Authors: Sholem Aleichem
Tags: #Fiction, #Short Stories (Single Author)
Tisha b’Av—A fast day, commemorating the destruction of the Temple, occurring in midsummer.
Koshering his dishes for Passover—In accordance with the prohibition on keeping any leaven or leavened foods in the house during the eight days of Passover, observant Jews either change all their dishes for the holiday or else “kosher,” that is, ritually purify, the dishes they have been using.
—A small, rectangular undergarment that slips over the head and has fringed tassles hanging from each of its four corners. It is worn at all times by observant male Jews, in obedience to the commandment, “And the Lord spoke unto Moses saying, Speak unto the Children of Israel and bid them that they make them fringes on the borders of their garments, throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a riband of blue.” Numbers, 15:37.
Tefillin—The phylacteries, or leather thongs, to which are attached small, hollow cubes containing verses written on parchment, that a Jew binds to his arm and forehead every morning when praying. This is in accordance with the biblical commandment, “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.” Deuteronomy, 6:8.
General Tolmachov—The governor of Odessa and a well-known and-Semite.
Sixty-six—A two-handed card game belonging to the pinochle family. It is played with a 24-card deck, containing the ace, king, queen, jack, ten, and nine of each suit, and the cards rank in that order except for the ten, which is next-highest to the ace. Points are scored for king-queen melds or marriages (40 for a trump marriage, otherwise 20) and for tricks taken, and the first player to score 66 points wins the hand. If his opponent has over 33 points, the winner is awarded one “game-point”; under 33, two game-points; and none at all, three game-points. Seven game-points generally win a match.
Tallis—The fringed prayer shawl worn by observant Jews during the morning prayer.
two in arithmetic—In the Russian system, students were graded on a scale of one to five.
Chto vam ugodno
—Russian: “What is it that you want?”
, etc.—These words, spoken in broken Russian, are translated by the father himself in the lines that follow.
Tak chto-zhe vam ugodno
is it that you want?”
guaranteed … exemption—Only sons, according to Russian law, were automatically excused from the army.
Itsik—An affectionate form of Yitzchok, the Hebrew for “Isaac.”
Alter—When a child was seriously ill or otherwise feared for, it was the custom among East European Jews to change his name for good luck. Alter, which means “old one” in Yiddish, was one of the substitute names most frequently used, the belief being that it would throw the Angel of Death off the child’s tracks.
Eisik—The Germanized form of “Isaac,” which also had currency among Yiddish-speaking Jews as a name.
Government rabbi—As a way of tightening its control over the Jewish communities under its rule, which preferred to conduct their internal affairs with minimal recourse to civil authority, the Russian government enacted a law in 1857 requiring each community to employ a publicly licensed or “crown” rabbi, who was a graduate of a state-run rabbinical school. Such rabbis, who acted as go-betweens
for the community and the government bureaucracy, were held in low esteem by the Jewish population, which made as little use of them as possible.
—Russian: “Get out of here!”
Stupaytye, vi nodoyedli veyevrei
—“Get out of here, you Jewish pest!”
Baron de Hirsch.
—“The impulsive people.” A rabbinic epithet for the Jews, based on a traditional commentary on the Israelites’ answer to Moses when making ready to receive the Law at Mount Sinai (Exodus, 24:7), “We will obey it and hear it”—for, as the rabbis pointed out, “We will [first] hear it and [then, if it suits us] obey it,” would have been the more prudent response. On the narrator’s use of Hebrew quotations, see
—“Moreover, I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite
with my sword and with my bow.”
—“As is proper.” A common Talmudic term.
Begapoy yovoy uvegapoy yeytsey
Al tehi boz lekhoyl bosor
—“Show disdain for no man”; a misquotation from
The Ethics of the Fathers
, which has
also means “man,” its primary meaning is “flesh” or “meat,” which may be why the narrator associates it with garlic. In any case, though, he clearly does not know what he is saying.
Koyl yisro’el khaveyrim
—“All Jews are brethren.” A rabbinic saying.
Hamibli eyn kvorim bemitsrayim
—“And they said unto Moses,
Are there not enough graves in Egypt
that thou hast taken us to die in the wilderness?” Exodus, 14:11.
—Russian: “The merchandise is moving.”
—“Perhaps He will have mercy.” There seems to be no traditional source for this quote.
Pshoyt neveyloh … ve’al titstoreykh
in the marketplace [for a living]
rather than depend on
others.” A Talmudic proverb.
Koyl dikhfin yeysey veyitzrokh
Hekhiloysoh linpoyl … nofoyl tipoyl
—“Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife unto him [Haman], If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom
thou hast begun to fall
, thou shalt not prevail against him, but
thou shalt surely fall
before him.” Esther, 6:13.
Tomus nafshi im plishtim—
“Let me die with the Philistines.” Judges, 16:30.
A heder teacher—The heder was a schoolroom in which small children were taught beginning subjects, mostly religious ones.
The Torah reader—Reading the weekly portion of the Torah in the synagogue is a highly specialized task, as the reader must know by heart the chant notes, vocalization, and punctuation of the text, none of which appear in the Torah scroll itself.
Pravozshitelestvo, Gospodin Yevrei
—Russian: “Your permit, Mr. Jew!”
Khorosho, Gospodin Obradchik—“All
right, Mr. Cleric.”
Prayer group—Though any Jew can pray privately, ten male Jews (a minyan) are needed for public prayer to be held.
Deathday—On the Hebrew anniversary, the
, as it is called in Yiddish, of a family member’s death, a memorial candle is lit and the male survivors are expected to say the kaddish—which can only be recited in a minyan.
Girded his waist—Extremely pious Jews belt their jackets at the waist when they pray, in order to symbolically divide the upper or “spiritual” part of themselves from the lower or “animal” part.
Ashrey yoyshvey veysekho
the eighth day—The day of life on which, barring illness, all Jewish male children are circumcised. The circumcision too must be performed in the presence of a minyan.
After the candles had been lit—The lighting and blessing of the Sabbath candles on Friday evening marks the onset of the day of rest.
Hallah—The braided bread that is blessed after the wine and the ritual washing of hands at the beginning of the Sabbath meal.
But it was the holy Sabbath—Among the many acts prohibited on the Sabbath are lighting and extinguishing a fire. Jewish law, of course, permits the Sabbath to be violated when human life is endangered, but to a sufficiently pious Jew the mere burning down of his house does not fall into that category. Furthermore, though a non-Jew is allowed to put out the fire, the Jew must not openly request him to do so, for that too would be a violation of the Sabbath laws.
—Russian: “dearest Chvedka.”
Never before … had he been without a hat.
Kiddush wine—The wine, generally sweet, that is blessed at the beginning of Sabbath and holiday meals.