific proof for the chronicles as written in the Book of Exodus can find substantive information in a fascinating popular book, The Miracles of Exodus A Scientist's Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of the Biblical Stories by Colin J. Humphreys, Harper San Francisco,

E-mail received 2007 from website visitor J. Cummings:

Evidence of the crossing of the Red Sea .... Pharaoh's Drowned Army
Confirmation of the actual Exodus route has come from divers finding coral-encrusted bones and chariot remains in the Gulf of Aqaba. One of the most dramatic records of Divine intervention in history is the account of the Hebrews' exodus from Egypt. The subsequent drowning of the entire Egyptian army in the Red Sea was not an insignificant event, and confirmation of this event is compelling evidence that the Biblical narrative is truly authentic.

Over the years, many divers have searched the Gulf of Suez in vain for artifacts to verify the Biblical account. But carefully following the Biblical and historical records of the Exodus brings you to Nuweiba, a large beach in the Gulf of Aqaba, as (marine archaeologist) Ron Wyatt discovered in 1978. Repeated dives in depths ranging from 60 to 200 feet deep (18m to 60m), over a stretch of almost 2.5 km, has shown that the chariot parts are scattered across the sea bed.

Artifacts found include wheels, chariot bodies as well as human and horse bones. Divers have located wreckage on the Saudi coastline opposite Nuweiba as well.

Since 1987, Ron Wyatt found three 4-spoke gilded chariot wheels. Coral does not grow on gold, hence the shape has remained very distinct, although the wood inside the gold veneer has disintegrated making them too fragile to move.

The hope for future expeditions is to explore the deeper waters with remote cameras or mini-subs. The gilded chariot wheel (above) bears mute witness to the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea by the Hebrews 3,500 years ago.

Among the artifacts:

1. Coral-encrusted chariot wheel (photo above), filmed off the Saudi coastline, matches chariot wheels found in Tutankhamen's tomb.;

2.. Mineralized Bone. One of many found at the crossing site center. This one Tested by the Dept. of Osteology at Stockholm University, was found to be a human femur, from the right leg of a 165-170cm tall man. It is essentially 'fossilized,' i.e., replaced by minerals and coral, hence cannot be dated by radiocarbon methods, although this specimen was clearly from antiquity.
3. Chariot wheel and axle covered with coral and up-ended. Exodus 14:25 "And took off their chariot wheels, that they drove them heavily:.....";

4. Solomon's memorial pillars. When Ron Wyatt first visited Nuweiba in 1978, he found a Phoenician style column lying in the water. Unfortunately the inscriptions had been eroded away, hence the column's importance was not understood until 1984, when a second granite column was found on the Saudi coastline opposite, identical to the first, except on this one the inscription was still intact.

In Phoenician letters (Archaic Hebrew), it contained the words: Mitzraim (Egypt); Solomon; Edom; death; Pharaoh; Moses; and Yahweh, indicating that King Solomon had set up these columns as a memorial to the miracle of the crossing of the sea. Saudi Arabia does not admit tourists, and perhaps fearing unauthorized visitors, the Saudi Authorities have since removed this column, and replaced it with a flag marker where it once stood.

How deep is the water?

The Gulf of Aqaba is in places over a mile (1,600m) deep. Even with the sea dried up, walking across would be difficult due to the steep grade down the sides. But there is one spot where if the water were removed, it would be an easy descent for people and animals. This is the line between Nuweiba and the opposite shore in Saudi Arabia.

Depth-sounding expeditions have revealed a smooth, gentle slope descending from Nuweiba out into the Gulf. This shows up almost like a pathway on depth-recording equipment, confirming it's Biblical description “...a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters." (Isaiah 43:16).

The Bible writers frequently refer to the miracle of the Red Sea crossing, for it was an event which finds no equal in history. The Hebrew prophets describe the sea at the crossing site as "...the waters of the great deep ...the depths of the sea..." (Isaiah 51:10). Knowing the exact spot to which the Bible writers were referring, what is the depth there?

The distance between Nuweiba and where artifacts have been found on Saudi coast is about 18km (11 miles).

Along this line the deepest point is about 800m (2,600 feet). No wonder that Inspired Writers of the Bible described it as the mighty waters. And no wonder that not a single Egyptian survived when the water collapsed in upon them. NUWEIBA BEACH (shown on the map above) is where the crossing is theorized to be where the crossing began.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dmitriy Salita

Salita is the undefeated junior welterweight boxing champion. Originally from Odessa, Ukraine he now lives in New York and is an Orthodox Jew who will not fight on the Sabbath or on Jewish holidays. Salita said, “I will never compromise my beliefs. Never. It’s not a question. I have a personal relationship with God that I won’t compromise. My boxing is such a big part of my life, but it won’t get in the way of my religion. It can’t, and it won’t.” Nice.

Orthodox Stance is a documentary of Salita’s career to date and his life as an Orthodox Jew. It begins its exclusive NYC theatrical engagement at the Cinema Village on January 25th.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First Temple seal found in Jerusalem

A stone seal bearing the name of one of the families who acted as servants in the First Temple and then returned to Jerusalem after being exiled to Babylonia has been uncovered in an archeological excavation in Jerusalem's City of David, a prominent Israeli archeologist said Wednesday.

Photo: Edwin Trebels courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar

The 2,500-year-old black stone seal, which has the name "Temech" engraved on it, was found earlier this week amid stratified debris in the excavation under way just outside the Old City walls near the Dung Gate, said archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who is leading the dig.

According to the Book of Nehemiah, the Temech family were servants of the First Temple and were sent into exile to Babylon following its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

The family was among those who later returned to Jerusalem, the Bible recounts.

The seal, which was bought in Babylon and dates to 538-445 BCE, portrays a common and popular cultic scene, Mazar said.

The 2.1 x 1.8-cm. elliptical seal is engraved with two bearded priests standing on either side of an incense altar with their hands raised forward in a position of worship.
[Dr. Eilat Mazar]

Dr. Eilat Mazar
Photo: Dr. Eilat Mazar Expedition

A crescent moon, the symbol of the chief Babylonian god Sin, appears on the top of the altar.

Under this scene are three Hebrew letters spelling Temech, Mazar said.

The Bible refers to the Temech family: "These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city." [Nehemiah 7:6]... "The Nethinim [7:46]"... The children of Temech." [7:55].

The fact that this cultic scene relates to the Babylonian chief god seemed not to have disturbed the Jews who used it on their own seal, she added.

The seal of one of the members of the Temech family was discovered just dozens of meters away from the Opel area, where the servants of the Temple, or "Nethinim," lived in the time of Nehemiah, Mazar said.

