Sunday, December 30, 2007

My first (official?) translation

An article about Jewish couples of which both members are converts:

And my translation:

When Both Husband and Wife Are Converts

By Rukhl Schaechter, NY

Charlie Hall and Paula Sinclair

When someone decides that he wants to convert to Judaism in an Orthodox manner, he must first demonstrate that he has no concealed intentions – for example, that his reason for conversion is that he is in love with a Jewish girl. In fact, Orthodox rabbis make an effort to talk potential converts out of their intentions: the potential converts are advised to find their own way to God through keeping the seven Noahide laws (the heavenly decrees that all humankind must observe) and lead their lives as righteous people.

Rabbi Meir Fond, the founder of the “Flatbush Minyan” in Brooklyn, NY, and one who teaches people in the process of conversion, explained that he indeed only accepts a small number of students into his classes. “Because you can never know beforehand who the best candidates will be, I choose those who display a firm devotion, attend synagogue on Shabbos and on Yom-Tov, and live a religious lifestyle. I don’t expect this to happen overnight. Because of that, it can sometimes take months, or even years.”

Most converts marry born Jews, and therefore “buy into” a Jewish family with new Jewish roots. But what about a convert that marries another convert? Is it harder, having no protective net of a family? Is their life any different from a couple where only one is a convert?

Paula Sinclair, a doctor who is an Orthodox Jewish convert from the Bronx, feels that it is to her advantage that she married another convert. Her husband, Charlie Hall, is a biostatistician in Yeshiva University. “We have similar backgrounds,” she told The Forverts. “We both celebrated Christmas as children. We are very devoted to leading a religious Jewish life, since we don’t do it just because ‘that’s how grandma did it.’ On the contrary, had Charlie been an FFB (frum from birth), it would be harder for me because our relationship would not be even. He, and not I, would have a whole Jewish family with traditions. I would feel as though I have to leave it up to him to decide how we will lead our lives. The way it is now, we’re level, and I never have to hide my non-Jewish past.”

Paula grew up in California. Her parents were descendants of Protestants, but considered themselves atheists. She herself experimented with Eastern religions, such as Zen, “but when they told me to bow down to my pillow, I realized it wasn’t for me.”

In college, she tried Christianity, “but the idea that Jesus died for my sins seemed so childish to me, because I feel that one has to be held responsible for one’s own sins.” Through a friend who was a convert, her interest in Judaism blossomed, and in 2001 she completed the conversion.

Charlie also has a Protestant background. As a child, he studied in a Presbyterian Sunday school, but when he grew older, he was disappointed with the liberal atmosphere in the Protestant churches. “It bothered me that they made theological decisions based on the majority. Ignorant worshipers shouldn’t make such decisions.”

Charlie survived several personal crises in his personal life. He married twice – and both times got divorced. Depressed, he once accompanied a friend to a prayer session of the Jewish Renewal movement in Hartford, Connecticut, where he received a warm welcome. He began to develop an interest in the Jewish religion, and the idea of one God was very attractive to him. “They say that Christianity is monotheistic, but I’m not so sure. Believing in a God, a Son, and a Holy Ghost sounds to me more like three gods, not one. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I must become a Jew.”

When he got a job at Yeshiva University, he met many Orthodox Jews, which immediately captured his interest. He started learning with a rabbi and converted in 2003. He met Paula through the matchmaking website “Frumster,” and immediately felt a connection, he said. “23 days later, we got engaged, and three months after that, we got married.”
Charlie maintains that it’s just a coincidence that they are both converts. “I could just have easily married a born religious Jewish girl,” he remarked. “But I couldn’t be with a ba’al teshuva (penitent), because they often aren’t sure where to go. One day they want to be Hasidic, the next day – Carlebach, and the next – Modern Orthodox. Converts are more similar to born Jews because both understand that one needs a rabbi as a guide, and this creates a more stable life.”

Paula and Charlie converted separately, before they met. But sometimes, a non-Jewish couple decides to convert together. For Denis and Isabelle Supersac, a couple in France that decided to convert, the process was so long and bitter, it’s nearly a miracle that they held out. You would think that a married couple would have less trouble going to a rabbi, because it’s clear that they aren’t converting to marry a Jew. But not this time – their process dragged on for eleven years.

One possibility is that the rabbis in France, most of them Sephardic Jews, are stricter about conversion than in America. You could also deduce that their being a couple caused more suspicion, and even discrimination, than if a potential convert were to come with a Jewish girl.

