The Words We Use: Preserved Judaeo-German

Yesterday I encountered a comfortably familiar explanation of Rashi in Sukkah 51b. In explaining what a “bimah” is, Rashi calls it an “almemar“. The commentary called “Hametargem”  (printed in the rear of every Vilna Shas) explains that this is “an old word used in all places of Aschkenaz, and has roots in the Arabic”. To my knowledge, this word is only preserved today in KAJ and other shuls of the German rite. Other than its use in the Shulchan Aruch and KAJ, it is a forgotten word from a forgotten world.

Google will show you its origin in the Arabic Al Minbar, and Wikipedia (my source for all things I pretend to know) will show you a picture of a minbar – the podium for sermons inside of Mosques. (Google will also direct you the “Al Minbar” Palestinian newspaper (under the Ottomans)- which makes me think that “The Almemar” would make a good name for a blog about German Jewish thought. 

It is a great feeling when I find something- if even very subtle- that is a remnant of an ancient time, preserved into the today era. 

I had this feeling once when learning Hilchos Shabbos from the Shulchan Aruch. One of the 16th century poskim mentions the “Shamos’s room” in the shul when discussing lighting candles and making kiddush in shul. I instinctively knew what that room is. A room that smells like dust and wine. It has vimpels, tachrichim, taleisim, and files. It is the Shammos’s room, and it is a holy place. I do not know if any other American shul has a room quite like this one. And besides its mention in Shulchan Aruch, it only exists in KAJ.

Some other words from the ancient Judaeo-German that have survived in society at large include: Yarmulka, Shalashudis, davening, shnodering, and perhaps some common Yiddish words that don’t seem to have German, nor Hebrew, roots: Sheitel and Kittel. (Yekke originalists like to use old Judeo-German words like Orenin (davening), Saregen (kittel), Schallet (cholent), and Birches (Challas)- but my generation of WH kids never heard these words in use.)

On a final note, with Pesach approaching, some have the custom to sing Adir Hu with the Judaeo-German translation found in the siddur of the Sheloh Hakadosh- ( Rabbi Isaiah HaLevi Horovitz (c.1555-1630)- (Allmachtiger Gott,) with the refrain: “Nu Bau Dein Temple Schiere”. Roedelheim Hagadah notes that the word “Schiere” is an antiquiticated word for “quickly” that- other than its preservation in this song- has fallen out of use.

May Hashem redeem us….Schiere!

The Words We Use: Preserved Judaeo-German

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