Yiddish and Hebrew Survey

ketubah.jpgDo you speak fluent Yiddish/Hebrew? Do you sprinkle your sentences with Yiddish/Hebrew words?

Prof. Sarah Bunin Benor and Prof. Steven M. Cohen would like to know. They are social scientists teaching at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and are interested in knowing how these two languages influence the way you speak and have put a survey online to find out.

Pirkei Avot: the Name

250px-Talmud_study.JPGAfter studying the Book of Ruth and its relation to Shavuot, Leora and I have started to explore Pirkei Avot.

Pirkei Avot (Hebrew:פרקי אבות) is is a tractate of the Mishna. It consists of six chapters and is the second-last tractate in the Mishnaic order Nezikin.

Literally it means “Chapters of the Fathers”. Perek means chapter in Hebrew and Pirkei is its plural. However it is often translated as “Maxims” or even more frquently as “Ethics”.

As for Av, it means father and Avot is the plural form. In this work, it can also be translated as “Elders” or “Sages.” The term refers to the sages from Simon the Just (3rd century B.C.E.) to Judah haNasi (3rd century C.E.) – the redactor of the Mishnah – to whom the sayings (or short statements) of this tractate are attributed.

However, some have suggested that the word Avot be translated not as “fathers,” but as “categories” “bases” or “principles”. This translation hints that these sayings are the principles of all ethics, those from which they all derive.

Here’s Leora’s first post on the subject.

Anyone willing to study Pirkei Avot with us or just to throw in their two cents (shekels) is obviously welcome.

Yom Ha’atzmaut from France

israeliflag.jpgIn recent years the French media haven’t been very fair to Israel, to put it mildly, yet I must say that their treatment of the Jewish State has been slightly better lately, with unexpected consequences.

Thus in March, Paris hosted its annual Book Fair. Because of its 60th anniversary, Israel was the guest country. Predictably enough, some people encouraged other countries to boycott the Fair. Fortunately not many countries did and quite a few authors and journalists remarked how stupid this would be; the Fair was about literature not politics. Surprisingly enough, a handful of Arab writers even voiced their opinions against the boycott in the traditional media as well as on line.

Numerous Israeli books were translated in French, a lot of magazines and newspapers wrote about Israeli literature and many bookshps devoted whole tables to Istraeli works. As a result a record number of Israeli novels were sold then.

At the time Shimon Peres came to France for a three day visit and went to the Fair. We were in Paris with our students and the Swedish exchange when this happened, hence the photo on the left. It was quite moving to see the Israeli flags on the Champs Elysées.

Because of the anniversary, a lot of tv and radio programs deal with Israel at the moment. Libération, a left-wing paper, devoted a whole edition to Israel with all sorts of articles about its history, inhabitants, culture, etc. I found it to be ecclectic but not too biased. Let’s hope this continues.

Obviously numerous synagogues and Jewish groups commemorate the event. One of my favoutite shuls hosted an evening on Israeli films, there are lectures online on Jewish sites and the Jewish scouts also celebrate this anniversary.


languages.jpgThe start of the International Year of Languages was launched last week by UNO and UNESCO. Here are a few interesting facts about language:

– Over 3000 languages are in danger of disappearing.

– 96% of the world’s languages are spoken by 4% of the world’s population.

– One language disappears on average every two weeks.

– 80% of the African languages have no orthography.

– Chinese courses have been blooming internationally since 2000 at every level of education.

– By the time 200,000 Americans are able to speak Mandarin, 200,000,000 Chinese will speak fluent English.

– In June 1999, the Swedish Parliament enacted legislation giving Yiddish legal status as one of the country’s official minority languages.

– The Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian Federation is a federal subject of Russia where Yiddish is an official language along with Russian.

– Hebrew is spoken by about 5 million people in Israel. In addition, it is spoken by several hundred thousand speakers in expatriot Jewish communities around the world.