Denis and Isabelle Supersac and four of their five children

Denis, a translator, hails from a Protestant family, and Isabelle was a secular Catholic language instructor when they engaged in a long discussion about religion, specifically Judaism. “That discussion was a landmark in my spiritual journey,” remarked Denis. “I had long wrestled with the question of why there are two versions of Christianity – Protestantism and Catholicism – if they both believe in Jesus. It just didn’t make any sense.” Isabelle had also begun to dabble in various religions, and like Denis, became very interested in the Jewish faith.

“But when we wanted to learn more, we could only take classes with a liberal non-Orthodox rabbi, because the Orthodox rabbis wouldn’t let us in,” said Denis. He started learning Hebrew, Chumash, and Torah law on his own. By then, they already had one child, and lived in Nantes, in western France, where their neighbors, Polish Jews, warmly accepted them. But when the neighbors wanted to bring them along to synagogue, the rabbi would not let them in.

“At about that time, we began to observe Judaism,” tells Denis. “We bought kosher meat in Paris and drove five hours with full suitcases to bring it home.” When their second child, David, was born in 1996, he had to be circumcised in the hospital, because the mother was not yet Jewish.

After that, the family blossomed, and in 2004, when they already had five children, Rabbi Moshe Chen, the Chabad rabbi in Toulouse, finally agreed to learn with them privately, and they signed up for the general conversion class. “The teacher was a twenty-year-old girl – I already knew more than she did,” recalls Denis. Then, the beis-din gave them a written exam of 280 questions and required them to write a lengthy article; Denis’ totaled 80 pages. But when the couple was asked whether they could take the oral part of the test (the last stage of learning), they answered: “Not yet.”

“We were furious,” said Isabelle. “We already had a visa to travel to America at that point, and we absolutely couldn’t wait any longer.” Disappointed, they made an appointment with the beis-din of Paris – a step which the rabbis in Toulouse did not approve of. The beis-din of Paris posed several questions to Denis (how, for example, do you make havdala, when Shabbos comes right before Yom-Tov?) and in 2005, the rabbis agreed that the family was ready for the mikvah. They first ruled, however, that the couple had to separate for three months.

Denis and Isabelle protested that they could not wait three months, because they had to move to America, and the rabbis changed it to one month. Finally, in June 2005, all seven members of the Supersac family immersed themselves in the mikvah, and immediately after that, Denis and Isabelle were married under a chuppah. “I stood under that chuppah with wet hair,” recalls Isabelle.

The Forverts unsuccessfully tried to reach the rabbis in Toulouse.

Today, Denis and Isabelle very happily reside in their new Modern Orthodox home in Teaneck, New Jersey, with their children David, 11; Miriam, 10; Eli, 8; and Rebecca, 6. When asked whether their life as a couple is different from that of a convert and a Jew, Denis answered: “Of course. Because we are not born Jews, we did not have to culturally orient ourselves. But that’s why we like to go together to conferences on Judaism, to analyze linguistic nuances in the Chumash, and to read Pirkei Avos.”

“We still don’t understand why it took 11 years for us to convert, just because we couldn’t find a rabbi willing to help us,” sighed Denis. “Our children kept asking us: ‘Are we Jews yet?’ It shouldn’t be like that.”

מײַנע מחשבֿות - הערט זיך צו אַז איר װילט

אַ מאָל פֿיל איך זיך װי איך װעל נישט איבערלעבן די קומעדיקע פּאָר טעג/װאָכן/חדשים, אָבער איך װײס אַז צום סאָף, װעט אַלץ זיך גוט אױסאַרבעטן. אָבער הײסט דאָס אַז ס'לױנט זיך נישט זיך צו זאָרגן בכלל? איז עס דאָך נישט גוט פֿאַרן געזונט אַזױ זיך אױפֿצופֿירן?...נו, כ'װײס? הכּלל, די טעג זענען דאָ פֿיל זאַכן װעגן װעלכע מ'קען זיך גוט אָנזאָרגן - סײַ אינעם פּערזענלעכן לעבן, סײַ אין דער באַגרענעצטער סאָציעלע קרײַזן פֿון װעלכע מ'איז אַ מיטגליד, סײַ אין דער שטאַט, סײַ אינעם לאַנד, סײַ אױף דער װעלט... אָבער שטענדיק דאַכט זיך מיר אַז דער קומענדיקער כעמיע עקסאַמען, צי די צוקונפֿט פֿון אַ רעלאַטיװ נישט־װיכטיקער אָרגאַניזאַציע 'יוגנטרוף' איז װײניקער װיכטיק (פֿון אַ גלאָבאַלן שטאַנדפּונקט, פֿאַרשטעט זיך) װי די אַסאַסינירונג פֿון בענאַזיר בהוטטאָ... אױ, װער װעט זײַן דער אױסלײזער פֿון מײַן שולאַרבעט?