"The seal of the Temech family gives us a direct connection between archeology and the biblical sources and serves as actual evidence of a family mentioned in the Bible," she said. "One cannot help being astonished by the credibility of the biblical source as seen by the archaeological find."

The find will be announced by Mazar at the 8th annual Herzliya Conference on Sunday.

The archeologist, who rose to international prominence for her recent excavation that may have uncovered King David's palace, most recently uncovered the remnants of a wall from Nehemiah.

The dig is being sponsored by the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem research institute where Mazar serves as a senior fellow, and the City of David Foundation, which promotes Jewish settlement throughout east Jerusalem.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Yiddish Language and Culture

Yiddish Language and Culture

Level: Basic
Yiddish (in Yiddish)

S'iz shver tsu zayn a Yid
(It's tough to be a Jew) S'iz shver tsu zayn a Yid (in Yiddish)
- Yiddish folk saying

1798 [Yiddish] ... a language without rules, mutilated and unintelligible without our circle, must be completely abandoned.
- David Friedlander, a member of the Haskalah Jewish enlightenment movement
1978 Yiddish has not yet said its last word.
- Isaac Bashevis Singer, upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature for his writings in Yiddish

The Yiddish Language

Yiddish was at one time the international language of Ashkenazic Jews (the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe and their descendants). A hybrid of Hebrew and medieval German, Yiddish takes about three-quarters of its vocabulary from German, but borrows words liberally from Hebrew and many other languages from the many lands where Ashkenazic Jews have lived. It has a grammatical structure all its own, and is written in an alphabet based on Hebrew characters. Scholars and universities classify Yiddish as a Germanic language, though some have questioned that classification.

Yiddish was never a part of Sephardic Jewish culture (the culture of the Jews of Spain, Portugal, the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East). They had their own international language known as Ladino or Judesmo, which is a hybrid of medieval Spanish and Hebrew in much the same way that Yiddish combines German and Hebrew.

At its height less than a century ago, Yiddish was understood by an estimated 11 million of the world's 18 million Jews, and many of them spoke Yiddish as their primary language. Yiddish has fallen on hard times, a victim of both assimilation and murder. Today, less than a quarter of a million people in the United States speak Yiddish, about half of them in New York. Most Jews know only a smattering of Yiddish words, and most of those words are unsuitable for polite company. But in recent years, Yiddish has experienced a resurgence and is now being taught at many universities. There are even Yiddish Studies departments at Harvard, Columbia and Oxford, among others, and many Jewish communities provide classes to learn Yiddish. Many Jews today want to regain touch with their heritage through this nearly-lost language.

Yiddish is referred to as "mame loshn" ("loshn" rhymes with "caution"), which means "mother tongue," although it is not entirely clear whether this is a term of affection or derision. Mame loshn was the language of women and children, to be contrasted with loshn koydesh, the holy tongue of Hebrew that was studied only by men. (And before the feminists start grinding their axes, let me point out that most gentile women and many gentile men in that time and place could not read or write at all, while most Jewish women could at least read and write Yiddish).

The word "Yiddish" is the Yiddish word for "Jewish," so it is technically correct to refer to the Yiddish language as "Jewish" (though it is never correct to refer to Hebrew as "Jewish"). At the turn of the century, American Jews routinely referred to the Yiddish language as "Jewish," and one of my elderly aunts continues to do so. However, that usage has become unfashionable in recent years and people are likely to think you are either ignorant or bigoted if you refer to any language as "Jewish." Likewise, the Yiddish word "Yid" simply means "Jew" and is not offensive if used while speaking Yiddish or in a conversation liberally sprinkled with Yiddish terms, but I wouldn't recommend using the word in English because it has been used as an offensive term for far too long.
The History of Yiddish

It is generally believed that Yiddish became a language of its own some time between 900 and 1100 C.E., but it is difficult to be certain because in its early days, Yiddish was primarily a spoken language rather than a written language. It is clear, however, that at this time even great biblical scholars like Rashi were using words from local languages written in Hebrew letters to fill in the gaps when the Hebrew language lacked a suitable term or when the reader might not be familiar with the Hebrew term. For example, in his commentary on Gen. 19:28, when Rashi comes across the Hebrew word qiytor (a word that is not used anywhere else in the Bible), he explains the word by writing, in Hebrew letters, "torche b'la-az" (that is, "torche in French").

It is believed that Yiddish began similarly, by writing the local languages in the Hebrew characters that were more familiar to Yiddish speakers, just as Americans today often write Hebrew in Roman characters (the letters used in English).

The Yiddish language thrived for many centuries and grew farther away from German, developing its own unique rules and pronunciations. Yiddish also developed a rich vocabulary of terms for the human condition, expressing our strengths and frailties, our hopes and fears and longings. Many of these terms have found their way into English, because there is no English word that can convey the depth and precision of meaning that the Yiddish word can. Yiddish is a language full of humor and irony, expressing subtle distinctions of human character that other cultures barely recognize let alone put into words. What other language distinguishes between a shlemiel (a person who suffers due to his own poor choices or actions), a shlimazl (a person who suffers through no fault of his own) and a nebech (a person who suffers because he makes other people's problems his own). An old joke explains the distinction: a shlemiel spills his soup, it falls on the shlimazl, and the nebech cleans it up!

As Jews became assimilated into the local culture, particularly in Germany in the late 1700s and 1800s, the Yiddish language was criticized as a barbarous, mutilated ghetto jargon that was a barrier to Jewish acceptance in German society and would have to be abandoned if we hoped for emancipation. Yiddish was viewed in much the same way that people today view Ebonics (in fact, I have heard Yiddish jokingly referred to as "Hebonics"), with one significant difference: Ebonics is criticized mostly by outsiders; Yiddish was criticized mostly by Jews who had spoken it as their native language. Thus the criticism of Yiddish was largely a manifestation of Jewish self-hatred rather than antisemitism.

At the same time that German Jews were rejecting the language, Yiddish was beginning to develop a rich body of literature, theater and music.
Yiddish Literature

From the earliest days of the language, there were a few siddurim (prayer books) for women written in Yiddish, but these were mostly just translations of existing Hebrew siddurim.

The first major work written originally in Yiddish was Tsena uRena (Come Out and See), more commonly known by a slurring of the name as Tsenerena. Written in the early 1600s, Tsenerena is a collection of traditional biblical commentary and folklore tied to the weekly Torah readings. It was written for women, who generally did not read Hebrew and were not as well-versed in biblical commentary, so it is an easier read than some of the Hebrew commentaries written for men, but it still packs a great deal of theological rigor. Translations of this work are still in print and available from Artscroll Publishers.

