Sunday, June 29, 2008

Zimmun in Pseudo-German

In Dr. Seligmann Baer's Seder [Siddur on the binding of the recent Israeli reprint] Avodat Yisrael (Rödelheim 1868, 1901), most of the instructions and comments are in Hebrew. Some--but very few--of the instructions are in German transliterated into Hebrew letters, with an orthographic system almost identical to that of Moses Mendelssohn's translation of the Bible. Most of the Hebrew comments are in Rashi script. Words in Hebrew or Aramaic that are meant to be uttered are in block letters, sometimes menuqad. The German, whether or not it's meant to be uttered, is in a font that I haven't seen before and is very hard on my old eyes. Addendum: Thank you, Mississippi Fred MacDowell, for pointing out in a comment that this font is called Vaibertaitsch. In my comment to his comment, I said I think I thought otherwise (at least I think so), but I now believe Fred was right. B"N, a post on this topic will follow.

Warning: Before you go any further, I disclose that this is all based on the assumptions (1) that the German I learned in high school in the late 1960s is reasonably similar to the German of Dr. Baer and his contemporaries and (2) that I remember any of it correctly. Supporting assumption 1 is the fact that both were a long time ago.

The introduction to the German zimmun in Dr. Baer's siddur is interesting in that it isn't really in German, either in vocabulary or in idiom. The words (with one or two--literally either one or two--exceptions) are German, but the phrasing is a direct translation of the traditional Yiddish zimmun. In what follows, Rashi script is the default, [block letters are in square brackets], {and the German with its odd font is in curly brackets}. Exclamation marks are in the original (following the German style for imperatives). Italics (added by me) indicate words that are incorrect, idiosyncratic, or with an ambiguous letter but nevertheless definitely not correct German.

Here is what appears before the zimmun in the siddur (p. 554):

שלשה שאכלו כאחת חייבים
בזמון. וכיצד מזמנים? המזמן
אומר [הב לן ונברך!] או בל״א [רבותי] {וויר
וואָללען בענטען/בענשען!}׃

בל״א is an abbreviation for bilshon ashkenaz, "in the language of Ashkenaz." It's a little misleading; in more traditional siddurim it means in Yiddish, while here it means in German.

The zimmun itself follows, with embedded instructions regarding a minyan in Hebrew only. After the zimmun we have

יחיד מתחיל. {ווער פֿיר זיך אַליין בעטעט פֿאָנגט היער אַן.}׃

כאחת should be ונברך. כאחד is usually פֿאָנגט. ונבריך represents the German fängt. In the Hebrew-lettered German of Mendelssohn and Baer, אֶ is used for both ä and ö. So this is an actual error: פֿאָנגט should be פֿאֶנגט. This orthographic system doesn't deal with umlauts well. The same character is used for both ä and ö; for ü, they simply used a yod, as here in פֿיר (für). (Mississippi Fred MacDowell recently reproduced a manuscript of a letter to Julius Fuerst [Fürst] with an umlauted vav in the greeting. It appears in the last word in the first line of the manuscript reproduced in this post.)

I point out these errors only because they show that we shouldn't assume that the slashed and italicized בענטען/בענשען is correct in German. To me, with the combination of a smeared character, a difficult font, and my eyes, the fourth letter is ambiguous. If the fourth letter is a shin, then we have בענשען (benshen) here--a non-Germanic Yiddish word. If it is a tet, there are two possibilities: (1) the tet is supposed to be a shin, in which case it would be a misspelling of בענשען; or (2) the first nun could be superfluous, in which case it would be a misspelling of בעטען (beten), German for "to pray." Given that the German following the zimmun has the correctly spelled word בעטעט (betet) (3rd sing. present of beten), I'm prepared to textually emend the German introduction to

רבותי וויר וואָללען בעטען! ׃

רבותי, wir wollen beten!

(But only if we assume it's German, which we're not assuming. See below.)

Wir wollen beten! means "We want to pray," or, less likely, "We intend to pray." (Contrary to what your high school German teacher and mine taught us, wollen doesn't only mean "to want"; it can also mean "to intend," according to the big dictionary I recently looked it up in. But our teachers' main point, that it doesn't indicate future tense, was correct.) Be that as it may, I'm not prepared to say that "Wir wollen beten!" is an incorrect way to say "Let's pray"--my knowledge of German is far too limited to have any confidence about that. But I am reasonably confident that a more conventional way of saying it would be "Beten wir!"

So why would Dr. Baer have written "Wir wollen beten!" instead? Possibly for the same reason that רבותי appears in an allegedly German phrase--it's a verbatim translation (except for the first word, which isn't translated) of the familiar Yiddish

רבותי מיר וועללען בענשען! ׃

And it's possible that my emendation to beten was incorrect. After all, it was based on the assumption that the phrase is German. But it may not be. Perhaps Dr. Baer was as reluctant to part with בענשען as he was to part with רבותי. Or with the Yiddish zimmun in general.


Besides the question of whether the German is really German, another interesting matter is why some of the instructions are translated into German and some are not. The mezammen is told to say "Let's benedict" in German, and the lone eater is told in German where to begin benedicting, but the instructions to the mezammen to say "Elokeinu" only in the presence of a minyan are in Hebrew only. If it's assumed that some users of the siddur will need the German for "Let's benedict," why not also assume they need to be told in German when to change the wording if there's a minyan?


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

maybe it's not German, nor the Yiddish you're familiar with, but Western Yiddish instead?

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Great post. I have nothing to add, except that it has been observed that the line between German and Yiddish - in Germany - was rather porous.

>The German, whether or not it's meant to be uttered, is in a font that I haven't seen before and is very hard on my old eyes.

This font was (supposedly!) called Vayberteitsch, because it was reserved for Yiddish (or German), and that was the lower (or woman's) literature. One finds this font used well into the 19th century. It looks like a hybrid of ktav Rashi and the Ashkenazi cursive, which is the common Hebrew cursive today.

Michael Koplow said...

Hedgings and full disclosures and caveats in boldface.

Steg: This is possible, but I'm pretty sure it's intended to be German. I think R' Baer was one of those who didn't particularly like Yiddish on principle. So even if this is a different variety of Yiddish, that would be consistent with my point. But R' Baer has an entire section in this Germanic patois and unpleasant font, entitled "Dinim ueber Zizis, Tefillin, Tefillah usw. in deutscher Sprache bearbeitet" (p. 20). (Or should that be "Zizit"?)

Fred: Thank you for the kind words.

I didn't know about the porous membrane. Unless you're talking about the Germanized spellings that appear in some Yiddish writing, such as heh where German has a silent aitch.

I suspect the watery German got into the salty Yiddish and not vice versa. For example, I can imagine a vort in Yiddish beginning with "Meine Damen und Herren," but I can't imagine a lecture to the faculty at the university beginning with "Raboysay."

I had heard of "Vayberteitsch," but I thought it referred to Yiddish as a language and not to any particular typeface.

Chajm said...

I think you'll have to consider, that Baer (and the printer press) stood in Hesse, so he was speaking a strong german accent called "hessian" and that is what the transcribed language in his siddur sounds like.
In the hessian dialect you'll find complex changes to vowels /au/ to /aa/. "auch" for example is pronounced "aach". "Er fregt" is a absolutely correct in this context in this accent.

The post was from 2008, but it is timeless…