אַזאַ קשיא װעט זיך מסתּמא קײנמאָל זיך נישט לײזן, אָבער אַן ענטפֿער װעט דען מער נישט נײטיק זײַן אין אַ צװײ יאָר אַרום...
הײסט עס, אַז לאָגיש, איז נישט כּדאי זיך צו זאָרגן? צי יאָ? כ'װײס אַלײן נישט

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Does it ever annoy you how so many people are still spelling it "mid-evil" like you did in fifth grade? Sure, you know how to spell it, but why does everyone misspell, and what the heck does it mean? Was everybody back then really evil? Well, I was flipping through some vocab recently and stumbled across the word coeval, which means "occurring at the same time." Of course, I said to myself, "co-" means "with", so I guess "evum" must mean "time" (it's actually aevum in Latin). Then it hit me that the word was probably related to the words event (actually unrelated, but hey, nice try) and, yes, medieval. So basically, coeval is pronounced co-ee-val. So what must have happened was that medieval used to be pronounced me-dee-ee-val, and the two "ee"s just assimilated into one sound (the dictionary actually had both pronunciations). So "medi-" means "middle," which would make medieval mean, no, not "evil times," but rather befittingly, "middle ages."


Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Congratulate me: I just discovered that nebbish is a word in English. I was previously under the impression that neb was a shortened version of the Yiddish נעבעך nebekh and that it had come via Yeshivish.

Definition: A weak-willed, ineffectual person; a person who, entering a room, leaves the impression that someone just left; a person whose life runs, ironically, on the law of an Irishman named Murphy: "If anything can go wrong, it will." The difference between a nebbish and a schlemiel is that a nebbish is always pitied while attitudes toward a schlemiel can be harsher. Leo Rosten claimed that a nebbish picks up what a schlemiel knocks over. The quintessential nebbish is, of course, the Woody Allen characters of Allen's early films.

And now (drumroll) for the origin:

It's actually directly from the Yiddish, which is derived from the Czech nebohý "poor, unfortunate." But there's more to tap into - I'm talking Proto-Indo-European, baby! (If you don't know what I'm talking about, stop here and beware of the dangers of tracing word roots waaaaaay back - this is serious business.) The Slavic root is boh (this word in modern Slavic languages carries the meaning of "God," but bohatý, which would literally mean "godful," actually means "rich" - of course, people with God on their side would be wealthy, I suppose) and derives from the PIE root bhag-. So let's see what other words we can recognize from this root:

It wouldn't take too much skill to recognize the Sanskrit words bhagah and bhagavati, and if not that, at least the name of the Hindu religious work Bhagavadgita (literally, song of the blessed). There is some speculation as to whether the English word pagoda, which came via Portuguese, came from the polar origins of "idol" or the root that came to mean "god" - compare the etymologies of [from a corruption of Persian butkada, from but "idol" + kada "dwelling"] and [perhaps from or infl. by Tamil pagavadi "house belonging to a deity," from Skt. "goddess," fem. of bhagavati "goddess," fem. of bhagavat "blessed, adorable," from *bhagah "good fortune," from PIE base *bhag- "to share out, apportion"]

Then, if you figured, "hey, let's take the b and replace it with a p," you might think of the word esophagus, or recall learning in biology class of a certain type of virus called a bacteriophage, which means a bacteria-eater. These words comes from Greek, which ultimately came from the root bhag-, which appears to mean "to share out, apportion," which eventually evolved into the aforementioned Sanskrit and Slavic meanings.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Trinidadian English

I been limin' wid my sistah's friend from Trinidad and I learn a lot of tings I doh know before. (The grammar there was dubious, I know.)

The few things that I learned that I thought were especially interesting or funny.

HUMP: to lug around - "I hear you bin humpin' a lotta suitcases aroun' lately nah?"

[plurals]: "an dem" - "I don't like to go to sleepaway camp because of d cockroach an dem." (yes. that's how you pluralize things)

BREAK BICHE: to ditch school - "Why you breakin biche! I tell you it have school today!"

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Yiddish #5

(To start from the beginning, see Yiddish #1)

OK, so far I have been focusing on grammar, i.e. conjugation and the like. So I figured, for those of you who really just want to chat with your זײדע zeyde and באָבע bobe, I'd just do basic conversation phrases, and perhaps build off of that somehow.
So when you meet somebody, you want to introduce yourself, right? In English, you say "my name is," but in Yiddish, we use the verb הײסן heysn, which in Spanish is llamarse and in French is s'appeler, but which doesn't have a straight translation in English, but think along the lines of "to be called." So you conjugate it based on the person (to conjugate a regular verb in the present tense, see this post):
.איך הײס אַרעלע/Ikh heys Arele./My name is Arele.
?װי הײסט ער/Vi heyst er?/What's his name (literally, how is he called)?