In the mid-1800s, Yiddish newspapers began to appear, such as Kol meVaser (Voice of the People), Der Hoyzfraynd (The Home Companion), Der Yid (The Jew), Di Velt (The World) and Der Fraynd (The Friend), as well as socialist publications like Der Yidisher Arbeter (The Jewish Worker) and Arbeter-Shtime (Workers' Voice). Some Yiddish language newspapers exist to this day, including Forverts (the Yiddish Forward), founded in 1897 and still in print, both in English and Yiddish versions.

At about the same time, secular Jewish fiction began to emerge. The religious authorities of that time did not approve of these irreverent Yiddish writings dealing with modern secular and frivolous themes. Some strictly observant people refused to even set type for these writers because they were so offended by their works, but Jewish people throughout Europe embraced them wholeheartedly.

The first of the great Yiddish writers of this period was Sholem Yankev Abramovitsch, known by the pen name Mendele Moykher Sforim (little Mendel, the bookseller). Abramovitsch was a respected writer in Hebrew and used the pen name when writing in the second-class language of Yiddish. He wrote stories that were deeply rooted in folk tradition but focused on modern characters. Perhaps his greatest work is his tales of Benjamin the Third, which is thematically similar to Don Quixote. Mendele's works gave Yiddish a literary legitimacy and respectability that it was lacking before that time. I have been told that there is a street in Jerusalem called Mendele Mocher Sefarim Street.

The next of the great Yiddish writers was Yitzhak Leib Peretz. (I.L. Peretz). Like Mendele, his stories often had roots in Jewish folk tradition, but favored a modern viewpoint. He seemed to view tradition with irony bordering on condescension.

Perhaps the Yiddish writer best known to Americans is Solomon Rabinovitch, who wrote under the name Sholem Aleichem (a Yiddish greeting meaning, "peace be upon you!"). Sholem Aleichem was a contemporary of Mark Twain and is often referred to as "the Jewish Mark Twain," although legend has it that Mark Twain, upon meeting Sholem Aleichem, described himself as "the American Sholem Aleichem"! Americans know Sholem Aleichem for his tales of Tevye the milkman and his daughters, which were adapted into the musical Fiddler on the Roof. How true is the musical to the stories? Based on my readings of the stories, I would say that Fiddler is a faithful adaptation of the plotlines of the Tevye stories, but the theme of "tradition" that pervades the musical is artificially imposed on the material. The stories certainly turn on the tension between the old world and the modern world, but Tevye's objections to his daughters' marriages are not merely because of tradition. For example, in the original stories, Tevye opposes Hodel's marriage to Ferfel not so much because of tradition, but because Ferfel is being sent to prison for his socialist political activities! Also, there is no fiddler in Sholem Aleichem's stories.

One last Yiddish writer deserves special note: Isaac Bashevis Singer (middle name pronounced "buh-SHEH-viss"), who in 1978 won a Nobel Prize for Literature for his writings in Yiddish. He gave his acceptance speech in both Yiddish and English, and spoke with great affection of the vitality of the Yiddish language. Singer was born in Poland, the son of a Chasidic rabbi. He wrote under his full name, Isaac Bashevis Singer or I.B. Singer, to avoid confusion with his older and (at the time) better-known brother, Israel Joshua Singer, who wrote as I. Singer. Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote mostly short stories, but also some novels and stories for children. Like the others, his stories tended to deal with the tension between traditional views and modern times. Many of these are available in print in English. Perhaps the best known of his many writings is Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, which was adapted into a stage play in 1974 and later loosely adapted into a movie starring Barbara Streisand. It is worth noting that although the movie was quite popular, Singer hated the movie and wrote a brutal editorial in the New York Times about it (April 27, 1997). He thought that Streisand placed too much emphasis on the Yentl character (which she played) to the exclusion of other characters, and that her revised ending (Yentl immigrating to America instead of moving on to another Polish religious school) was untrue to the character.
Yiddish Theater

Yiddish culture has a rich theatrical tradition. It has been suggested that Yiddish theater began with the "Purimshpil," outrageous comedic improvisational plays based on the biblical book of Esther, performed in synagogues by amateurs as part of the drunken festivities related to the Purim holiday.

Professional Yiddish theater began with Abraham Haim Lipke Goldfaden, who wrote, produced and directed dozens of Yiddish plays in the last quarter of the 19th century. Goldfaden and his troupe traveled throughout Europe performing Yiddish plays for Jewish audiences, and later moved to New York City where they opened a theater.

Many traveling Yiddish theater groups also performed Yiddish versions of existing plays, most notably Shakespeare and Goethe. With apologies to Star Trek fans ... Shakespeare's Hamlet cannot be fully appreciated until it is seen in the original Yiddish.

Permanent Yiddish theaters sprung up in cities around the world, including Odessa, Vilna and New York City. In New York, Yiddish theater was jump-started by 12-year-old immigrant Boris Thomashefsky, who fell in love with the European Yiddish show tunes sung by his coworkers in a tobacco sweatshop. He persuaded a rich tavern owner to finance the endeavor and introduced Yiddish theater to New York with an Abraham Goldfaden play in 1881. Over the next few decades, Yiddish theater grew substantially in New York, but most of these theaters no longer exist. New York's Folksbiene Yiddish Theater, founded in 1915, is the oldest continuous venue for Yiddish theatre in the world and continues to have an active calendar of Yiddish-language productions, now with "English supertitles" at all performances.

Yiddish plays tended to be melodramas with strong traditional Jewish values, often with song and dance numbers incorporated into the serious plots. Yiddish theater also included many comedies, in America often focusing on intergenerational conflicts between the immigrants and their American-born children.
Yiddish Music

Like Yiddish theater, Yiddish music ultimately has its roots in Jewish religion. The Jewish love of music is seen in the earliest stories in the Bible: in Exodus 15, both Moses and Miriam lead the Children of Israel in song after G-d drowns the pursuing Egyptians in the sea; King David is often portrayed playing musical instruments. Music is an integral part of Jewish worship: most of the prayers are sung or chanted. Even the Torah is read to a traditional chant. It has been customary for hundreds of years for synagogues to have a professional chazzan, a person with musical skills to lead the song-filled prayer services.

Yiddish culture has produced a wealth of music, from lullabies to love songs, from mournful songs of loss and exile to the wild dance music of klezmer.

Yiddish music traditionally was played on string instruments (fiddle, viola, etc.), the tsimbl (a Jewish instrument similar to a dulcimer) and flute, perhaps because these instruments were relatively quiet and would not attract the attention of hostile gentiles. In later days, however, the clarinet became a staple of Yiddish music because of it's ability to emulate the wailing or laughing sound of the human voice.

