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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘yiddish’

KNAIDEL

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Last week a young Indian boy living in New York won the National Spelling Bee, the annual spelling championship. The winning spelling was KNAIDEL, that Yiddish description of a mixture of matzo meal, egg, fat, and spices we usually put in our chicken soup. Incidentally, I cannot imagine any spelling competition in Europe that would include a Yiddish word. Almost immediately the New York press was afire with controversy. How can you say there is only one spelling? Had he suggested KNEYDLE would he have been wrong? After all, that’s how Max Weinreich’s authoritative “History of the Yiddish Language” spells it!

The derivation of this Yiddish word is from the German KNOEDEL, a kind of dumpling. The fact that Eastern European Jews spoke Yiddish, a language that derived from German rather than from a Caucasian dialect, knocks into oblivion the infantile theory, first proposed by Arthur Koestler, that Ashkenazi Jews (Zionists) really descended from non-Jewish Khazars. It suits anti-Israelis to pretend there never was a link between Jews today and the Land of Israel. Every clever mind has an Achilles heel.

But Yiddish is a strange language that was and is pronounced differently across the geographical and sectarian divide. There is an old joke about how it is possible to write Noah (in Hebrew) making seven mistakes when it was spelt with only two letters in the Torah. But take Moses’s name. It is spelled and pronounced Moshe, Moishe, Mowshe, Moyshe, and Maishe in different communities. What I know as a Kneydel is pronounced in the Jewish world as Keneydel, Kneydl, Knoedel, Kniydl, and Kenedel. Yiddish was spoken in a sort of European dog dialect but usually written in Hebrew characters and how it was transcribed varied from local to locale. Who on earth has any authority to say one spelling or pronunciation is right and the other is wrong? OK, so the French have a centralized Academie francaise, which decides to the letter what is correct and what is not, and that probably explains why France is such a mess and most of us would only live there if we had no alternative.

As for transliteration, that surely cannot be determined in terms of right or wrong; only whatever convention the publisher, institution, or person chooses to follow. I have in the past month been invited to contribute essays to three different institutional publications and each one sent me a sheet giving the required translations, transliterations, and styles IT requires, and they all differ.

Take the Hebrew word for a wise man. A Sephardi will call him a Haham (and by the way why PH instead of F in Sefardi, for goodness sakes). Others, mainly academic, will prefer an H with a dot underneath. I prefer CH and others insist on K with or without a dot. I have often used an H without a dot. Sometimes it simply depends on what side of the bed I wake up on. And how do you spell and write Chanukah? Hanukkah, Hannuka, Hanuka, Chanooka, Chanuka or Chanukah? When do you decide there will be an H at the end of Hebrew word? Only when there’s a final Hey, Hay, Hei, or He?

Neither can we agree about the word or the spelling for what men put on their heads. Is it a Capel (or cuppel or cupel or kapel or kappell), a Kippa (or Kipa or cipah), let alone yarmulker, yahmulkah, or perhaps a toupee. Can only one be right?

Translation is subjective. What, then, of pronunciation, spelling, and transliteration? Can there only be one correct? Of course not. That would be arrogant, inconsistent, unfair, and dishonest. We are corrupting the minds and values of innocent young spelling champions, imposing our subjective and arbitrary decisions on them as a matter of life or death, or financial reward.

But, you see, that’s one of the curses of our era. We want to know exactly how a word is spelled (or spelt), pronounced and written. We want to know exactly what it means, even if by now we have all heard Wittgenstein’s aphorism that “the meaning of a word is its use.” We want everything prepackaged, predigested, pre-decided, in black and white, with no room for variety, variation, or inconsistency. In fact, real humans are not like that. And if young Arvind Mahankali (the winner) wants to be a great scientist as he says, he’d better get out of the habit of accepting arbitrary conventions.

A Hasidic Role Model

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

First let me congratulate Mrs. Rachel (Ruchie) Freier for her many great personal achievements and contributions to both Judaism and the world at large. I honor and respect both her life choices and her values, many of which I am sure we share – including the primacy in her life of motherhood. But I have to say that I think her article in the Forward is a bit misleading.

Here’s the beginning of the article:

On Monday on the Forward, Judy Brown shared her perspective on motherhood, based on her experience in the Hasidic community that she left. Now, I’d like to share my perspective on motherhood from within the Hasidic community of Boro Park. Having children was always important to me and I chose to remain steadfast to Haredi ideology while pursuing a law degree and then maintaining a law practice without compromising my role as a yidishe momme to my children.

Would that her lifestyle was that of the typical Hasidic woman in enclaves such as Williamsburg. My guess is that this is far from the case.

I am not God forbid saying that the lives of these Hasidic women have no value. Quite the contrary. I believe they have great value in being mothers to their children and wives to their husbands. And I am equally sure that many of them have jobs. Some may even be professionals – like Mrs. Freier – but that would by far be the exception.

College is in most cases forbidden to Satmar and like minded Hasidim. I don’t know what kind of Hasidus Mrs. Freier belongs to, but I am all but certain it is not hard-core Satmar or similar – which I believe comprise the vast majority of Hasidim in the world.

Mrs. Freier’s article was written in response to Judy Brown’s article expressing a different view of motherhood than that which is typical of the Hasidic world. As most people know, Mrs. Brown is the author of Hush – a devastating indictment of Hasidic community in which she was raised with respect to the way they treat sex in general, sex abuse, and its victims. Although she is still observant – she has long since left that community to find herself. And she has written a series of critical articles about the world of her upbringing. That was the case with her latest article in the Forward.

Mrs. Brown wrote about the pain and anguish of having an unwanted pregnancy in a world where such thoughts are verboten! Mrs. Brown actually had such an experience. As did a friend of hers that had some devastating results. But she also shares the regret she felt at the relief of that burden when she miscarried late into her own pregnancy. A regret she had after being shown a picture of the dead fetus she gave birth to.

She now says she now lives with that pain. The point made in that article is that her former community does not understand the damage they do with such extreme attitudes about pregnancies and birth control. At the same time she expressed her own maternal instincts as over-riding any such pain in her own life.

Mrs. Freir does not actually contradict what Mrs. Brown said. She just wanted to emphasize that the Hasidic upbringing she experienced and the values it taught her are the values she lives with and honors – even while being a professional. Despite her success, her profession does not define her. Motherhood does. That is the value she learned from her parents, grandparents, and teachers. It is her children that makes her life complete, not her profession.

I have absolutely no problem with that. In fact I agree that the institution of motherhood that Judaism places primary focus upon for a woman is the most important thing a woman can do. But as is obvious from Mrs. Freier herself, it is not the only thing a woman can do. Just like men, they can walk and chew gum at the same time. Having a career and being a full time mother is not a contradiction in terms. One can do both quite successfully.

My problem with this article is that it presents a false image of the majority of Hasidic women. One might conclude from this article that many woman in Williamsburg have professional degrees… or at least have attended college. And that Mrs. Freier is but one example of that.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/an-hassidic-role-model/2013/03/17/

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