Of course, I conveniently forgot to tell you how to say "hello," because I've lost all social contact this year because of college apps and stuff. Anyhow, when you greet someone, you say שלום עליכם sholem aleykhem. That means "peace be unto you." It is the same in Hebrew, and in Arabic, it is quite similar: السلام عليكم as-salāmu ’alaykum. When you respond, you just flip the words around and get עליכם שלום aleykhem sholem.

More to come!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

ע as a prefix?

I recently noticed that several animals mentioned in the Torah (the Old Testament), specifically the bat, mouse, scorpion, and spider, called עטלף ’atalef, עכבר ’akhbar, עקרב ’aqrav, and עכביש ’akavish respectively all start with an ע ’ayin, which is followed by three consonants. Is there some sort of pattern going on? These are all animals associated with impurity and creepy-crawly things, which was what piqued my curiosity. Is this ע some sort of a prefix? Do the three remaining letters correspond to a Hebrew root?
Well, the Koehler-Baumgartner Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon suggests that עטלף stems from ע.ט.ף., meaning "to wrap," and imbuing עטלף with the meaning of "cloak-animal."
All the other ones seem to have cognates in sister semitic languages, making these words pretty old. Will we ever know? Anyway, I'm not satisfied. Nor should you be.

Interesting Loan Words

Two interesting I stumbled across while looking across my vocabulary lists today: the first was karaoke, which, of course, was familiar to me, while the second one was alcazar. As usual with me, the question "where the heck does karaoke come from?" popped into my mind. The short, sharp syllables left my suspecting Japanese, so I went online to see what I could dig up. Well, this is what I discovered:
カラオケ, which is split up into the two words カラ kara "empty" and オケ oke "orchestra." But that's not the end. Oke sounds suspiciously like orchestra, doesn't it? Hmmmm, well what do you know, Japanese actually borrowed orchestra from English and Japanized it into okesutora, then shortened that to oke and tacked on kara at the beginning (actually, if you've taken any Japanese martial arts, you should know that kara means empty: karate 空手 means "empty hand")! So what we end up having is English borrowing from Japanese, borrowing from English.

The second word, alcazar, struck me as distinctly Spanish. Because Spain was occupied by the Moors for about 750 years, Castilian borrowed many nouns from Arabic, a large majority of which began with al, corresponding to the definite pronoun ال al, akin to the Hebrew ה ha (for a list of noun borrowed from Arabic, click here; some examples are albacora, alcohol, alcoba, alfalfa, etc.).
But anyhow, back to the issue at hand. After removing the "al," and finding its definition in English to be "citadel, fort," I realized that just the previous day, I had learned in my "Teach Yourself Arabic" book (yes, ambitious, I know) that the word for castle was القصر al-qaṣr, (which, by the way, struck me as unusual, because what would be the related root קצר q.ṣ.r. in Hebrew actually means "to cut, shorten." Anyhow, I thought nothing of it until today.) which sounded pretty darned similar. So... yeah, I looked it up. Turns out it's not a Semitic root at all! Arabic actually borrowed it from the Latin castrum, meaning "fort." So we end up having a Romance language borrowing from Arabic, which in turn borrows from the mother of Romance tongues, good old Latin.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Modern Hebrew in Yiddish

When Hebrew was revived by Eliezer ben-Yehuda at the end of the 19th century, he intended to recreate the biblical language that governed the lives of the Jews for thousands of years. He attempted to reject the shtetl lifestyle and start where ancient times had left off. However, the fact remains that his native language was Yiddish and this was the language he spoke for a significant portion of his life. As a result, much of the grammar, phonology, vocabulary, and idioms present in Modern Hebrew came from Yiddish.

Take, for example, the Hebrew לפרגן l'fargen: to celebrate in the success of others. Like many other super-modern verbs in Hebrew, this verb clearly does not have a 3-letter root like Ancient Hebrew verbs. Similar to להשתכנז l'hishtaknez, taken from the word אשכנזי Ashkenazi and meaning "to become Ashkenazi," this word was taken and forced into a Hebrew conjugation. In our case, לפרגן took the Yiddish verb פֿאַרגינען farginen and put it into בנין פיעל binyan pi'el, a common verb structure in Hebrew. Two more examples are להשפריץ l'hashpritz and להשװיץ l'hashvitz, which came from שפּריצן shpritsn and שװיצן shvitsn, respectively. And before you know it, it sounds like a natural Hebrew word. Amazing. I don't know if too many other languages exhibit this phenomenon of so easily assimilating and, yes, even conjugating words of foreign origin.