The style of music most commonly associated with Yiddish culture is klezmer. The word "klezmer" comes from the Hebrew words "klei zemer" which means "instruments of song," and probably indicates the important role that instruments played in this kind of music. You've probably heard klezmer music in the background of television shows or movies featuring Jews: it is normally characterized by the wailing, squealing sounds of clarinets. It has also influenced some modern bands: I was in a bookstore a while ago and heard what I thought was klezmer music, only to be told it was Squirrel Nut Zipper! The klezmer style is based on cantoral singing in synagogue: simple melodies in a minor key with extensive ornamentation, such as fast trills and sliding notes. It's hard to explain unless you've heard it.

I hope to have some examples of Yiddish music on this page in the future.
Alef-Beyz: The Yiddish Alphabet

Oy Vey (in Yiddish)Yiddish is written with Hebrew letters, but the letters are used somewhat differently than in Hebrew. In fact, the first time I saw the familiar Yiddish phrase "oy vey" written in Yiddish letters, I thought the spelling must be a mistake!

The Yiddish alphabet is called the alef-beyz for its first two letters.

The biggest difference between the Hebrew alefbet and the Yiddish alef-beyz is in the use of vowels: in Hebrew, vowels and other pronunciation aids are ordinarily not written, and when they are written, they are dots and dashes added to the text in ways that do not affect the physical length of the text. In Yiddish, however, many of the Hebrew letters have been adapted to serve as vowels and the pronunciation aids in Hebrew are reflected in the consonants. Vowels and other pronunciation aids are always written unless the Yiddish word comes from Hebrew, in which case the Yiddish word is written as it is in Hebrew, without the vowel points but with the dagesh (dot in the middle).

Shabbesdik (in Yiddish)When a Hebrew word is combined with a Yiddish suffix, the Hebrew part is spelled as in Hebrew and the Yiddish part as in Yiddish. For example, the Yiddish word "Shabbesdik" (for the Sabbath; festive) combines the Hebrew word Shabbat (Sabbath), spelled as in Hebrew, with the Yiddish adjective suffix "-dik" (set aside for, suitable for, in the mood for, "-ish"), spelled as in Yiddish.

In addition, some of the most common Hebrew letters are rarely used in Yiddish, being used only if the Yiddish word comes from Hebrew. These rarely-used letters all have the same sound as another Hebrew letter, and reducing their use simplifies spelling when bringing words in from languages that weren't originally written using these letters. For example, there are three different Hebrew letters that make the sound "s": Samekh, Sin and the soft sound of Tav (according to Ashkenazic pronunciation). Which one do you use? It depends on the origin of the word. Words brought in from Hebrew use the original Hebrew spelling, which may be any of these three letters, but words brought in from other languages will always use Samekh. The word vaser (water, from the German wasser) is spelled with a Samekh, but the word simkhah (celebration, from Hebrew) is spelled with a Sin and the word Shabbes (Sabbath, from Hebrew) ends with a Sof.

The illustration below shows the Yiddish alphabet. You may wish to review the Hebrew alphabet to see the differences.

Yiddish Alphabet

To hear how these letters are pronounced, check out the alef-beyz page on YIVO's website (requires Real Player), which pronounces the name of the Yiddish letter, then a Yiddish word that begins with the sound, then the English translation of that word. Unfortunately, YIVO lacks audio for many of the vowel sounds, but they provide explanations of pronunciation.

Here some things to notice:

* The letter Alef, which is always silent in Hebrew, has three versions in Yiddish: one that is silent, one that is pronounced "ah" (like the "a" in "father"), and one that is pronounced "o" or "aw" (a bit like the "o" in "or" or "more").
* In Hebrew, Vav can be pronounced as V, O (as in home) or U (like the oo in room). In Yiddish, Vov alone is pronounced "u"; a Double-Vov is pronounced "v," and the nearest equivalent of the Hebrew "o" sound is the "oy" sound of Vov-Yud.
* In Yiddish, the letter Yud can be pronounced as a "y" sound (as in "yellow") or a short "i" sound (as in "it"); in Hebrew, it is always either a "y" sound or silent (identifying and modifying a preceding vowel).
* There are combinations of letters in Yiddish to account for consonant sounds that do not exist in Hebrew, such as zh (like the second "g" in "garage" or the "s" in "measure"), dzh (j as in judge) and tsh (like the "ch" in chair).
* Combinations of Vov and Yud are used to handle additional vowel sounds.
* Melupm Vov and Khirek Yud are used to clarify that the Vov or Yud is not to be combined with an adjacent letter into a different pronunciation. For example Double-Yud is a letter combination pronounced as the "ey" in "they," but the word "Yiddish" begins with two separate Yuds: one for the Y and one for the i. To clarify that these Yuds are not combined into an "ey" sound, the word Yiddish begins with a Yud, then a Khirek Yud. See the illustration in the heading of this page.
* As in Hebrew, some letters are drawn differently when they occur at the end of the word. Most of these letters are named "langer" (longer) because, well, they are! The final version of Mem, which is not longer, is named Shlos Mem.
* In Hebrew, the dot in the middle of Kaf, Pei and Tav and on top of Sin is written only in pointed texts. In Yiddish, it is always written. Note that Shin in Yiddish, unlike Hebrew, never uses a dot. Remember, though, that Kof, Sin and Tof are rarely used in Yiddish.
* The Yiddish letter Sof is equivalent to the soft sound of the Hebrew letter Tav, which is used in Ashkenazic pronunciation but is not used in Sephardic pronunciation. Remember, though, that Sof is rarely used in Yiddish.

Yiddish Transliteration

Transliteration is the process of writing a language in a different alphabet than its native alphabet. The Yiddish language began by transliterating Germanic words into the Hebrew alphabet, so I find it unspeakably amusing that we now take Yiddish and convert it back into the original alphabet!

In Yiddish, unlike Hebrew, there is a widely-accepted standard for transliterating Yiddish into the Roman alphabet (the alphabet used in English). This standard was developed by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the recognized world authority on Yiddish language, history and culture. Although the YIVO standard is widely accepted in general, it is routinely ignored for Yiddish words that have a widely-used, familiar spelling. For example, a certain Yiddish word appears in many American dictionaries spelled "chutzpah," but the correct YIVO transliteration would be "khutspe"!
A Few Useful Yiddish Words

Here are a few fun Yiddish or Yiddish-derived words that would not require your mother to wash your mouth out with soap. Many of them have found their way into common English conversation. Most of them are spelled as I commonly see them, rather than in strict accordance with YIVO transliteration rules. I've tried to focus on words that are less commonly heard in English (gentile English, anyway).