And how about this: שם קבור הכלב sham kavur hakelev, literally meaning "that's where the dog is buried," but carrying the idiomatic meaning of "that's where the problem is." This, too, was, consciously or otherwise, brought into Hebrew through native Yiddish-speakers and ultimately became accepted as a natural Hebrew idiom. In Yiddish, it is דאָ ליגט דער הונט באַגראָבן do ligt der hunt bagrobn. Actually, the classic Yiddish translation of Hamlet's famous "to-be-or-not-to-be" soliloquy starts with the lines זײַן אָדער נישט זײַן? דאָ ליגט דער הונט באַגראָבן zayn oder nisht zayn? Do ligt der hunt bagrobn.


No, not the amazing book or movie. I have yet to see it.

I don't think people realize how many words in English are derived from proper nouns. Studying for the National Vocabulary Competition, I stumbled across a bunch of words that I never would have guessed are from names of people or places:

bedlam: a state of confusion, from the Hospital of St. Mary Bethlehem in London, which served as an insane asylum.

maudlin: another corruption of, yes, Magdalene; the word, meaning tearful or sentimental, evokes an image of Mary crying.

procrustean: ignoring individual difference. Online Etymology Dictionary says it comes from Procrustes (1583), mythical robber of Attica who seized travelers, tied them to his bed, and either stretched their limbs or lopped of their legs to make them fit it. The name in Greek is Προκρούστης Prokroustes "one who stretches," from προκρούειν prokrouein "to beat out, stretch out," from προ pro- "before" + κρούειν krouein "to strike."

κρούειν is actually a cognate with Russian крусить krusit, Lithuanian kruszù "to smash, crush," Latvian krausīt "to trample," and Old Slavic kruchŭ "crumb." I would assume, therefore that procrustean shares its root with the Yiddish word קרישקע krishke, meaning a crumb or a bit of food, comes from this root as well. (If you were wondering, crust comes from a similar, but unrelated Germanic root - see here on page 62)
In the context of a well-known Yiddish folksong:

לאָמיר אַלע זינגען אַ זמרל,
לחם איז ברױט, בשׂר ודגים וכל מטעמים.
זאָג זשע מיר רבניו, לחם איז װאָס?
בײַ די נגידים , איז לחם אַ פֿרישינקע בילקעלע!
אָבער בײַ אונדז קבצנים, אױ, דלפֿנים, אױ, אבֿיונים
.איז לחם אַ דאַרינקע קרישקעלע, נעבעך

Lomir ale zingen a zemerl,
Lekhem iz broyt, boser v'dogim v'khol matamim.
Zog zhe mir rebenyu, lekhem iz vos?
Bay di n'gidim, iz lekhem a frishinke bilkele!
Ober bay undz kabtsonim, oy delfonim, oy evyoynim
Iz lekhem a darinke krishkele, nebekh.

Let's a sing a song,
Bread, meat, fish and delicacies.
Tell me, what is bread?
The elite eat fresh rolls.
But for us poor beggars,
Bread is a exiguous crumb.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tmesis? Aposiopesis? WHAT?

So what exactly is this word which merited to be the title of this "cool" blog? And why did I put aposiopesis in the title of the post? Don't worry - all your questions are about to be answered.

tme·sis /təˈmisɪs/ - noun
the interpolation of one or more words between the parts of a compound word, as be thou ware for beware. [Origin: 1580–90; <>tmésis <>tmésis a cutting, equiv. to tmé- (var. s. of témnein to cut) + -sis -sis]

Or perhaps more applicable to the modern day: abso-[explitive of choice, usually beginning with the letter "f," although "bloody" seems to be popular in the UK these days]-lutely!

A note on the origin - the Greek root témnein, meaning "to cut," is present is many words in English, including:
-ectomy [ek "out" + tomy]
epitome [epi "into" + tome]
dichotomy [dicha "in two" + tomia]
diatom [dia "through" + tom]
anatomy [ana "up" + tomy]
entomology [entomos < size="5">ap·o·si·o·pe·sis [ap-uh-sahy-uh-pee-sis] –noun
a sudden breaking off in the midst of a sentence, as if from inability or unwillingness to proceed.
[Origin: 1570–80; <>aposiōpé- (verbid s. of aposiōpáein to be fully silent; apo- apo- + siōpáein to be silent) + -sis -sis]

So now with out newfound knowledge, let's see if we can put two and two together into a coherent sentence:
"Wrap it quickly! It a sur-friggin-prise for - oh."

That was fun...?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

ஐமொழிய பிளாக்/Blog pentalingüe/Pentalingual Blog/פֿינעף־שפּראַכיקער בלאָג/יומן רשת חמש־לשוני

I don't know if I could possibly do this. But it's a nice idea. I will honestly do it one of these days. And suffer the consequences as a connoisseur of each language rips my apart on each post. But, hey, that's OK, we learn from our mistakes, eh?

Language order: Tamil, Spanish, our very own English, Hebrew, and my very own Yiddish. Booya!

EDIT: Let's do it. How about:

நான் பார்த்த கவைகள் கோபமாக இருந்தன. ஆனால் படம் பார்த்தோண, பீப்பாய் நிறுத்தியது.
Los tenedores que vi estaban muy enojados. Pero cuando vi la película, el tonel paró.
The forks that I saw were angry. But when I saw the movie, the barrel stopped.
המזלגות שראיתי כעסו מאוד. אבל כשראיתי את הסרט, החבית עצרה.
די גאָפּל װאָס איך האָב געזען זענען געװען זײער ברוגז. אָבער װען איך האָב געזען דעם פֿילם, האָט דער פֿאַס זיך אָפּגעשטעלט.

See? That was easy... right?

Saturday, December 8, 2007


All you Ashkenazi Jews out there are surely familiar with latkes, or potato pancakes. Known as a traditional Chanukkah food, it was only brought to my attention recently, although it should have been obvious, that the Jews in Palestine couldn't possibly have eaten latkes: they had no potatoes! In fact, this food only gained popularity, because they are fried in oil, commemorating the oil that miraculously provided light for eight days.
According to this website, the word came into the English language from the Yiddish לאַטקע (latke) came from the Ukrainian оладка (oldka), which is, in turn, the diminutive of the Old Russian оладья (oladya). But wait: it gets better. This comes from the Greek ελαδια (eladia), plural of ελαδιον (eladion), meaning "a little oily thing", "a little oil", or "a young olive tree". ελαδιον (eladion), of course, is naturally the diminute of elaion, "olive oil", which comes from elaia, the (Ancient) Greek for "olive". Whew.

What's funny is that, like everybody knows, latkes are used as a Hanukkah food because they are fried in oil. But who knew that the word for "oil" is actually etymologically related to latke?? Watch this. According to the English Etymology Dictionary: oil,
c.1175, from Anglo-Fr. and O.N.Fr. olie, from O.Fr. oile (12c., Mod.Fr. huile), from L. oleum "oil, olive oil" (cf. Sp., It. olio), from Gk. elaion "olive tree," from elaia. Who woulda thunk it?

To put it this way, if the Romans and Slavs hadn't decided to be copycats and steal Greek words, we would not have the word for latke, oil, olive, petroleum, nor Vaseline (gasp!).

So what did those Maccabees eat? To quote The Forward:
The distance from the Yiddish latke to the Greek elaion is about as vast as Diaspora itself, but the relationship is interesting because the first latkes were little cakes made from curd cheese and fried in butter or olive oil. (Eating cheese on Chanukah is said to refer to the Apocryphal story of Judith, who fed salty cheesecakes to the Syrian general Holofornes to make him thirsty, and then plied him with wine until he was so inebriated she could chop off his head with a sword; this symbolic connection, though, was not made until many centuries after the first cheese latkes.) As Jews began to migrate eastward into Eastern Europe, butter and oil grew increasingly precious and expensive, and poultry fat became the chief frying agent; this made the use of cheese off-limits, and so by the Middle Ages latkes were most often made not from dairy ingredients but rather with a simple batter made from buckwheat flour (recall the original Russian meaning of "a flat cake made from unleavened wheat flour").

In any case, bon appétit. Who cares about the etymology? Not me.

Yiddish #4

Last lesson, we learned how to conjugate verbs in the present tense.

With this skill, you can easily form the future tense, which is formed by conjugating װעלן/veln/will (it’s not really a verb, more of a particle, but for explanation’s sake, let’s call it a verb) in the appropriate person in the present tense, then adding it to the infinitive of a verb. This may all sound complicated, but once we get around the complex lingo, it’s really quite simple. Be warned, though, that װעלן/veln is irregular in the third-person singular (װעט/vet), second-person singular (װעסט/vest), and second-person plural (װעט/vet). So let’s look at a few examples:
װעט ער קומען?|Vet er kumen?|Will he come?
איך װעל עסן װעטשערע|Ikh vel esn vetshere.|I will eat dinner.
צום באַדױערן, װעסטו (װעסט דו) נישט זײַן דאָ.|Tsum badoyrn, vestu (vest du) nisht zayn do.|Unfortunately, you won’t be here.
(We will learn in a later lesson why דו/du and װעסט/vest switched places in that sentence, I promise.)