Bupkes (properly spelled bobkes and pronounced "BAUB-kess," but I usually see it spelled this way and pronounced to rhyme with "pup kiss")
Literally means "beans" in Russian; usually translated as "nothing," but it is used to criticize the fact that an amount is absurdly smaller than expected or deserved. Examples: "I was assigned to work on that project with Mike and he did bupkes!" or "I had to change jobs; the work wasn't bad, but they paid bupkes."
Chutzpah (rhymes with "foot spa", with the throat-clearing "kh" sound)
Nerve, as when the Three Stooges say, "The noive of that guy!!! Why, I oughta…" It expresses an extreme level of bold-faced arrogance and presumption. Example: "She asked me to drive her home, and once we were on the road she told to stop at the supermarket so she could pick something up. What chutzpah!"
Frum (like "from," but with the "u" sound in "put"; sort of sounds like the imitation of a car noise: brrrum-brrrum, but not vroom like in the car commercials)
Observant of Jewish law. Almost always used to describe someone else; almost never to describe yourself. "He wasn't raised very strict, but when he went away to college he became very frum." The Yiddish name "Fruma," derived from this word, was once quite popular.
Nu (rhymes with "Jew")
An all-purpose word that doesn't really mean anything, like "well," "so" or "wassup?" I usually hear it as a prompt for a response or explanation. A friend of mine who worked for a Jewish history museum joked that they answered the phone "Jew mu, nu?" When someone takes too long to respond in an online chat or trails off in the middle of a thought, I might type "nu?" (are you still there? are you answering?) If someone says something that doesn't seem to make any sense, you might say, "nu?" (what's that supposed to mean?)
Shmutz (rhymes with "puts")
Dirt. Refers to a trivial amount of nuisance dirt, not real filth. Example: "You have some shmutz on your shirt; brush it off."
Shmooze (rhymes with "booze")
Having a long, friendly chat. Can be used as a noun, but is usually used as a verb. Examples: "Come to our party! Eat, drink and shmooze!" or "Our salesman is very good at shmoozing the clients."
Tchatchke (almost rhymes with "gotcha")
1) Little toys; knick-knacks. 2) A pretty young thing, like a trophy wife. Examples: "The collector had so many tchatchkes that he had to buy a bigger house!" or "when my mother visits, she always brings tchatchkes for the kids" or "The boss divorced his wife; now he's dating some little tchatchke." The Yiddish spelling of the word uses the letter Tsadek, so it should be pronounced "tsatske," but I've always heard the word pronounced as if it were the "ch" in "chair."

Yiddish Links

There are many Yiddish sites on the web and many of them maintain a better list of links than I could ever hope to. I will point out only a few that I find useful, along with their links to other sites.

Forverts is a weekly American Jewish newspaper written in Yiddish. This is an excellent source if you want to try reading some useful, day-to-day Yiddish. It is written in the Yiddish alphabet, not transliteration.

The Yiddish Voice is a weekly Yiddish-language radio show based in the Boston area, which is available on streaming audio over the Internet. Their site has a nice list of Yiddish links.

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is an organization dedicated to studying and preserving the history, society and culture of Ashkenazic Jewry. YIVO is the recognized leader in the study of the Yiddish language. They have a page of the alef-beyz with transliteration and pronunciation guides and an extensive list of Yiddish links.

University of Pennsylvania also maintains a nice Yiddish alphabet page, showing both print (the letters I used in the illustration above) and script (the way it would be written by hand), along with some sound files demonstrating the sounds of the letters. There is also a Yiddish hangman game on their site.

The Sholom Aleichem Network is a website devoted to the life and works of this great Yiddish writer, best known for writing the stories that are the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. The site is undergoing reconstruction, but still has some excellent material available, including a remarkable 1898 essay in support of creating a Jewish homeland.

Dr. Rafael Finkel, a computer science professor at the University of Kentucky, has a marvelous Yiddish typewriter online. Type a word in transliteration (Roman letters), and it will show you what it looks like in Yiddish letters. It can also check the accuracy of your spelling according to YIVO rules (though you can type nonsense words and it will accept them; it's not checking against a dictionary, just whether the letters you type would make a valid Yiddish word). He also maintains a Yiddish song list and a number of Yiddish texts, as well as an extensive list of Yiddish links. See his index.
Suggestions for Further Reading, Viewing or Listening

Buy it at Amazon! The New Joys of Yiddish (Hardcover) (Paperback): The original edition by Leo Rosten was the first Jewish book I ever owned. It examines a wide variety of useful Yiddish words, many of which have found their way into English, and puts them into their cultural context, illustrating the use of words through classic humorous stories and jokes. The original edition is no longer in print -- much of what it said has become remarkably dated in the 40 or so years since it was written -- but this updated and expanded version is available.

Tales of Mendele the Book Peddler (Paperback): Two stories by the first great Yiddish writer, Mendele Moykher Sforim, including his masterpiece, Benjamin the Third, with a lengthy scholarly introduction discussing the author and the time and place where he lived and wrote. Translated into English.

In my Father's Court (Paperback): Autobiographical short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Prize winning Yiddish writer. These stories tell of his childhood in a Polish community with his father, a Chasidic rabbi. Translated into English.

Vini-Der-Pu (Paperback): Want to try reading some Yiddish? Why not start with that that classic children's favorite, Winnie the Pooh! Leonard Wolf has provided a very direct, literal translation of Winnie the Pooh into Yiddish. Printed in transliterated Yiddish (Yiddish in familiar Roman letters), with the first paragraph of each story presented in the Yiddish alphabet as well, Vini-Der-Pu is a fun place to start reading Yiddish. You may also want to buy the English original for comparison. Oy gevalt, hot Pu gezogt! (Oh, bother, said Pooh).

Avi Hoffman's Too Jewish (VHS from The Jewish Store): I saw this video on PBS's pledge drive one year, and absolutely had to own it. This one-man-show (or rather two man, including his pianist and assistant, Ben "give that man a bagel" Schaechter) is a loving tribute to Yiddish culture and language, sometimes touching and usually hilarious, full of Yiddish songs both traditional and not so traditional, jokes and stories. My favorite part is his translation of Broadway show tunes in Yiddish (Veyn nisht far mir Argentina...) and Yinglish (Oyyyyyyyyy...glaucoma ven you can't see foither den yer nose...). Unfortunately, the VHS version sold at The Jewish Store does not have the on-screen translations nor the closed-captioning that were shown on PBS, but most of the Yiddish is either self-explanatory or explained by Avi Hoffman.

Mamaloshen (Audio CD) Well-known actor Mandy Patinkin shows his Jewish pride with this CD. Half of the songs are traditional Yiddish songs like Belz and Oyfn Pripichik; half are songs written in English by American Jews but translated into Yiddish, such as Maria, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and Paul Simon's American Tune. Some have quibbled with his pronunciations and some have criticized him for being - dare I say? - a bit of a ham, but Patinkin's affection and enthusiasm for the material are overwhelming and infectious through every song.

Rise Up (Audio CD) The latest album by The Klezmatics, a modern band mixing klezmer and jazz.
© Copyright 5764 (2004), Tracey R Rich

The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know

The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know

The Yiddish language is a wonderful source of rich expressions, especially terms of endearment (and of course, complaints and insults). This article is a follow up on Ten Yiddish Expressions You Should Know. Jewish scriptwriters introduced many Yiddish words into popular culture, which often changed the original meanings drastically. You might be surprised to learn how much Yiddish you already speak, but also, how many familiar words actually mean something different in real Yiddish.

There is no universally accepted transliteration or spelling; the standard YIVO version is based on the Eastern European Klal Yiddish dialect, while many Yiddish words found in English came from Southern Yiddish dialects. In the 1930s, Yiddish was spoken by more than 10 million people, but by 1945, 75% of them were gone. Today, Yiddish is the language of over 100 newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, and websites.

1. baleboste
A good homemaker, a woman who’s in charge of her home and will make sure you remember it.
2. bissel
Or bisl - a little bit.
3. bubbe
Or bobe. It means Grandmother, and bobeshi is the more affectionate form. Bubele is a similarly affectionate word, though it isn’t in Yiddish dictionaries.
4. bupkes
Not a word for polite company. Bubkes or bobkes may be related to the Polish word for “beans”, but it really means “goat droppings” or “horse droppings.” It’s often used by American Jews for “trivial, worthless, useless, a ridiculously small amount” - less than nothing, so to speak. “After all the work I did, I got bupkes!”
5. chutzpah
Or khutspe. Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption. In English, chutzpah often connotes courage or confidence, but among Yiddish speakers, it is not a compliment.
6. feh!
An expression of disgust or disapproval, representative of the sound of spitting.
7. glitch
Or glitsh. Literally “slip,” “skate,” or “nosedive,” which was the origin of the common American usage as “a minor problem or error.”
8. gornisht
More polite than bupkes, and also implies a strong sense of nothing; used in phrases such as “gornisht helfn” (beyond help).
9. goy
A non-Jew, a Gentile. As in Hebrew, one Gentile is a goy, many Gentiles are goyim, the non-Jewish world in general is “the goyim.” Goyish is the adjective form. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich is goyish. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich on white bread is even more goyish.
10. kibbitz
In Yiddish, it’s spelled kibets, and it’s related to the Hebrew “kibbutz” or “collective.” But it can also mean verbal joking, which after all is a collective activity. It didn’t originally mean giving unwanted advice about someone else’s game - that’s an American innovation.
11. klutz
Or better yet, klots. Literally means “a block of wood,” so it’s often used for a dense, clumsy or awkward person. See schlemiel.
12. kosher
Something that’s acceptable to Orthodox Jews, especially food. Other Jews may also “eat kosher” on some level but are not required to. Food that Orthodox Jews don’t eat - pork, shellfish, etc. - is called traif. An observant Jew might add, “Both pork and shellfish are doubtlessly very tasty. I simply am restricted from eating it.” In English, when you hear something that seems suspicious or shady, you might say, “That doesn’t sound kosher.”
13. kvetsh
In popular English, kvetch means “complain, whine or fret,” but in Yiddish, kvetsh literally means “to press or squeeze,” like a wrong-sized shoe. Reminds you of certain chronic complainers, doesn’t it? But it’s also used on Yiddish web pages for “click” (Click Here).
14. maven
Pronounced meyven. An expert, often used sarcastically.
15. Mazel Tov
Or mazltof. Literally “good luck,” (well, literally, “good constellation”) but it’s a congratulation for what just happened, not a hopeful wish for what might happen in the future. When someone gets married or has a child or graduates from college, this is what you say to them. It can also be used sarcastically to mean “it’s about time,” as in “It’s about time you finished school and stopped sponging off your parents.”
16. mentsh
An honorable, decent person, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman or child.
17. mishegas
Insanity or craziness. A meshugener is a crazy man. If you want to insult someone, you can ask them, ”Does it hurt to be crazy?”
18. mishpocheh
Or mishpokhe or mishpucha. It means “family,” as in “Relax, you’re mishpocheh. I’ll sell it to you at wholesale.”
19. nosh
Or nash. To nibble; a light snack, but you won’t be light if you don’t stop noshing. Can also describe plagarism, though not always in a bad sense; you know, picking up little pieces for yourself.
20. nu
A general word that calls for a reply. It can mean, “So?” “Huh?” “Well?” “What’s up?” or “Hello?”
21. oy vey
Exclamation of dismay, grief, or exasperation. The phrase “oy vey iz mir” means “Oh, woe is me.” “Oy gevalt!” is like oy vey, but expresses fear, shock or amazement. When you realize you’re about to be hit by a car, this expression would be appropriate.
22. plotz
Or plats. Literally, to explode, as in aggravation. “Well, don’t plotz!” is similar to “Don’t have a stroke!” or “Don’t have a cow!” Also used in expressions such as, “Oy, am I tired; I just ran the four-minute mile. I could just plotz.” That is, collapse.
23. shalom
It means “deep peace,” and isn’t that a more meaningful greeting than “Hi, how are ya?”
24. shlep
To drag, traditionally something you don’t really need; to carry unwillingly. When people “shlep around,” they are dragging themselves, perhaps slouchingly. On vacation, when I’m the one who ends up carrying the heavy suitcase I begged my wife to leave at home, I shlep it.
25. shlemiel
A clumsy, inept person, similar to a klutz (also a Yiddish word). The kind of person who always spills his soup.
26. schlock
Cheap, shoddy, or inferior, as in, “I don’t know why I bought this schlocky souvenir.”
27. shlimazel
Someone with constant bad luck. When the shlemiel spills his soup, he probably spills it on the shlimazel. Fans of the TV sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” remember these two words from the Yiddish-American hopscotch chant that opened each show.
28. shmendrik
A jerk, a stupid person, popularized in The Last Unicorn and Welcome Back Kotter.
29. shmaltzy
Excessively sentimental, gushing, flattering, over-the-top, corny. This word describes some of Hollywood’s most famous films. From shmaltz, which means chicken fat or grease.
30. shmooze
Chat, make small talk, converse about nothing in particular. But at Hollywood parties, guests often schmooze with people they want to impress.
31. schmuck
Often used as an insulting word for a self-made fool, but you shouldn’t use it in polite company at all, since it refers to male anatomy.
32. spiel
A long, involved sales pitch, as in, “I had to listen to his whole spiel before I found out what he really wanted.” From the German word for play.
33. shikse
A non-Jewish woman, all too often used derogatorily. It has the connotation of “young and beautiful,” so referring to a man’s Gentile wife or girlfriend as a shiksa implies that his primary attraction was her good looks. She is possibly blonde. A shagetz or sheygets means a non-Jewish boy, and has the connotation of a someone who is unruly, even violent.
34. shmutz
Or shmuts. Dirt - a little dirt, not serious grime. If a little boy has shmutz on his face, and he likely will, his mother will quickly wipe it off. It can also mean dirty language. It’s not nice to talk shmutz about shmutz. A current derivation, “schmitzig,” means a “thigamabob” or a “doodad,” but has nothing to do with filth.
35. shtik
Something you’re known for doing, an entertainer’s routine, an actor’s bit, stage business; a gimmick often done to draw attention to yourself.
36. tchatchke
Or tshatshke. Knick-knack, little toy, collectible or giftware. It also appears in sentences such as, “My brother divorced his wife for some little tchatchke.” You can figure that one out.
37. tsuris
Or tsores. Serious troubles, not minor annoyances. Plagues of lice, gnats, flies, locusts, hail, death… now, those were tsuris.
38. tuches
Rear end, bottom, backside, buttocks. In proper Yiddish, it’s spelled tuchis or tuches or tokhis, and was the origin of the American slang word tush.
39. yente
Female busybody or gossip. At one time, high-class parents gave this name to their girls (after all, it has the same root as “gentle”), but it gained the Yiddish meaning of “she-devil”. The matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof” was named Yente (and she certainly was a yente though maybe not very high-class), so many people mistakenly think that yente means matchmaker.
40. yiddisher kop
Smart person. Literally means “Jewish head.” I don’t want to know what goyisher kop means.