Wasn't that easy?

Now let's look at some other ways you can use your knowledge of the present tense to put together some sentences. The verbs קענען/kenen/to be able to, װילן/viln/to want to (see bottom for a note on this verb's conjugation), and גײן/geyn/to go can be put directly before a verb to create a compound verb of sorts:
דו קענסט זינגען זײער שײן.|Du kenst zingen zeyer sheyn.|You can sing very beautifully.
איך גײ שלאָפֿן צו שפּעט.|Ikh gey shlofn tsu shpet.|I go to sleep too late. (Too true!)
ער װיל שרײַען אױף מיר!|Er vil shrayen oyf mir!|He wants to yell at me!

Be sure not to use the word צו/tsu in these phrases to say "to [verb]" - that is implied in the infinitive form; צו/tsu is used as a preposition (in the sense of "to") and an adverb (in the sense of "too" - hence צו שפּעט|tsu shpet|too late).

OK, I lied, צו/tsu is used in other situations, such as saying "to love/like to do something." In this case, the verb "to love/like" is ליב האָבן/lib hobn (literally, to have love). To say that you love something, you conjugate האָבן/hobn (it follows the same irregularity pattern as װעלן/veln/will - see above), put ליב/lib after that, then צו/tsu, then the infinitive of the verb.
Yup, that sounds pretty complicated, but again, it's simple once you get past the technical lingo:
דו האָסט ליב צו קוקן אױף טעלעװיזיע.|Du host lib tsu kukn oyf televizie.|You like to watch (literally, look at) TV.
איך האָב ליב צו טון מײַן הײמאַרבעט.|Ikh hob lib tsu tun mayn heymarbet.|I love to do my homework. (Ya rite!)
זײ האָבן ליב צו באַקן אַ טאָרט.|Zey hobn lib tsu bakn a tort.|They like to bake a cake.

*װילן/viln/to want is conjugated in the present tense normally except in the third-person singular, where it is װיל/vil, not װילט/vilt.

Let's go back to the basics and cover some of the more primary stuff.

Yiddish #3

Last lesson, we learned how to conjugate the verb זײַן/zayn/to be in the present tense. Now, let’s see how most other verbs in the present tense are conjugated. The endings are as follows, and I’ll use the verb זינגען/zingen/to sing as an example:

איך/ikh/I: chop off the verb ending (ען/en or simply ן/n) -> זינג/zing
דו/du/you: same as איך/ikh, then add on סט/st -> זינגסט/zingst
ער־זי־עס/er-zi-es/he-she-it: same as איך/ikh, then add on ט/t -> זינגט/zingt
מיר־זײ/mir-zey/we-they: same as איך/ikh, then add on ען/en -> זינגען/zingen
איר/ir/you (pl.): same as איך/ikh, then add on ט/t -> זינגט/zingtSo let’s look at a few conjugations:
זען/zen/to see
איך/ikh/I: זע/ze
דו/du/you: זעסט/zest
ער־זי־עס/er-zi-es/he-she-it: זעט/zet
מיר־זײ/mir-zey/we-they: זעען/zeen
איר/ir/you (pl.): זעט/zet

זאָגן/zogn/to say
איך/ikh/I: זאָג/zog
דו/du/you: זאָגסט/zogst
ער־זי־עס/er-zi-es/he-she-it: זאָגט/zogt
מיר־זײ/mir-zey/we-they: זאָגן/zogn
איר/ir/you (pl.): זאָגט/zogt

עסן/esn/to eat
איך/ikh/I: עס/es
דו/du/you: עסט/est
ער־זי־עס/er-zi-es/he-she-it: עסט/est
מיר־זײ/mir-zey/we-they: עסן/esn
איר/ir/you (pl.): עסט/est

Basic conjugation in the present tense.

You might be asking yourself what the heck happened with that last verb. Shouldn’t the conjugation for דו/du/you be עססט/esst? Well, yes, but since Yiddish usually doesn’t double up on consonants, we drop the second ס/s. Similar changes occur in verbs ending in ט/t, such as בײַטן/baytn/to change, where the third-person conjugation is בײַט/bayt, instead of בײַטט/baytt.

Here are some verbs for you to learn so you can start making sentences on your own!
האָבן/hobn=to have
גײן/geyn=to go
קומען/kumen=to come
פֿילן/filn=to feel
לױפֿן/loyfn=to run
רעדן/redn=to speak
לערנען/lernen=to learn
That’s all for now.

Ready to move on to some harder stuff and put your conjugal skills (just kidding, I guess I should say conjugational) to use? Click here!