As in Hebrew, the ch or kh in Yiddish is a “voiceless fricative,” with a pronunciation between h and k. If you don’t know how to make that sound, pronounce it like an h. Pronouncing it like a k is goyish.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jewish Wassup

Famous Recent Jewish Women (Actresses)


Beyond the Pale's first music video, directed by David Stein, and featuring Michael Alpert, Zev Feldman, Alan Kaeja, and David Smith

Matisyahu Hasidic Reggae artist

Matisyahu Hasidic Reggae artist on jimmy Kimmel.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

More Jewish music

Hine Ma Tov

"a la soul", taken from a concert in Vienna, 2007. Performers: Vienna JazzKlez Band, Ola Egbowon (voice), Roman Grinberg (piano & arr.), WJC - Vienna Jewish Choir (less)

Sarit Yoseph
It is Juhuro Language. The language of Azeri Jews.

Kavkazi Jewish Music.....Juhuro Kavkaz Gorskie Evrei Musika

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Adon Olam - Follow the lyrics!

Yehuda Glantz on the Charango

Third Reich to Fortune 500: Five Popular Brands the Nazis Gave Us

Already today you've used at least one product from a company that, at one time, worked for the Nazis. Now, in the name of not getting sued, we'd like to make it clear that we're not accusing any of the below companies of still being in bed with the Third Reich. All of them, to our knowledge, have long disavowed Hitler's regime as being both monstrous and no longer profitable.

No yuppie's wardrobe is complete without their standard Hugo Boss suit, Hugo Boss dress shirt, Hugo Boss tie, Hugo Boss sunglasses, Hugo Boss cologne, Hugo Boss man-thong and Hugo Boss socks (to stuff the thong). Even if you're too poor to afford Boss' goods, you can recognize Boss ads from a mile away. They always feature serious-looking men who, despite having enough money for expensive suits, appear to be addicted to heroin. They typically wear tight clothing, and gaze at you wantonly with hollow eyes of infinite, longing that scream, "I'm attractive and I'm really very unhappy about it."

Job with Nazis:
Speaking of stern, closeted white men, Hugo Boss manufactured the sleek all-black uniforms for the Schultzstaffel, better known as the SS. While today Boss uses black for slimming effects, in the SS uniforms it was used to command respect and fear in the populace. While their guns and propensity for genocide probably handled all required respect commanding just fine, the black uniforms did soak up sunlight during the summer months, causing the wearer to sweat uncomfortably and stink like a pack of Mongolian shit-camels. Members of the Hitler Youth were also decked out in Boss wear, teaching children an early lesson in looking good whilst beating up minorities.

So how evil were they?
Most of the uniforms were made in what can be considered the forerunner to the modern day sweatshop, at times by Prisoners of War. Also, it's impossible to underestimate the importance of those uniforms to the whole Nazi image. To this day, they are essentially synonymous with "evil." The influence of the design has been widespread, especially in film where their influence has been noted in the outfits of the Imperial officers from Star Wars.
But, unlike the products of some other companies on this list, the uniforms weren't directly responsible for killing people. In fact, since they actually made the wearers uncomfortable and smelly for a quarter of the year, relative to the rest of the companies on this list Hugo Boss probably deserves a medal of some sort.

German automaker Volkswagen came on the scene just before World War II, and was founded by Ferdinand Porsche. He's the granddaddy of those fast and expensive cars that wind up becoming fast and expensive fireballs upon impact with a solid object.
Long before the name Porsche became synonymous with expensive toys for rich people, Ferdinand was the lead designer of the most mass-produced car of all time: the Volkswagen Beetle.

Job with Nazis:
What's more surprising, however, is that Porsche's partner in masterminding the Beetle was also the mastermind of World War II: that crazy, affable buffoon Hitler. Hitler specifically wanted a cheap, sturdy vehicle everyone in Germany would be able to drive. Being the opportunistic businessman that he was, Porsche quickly whipped up the Volkswagen Beetle and lobbied heavily for the Fuhrer's approval. Soon, Porsche had his slave labor factories churning them out by the thousands, and eventually, flying out of dealerships.
So how evil were they?
If anything, the Beetle is perhaps one of the most misconstrued cars in history. People look at its rounded shape and anthropomorphic face and instantly think of love, peace and smoking massive quantities of pot. But, it was really designed as a tool for everyday life in the always-cheerful Third Reich. Give credit to Porsche for designing a car so impossibly cute that we forget it was built by diseased slaves in some dark, dank factory in Stuttgart, Germany.

IBM is one of the few IT companies whose history dates back to the 19th century, a time when information technology presumably involved putting a helmet on your carrier pigeon. On the one hand, this means they've been a Fortune 500 company since 1924, giving them a 60-year head start on the likes of Microsoft and Macintosh. On the other hand, over a century of history gives you a lot of opportunities to make some monstrous PR blunders.

Job with Nazis:
You're probably thinking, "Wait a minute. IBM was American! The closest America ever got to the Nazis was when Indiana Jones wore that uniform as a disguise in Raiders of the Lost Ark!"