Yiddish #2

Again, a disclaimer that I'm a high school student and a native speaker of Yiddish, not a professional Yiddish teacher. If you know Yiddish from home, you might conjugate things a bit differently, or use different words than the ones written here. Feel free to challenge me on something.

OK, now that you've got down your basics, we can start with some conjugations. A conjugation means how words change based on other factors in a sentence. For example, you would say "She goes swimming," but "they go swimming." The ends of the words change based, in this case, on the subject of the sentence. It works the same way in Yiddish.
So let's see how you conjugate a verb in Yiddish. Most verbs in Yiddish are conjugated (in the present tense) in the same way, which we will cover next lesson, except for one verb that we will be covering this lesson: זײַן, zayn, to be. This is how it's conjugated:
איך בין | Ikh bin. | I am.
דו ביסט | Du bist. | You are.
ער/זי/עס איז | Er/Zi/Es iz. | He/She/It is.
מיר/זײ זײַנען | Mir/Zey zaynen. | We/They are.
איר זײַט | Ir zayt. | You are. (This is either the plural "you" or the respectful "you.")

Let's see some examples:
דאָס בוך איז גרויס | Dos bukh iz groys. | The book is big.
פֿאַר װאָס בין איך הונגעריק | Far vos bin ikh hungerik? | Why am I hungry? (Yes, I meant to say that.)
דו ביסט זײער הויך | Du bist zeyer hoykh. | You are very tall.
איר זײַט גרײט | Ir zayt greyt. | You (pl.) are ready.

So now that you've seen how to put together some basic sentences (the sentence structure so far is identical to English) using the pronouns and conjugations of זײַן/zayn, to be, why don't you check out these adjectives and see if you can do it for yourself:
גרויס/קלײן | groys/kleyn | big/small
גוט/שלעכט | gut/shlekht | good/bad
הויך/נידעריק | hoykh/niderik | tall/short (in height)
לאַנג/קורץ | lang/kurts | long/short (in length)

And how about some nouns so you can be creative:
דער מאַן | der man | man
די פֿרוי | di froy | woman
דאָס ייִנגל | dos yingl | boy
דאָס מײדל | dos meydl | girl
דער טאָג | der tog | day
די נאַכט | di nakht | night
דאָס בוך | dos bukh | book
דאָס ליד | dos lid | song
Note about the pronouns: every noun in Yiddish has a gender, and therefore an article (such as "the" in English): די/di/the (f.), דער/der/the (m.), or דאָס/dos/the (diminutive or neuter). But don't freak out - we'll talk about this in later lessons. For now, don't worry so much about it, but I will provide the article for every noun I write so you can use it correctly in sentences.

Start conjugating verbs!

Yiddish #1

Beginner's Yiddish (אָנהײבער ייִדיש)

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a licensed yiddish teacher, so don't take everything written here for truth. You can be pretty sure, though, that most of what you see here is generally correct... If there are any mistakes, please let me know.

Yiddish is very hard to learn.
Yiddish is much easier to learn than people make it out to be.
Yiddish is a germanic language with a german vocabulary base that borrows heavily from hebrew, slavic (russian, polish) languages, romance (spanish, french) languages, and english too. so if you know any of these, you probably know a lot more yiddish vocabulary than you think.

OK so first things first, you don't necessarily have to be able to read Hebrew characters to learn Yiddish with me, although in the coming notes I will write everything out in Hebrew and English characters. But since most of you can already read Hebrew, you might as well learn how to read Yiddish with the Hebrew alphabet. Yiddish is written with the Hebrew alphabet, which reads from right to left, with a few modifications.

If you already know Hebrew, then I’ll just lay out the basic differences between the Hebrew and the Yiddish alphabet:

  1. Vowels are completely different from Hebrew. Vowels are freestanding letters or letter combinations. Yiddish does not use dots or dashes, over or under a consonant, to indicate a vowel. The only dots or dashes used on consonants are to indicate hard or soft, e.g. P vs. F (פּ/פֿ)

  2. Consonants are largely the same, but pay close attention to when dots and dashes are used to indicate hard and soft (yes, it's tedious because the system is inconsistent, but that's what YIVO decided, so live with it). For example, P (פּ) has a dot and F (פֿ) has a dash, whereas K (כּ) has a dot but Kh (כ) has no dash.

  3. Note that the sounds Tsh, Dzh/J, and Zh are not modified letters like in Hebrew (צ׳ ,ג׳ ,ז׳), but rather consonant clusters which come together to form the sound, e.g. Dzh/J (דזש) = D (ד) + Z (ז) + Sh (ש).

Once you learn this, we can move on to some basic grammar and vocabulary.