Actually, prior to the war, American business took what can be generously described as a morally ambivalent stance on the whole Hitler thing. American groups, such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Institute, directly funded Nazi eugenics projects in the early '30s (where the goal was to find ways to breed a master race). Of course, once the war started, most American businesses cut ties with Hitler. IBM, on the other hand, decided to stick around and see where he was going with this whole final solution thing.

And, this is the point where things take a horrific turn. To get through this, we're going to try to offset the horror with some kittens playing on computers. We'll just look at them while we type.
Back in those days, the only way to keep track of huge databases was with an extremely complicated system involving punch cards, and IBM was the best at constructing and maintaining those databases. IBM's punch card databases could keep track of anything: financial ledgers, medical records, Jews.

OK, give us a moment here ...

According to a book a guy wrote about it,

as soon as the Nazis invaded a country, they would overhaul the census system using IBM punch cards. Then they'd track down every Jew, Gypsy and any other non-Aryan until they were all rounded up onto cattle carts. And, next stop wasn't Space Mountain.

So how evil were they?
The unabashedly anti-corporate documentary The Corporation shows actual footage of IBM punch cards used in prison camps, about two minutes into this video:

That tracked people based on their religion, their location and even how they'd be executed. For instance, Prisoner Code 8 was Jew, Code 11 was Gypsy. Camp Code 001 was Auschwitz; Code 002 was Buchenwald. Status Code 5 was execution by order, and Code 6 was gas chamber. Holy shit, people. Seriously, IBM. What the fuck?
These days, IBM claims they were a victim of circumstance. They had a subsidiary in Germany long before Hitler took over. They say the company just fell under Nazi control, like every other company over there at the time. The records show that's not completely true, though. IBM sent internal memos in their New York offices acknowledging that their machines were making the Nazis more efficient, and they made no efforts to end the relationship with the German branch.

IBM has never made an apology or admitted any need to apologize at all, hoping instead that with time everyone would just forget about it. And, we pretty much have, because, hey, they make such awesome computers!


ayer, the massive pharmaceutical company that's most famous for making Aspirin, also is behind such wonder drugs as Levitra and, at one time in their history, heroin.

Yes, we can go on for ages about how wonderful aspirin is to stop heart attacks, or how Levitra can give you wood for weeks, but really, Bayer is most important for given heroin its name. The drug was promoted as having "heroic" properties, which is ironic since it by all accounts turns you into a shivering shell of a man.

Bayer also lent its name to a German soccer team, and to be honest, we're not sure if it's such a good idea to have your team named after a company that sold smack. Just imagine what the mascot would have to look like. We're thinking a Pete Doherty decked out in a blue suit with furry antennae who passes out halfway through the chicken dance.

Job with Nazis:
Then again, it's probably even worse to name your team after the company that made Zyklon B gas, the stuff that killed millions of people in the concentration camps. Yep, Bayer was once part of a large conglomerate, IG Farben, that churned out thousands of killer Zyklon-B gas canisters. The gas was originally invented by Fritz Haber, a man whose life is so incredibly pathetic that you almost forgive him for indirectly causing millions of deaths, while looking as evil as humanly possible.

Seen here soon after uttering the phrase, "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

After he oversaw the first use of chemicals in warfare, his wife killed herself in their garden with his service revolver in protest. Once Hitler took over, Haber decided to renounce Judaism to fit in, only to be told that he was still Jewish according to the Nazi rule book because his mother was Jewish. He died of a heart attack while fleeing the country he spent his life serving. The chemical he originally invented to kill insects was used to kill a number of his relatives in the Concentration Camps.

You know what? We think we're going to just pack up and sail off to a deserted island somewhere. We'll just walk away from this whole humanity thing. Us and our kittens.

So how evil were they?
On one hand, the company that actually manufactured the gas was just partially owned by IG Farben, and Bayer was just one part of IG Farben. It's like the way we don't think of General Electric as a military contractor, because they make so many other things.

Bayer, though, has continued some of its old douchebaggery into the modern era. First off, Aspirin was invented by a Jewish man, Arthur Eichengrun, whose name Bayer still refuses to acknowledge. To this day, the "official" history of the company denies Eichengrun's involvement in the invention of aspirin, and states that an Aryan invented the drug, because as we all know, Aryans are better at everything.

One such Bayer-employed Aryan was a nice, thoughtful fellow by the name of Josef Mengele, who Bayer sponsored to seek out medical discoveries in the important field of torturing people to death.


Siemens AG is the massive global conglomerate that makes everything from circuits to wind turbines to Maglev trains. It has almost half a million employees worldwide and is listed on every stock exchange imaginable. The company had its roots back in the 19th century when famed scientist Werner von Siemens got tired of discovering stuff and decided to make some money instead.

Of course, he was dead long before the 1940s, so Mr. Werner von Siemens is guilty of nothing more than not entering the world of porn with that gift of a name. The company he gave that name to may as well have it's corporate headquarters inside a dormant volcano, because it probably couldn't have been more evil if it were trying its hardest.

Job with Nazis:
Siemens was the major player in the Nazification of Germany. The company, run by Werner's son, Carl, and then his grandson, Hermann, struggled in the wake of World War I and the Great Depression and had to earn some dough fast. When Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, it was the signal for the Siemens executives to start building factories, and nowhere was the real estate better than near the homey neighborhoods of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Hundreds of thousands of slave workers were employed to build all sorts of goodies for the German military to use on both the western and the eastern fronts. Though they weren't the only company at the time supplying the German war effort, they were certainly the most prolific. Siemens was in charge of Germany's rail infrastructure, communications, power generation ... the list goes on. If the Reichstag was the brain behind the war, Siemens was definitely the right hand that stroked Hitler to ecstatic glory.

So how evil were they?
We'll let you be the judge. At the height of the Nazi terror during the 1940s, it was not atypical for a slave worker to build electrical switches for Siemens in the morning and be snuffed out in a Siemens-made gas chamber in the afternoon.

Hold on. We need a moment with the kitten.

Why else would the Allies destroy four-fifths of the company's factories during the war? Because they were bored? Fuck no. It's because they intended to blitz the marque brand of Nazi Germany back into hell where it belonged.

These days Siemens is being forced to pay due to a series of lawsuits from survivors. So, at least they own up to it, right?

Well, a few years ago, in an act of insensitive fuckery so colossal it could blot out the sun, Siemens tried to trademark the name "Zyklon" with the intent of marketing a series of products under the name. Including gas ovens.

Jewish & Israeli music

Joshua Nelson sings Adon Olam at Limmud 2006

And speaking of diversity of Jewish music, here are a few clips from Israeli television. Aviv and Idan in a Greek-Hebrew duet, on the "Scent of menta" show on music channel 24. The songs are classic Greek 50's and 60's "laika".

Another Israeli favourite of mine, the versatile combo "Ma Kashur?", who are popular comedians as well: