Friday, September 18, 2009

Word of the day

If you don't subscribe to Oxford English Dictionary's "word of the day," why not?

Today's word of the day is "tashlik."

tashlik, tashlich

(tæʃ'lik) [Heb. taʃ'līk 'thou shalt cast', future Hiphil of ʃālak to cast.]

A symbolical custom, popularly in vogue among Jews, of repairing, on New Year's Day, to a stream of running water, and repeating certain biblical verses indicative of sin and forgiveness, specially Micah vii. 19, 'Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea'.

1880 Jewish World 30 Sept., Tashlich...a simple fad of mediæval rabbinism, of late date and origin, and wholly unknown to our ancient sages. 1902 Daily Chron. 2 Oct. 7/1 They have imported with them from their native ghettos the singular practice known as 'Tashlikh', which is performed by the side of a stream of running water or on the seashore... A favourite resort for the purpose of 'Tashlikh' is the Custom House Quay, and the front walk of the Tower.

A few things are noteworthy here. First, although the OED gives "tashlik" as the primary spelling, it isn't used in either of the illustrative quotations. Second, the vowel given for the first syllable is æ, pronounced like the vowel in "back." Makes sense--these are the fellow countrypeople of the BBC announcers, who talk about Nicarægua. Third, the person writing for the 1880 Jewish World may have been right, but it's the place to meet and greet. Fourth, in the etymology, the OED uses a symbol regarding vowel length that I omitted since I can't figure out how to reproduce it. It looks like two solid triangles, one on top of the other, pointing at each other but not touching. If any of you can tell me how to reproduce that, I'd appreciate it.

The entire staff of Consider the Source wish all of our readers a shænah tovah--a healthy and happy year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The power of gematria

Regarding this first item, please save your superior comments until you've read the whole post.

This last Shabbat I was trying to figure out some gematriatical wisdom from the name of a recent bahur bar mitzvah named Refael Mordechai. (As it turns out, my son's Hebrew name is Refael Mordechai. Is this a coincidence? If you ask, you must be an apikoros--there is no such thing as coincidence. So it must be a miracle.) Anyhow, I calculated that "Refael" has a gematriatical value of 301. And 301 = 7 x 43. The 7 was easy--that's the number of days in a week. And 43--well, I couldn't get much out of 43. But then I decided to think of some phrase that has the initials mem-gimmel or gimmel-mem (which spells the Hebrew word for "also," but that didn't help much). Not being able to think of anything in Hebrew, I turned to Yiddish. Menshlich...menshlich what? Finally I gave it up and settled for "menshlich guy." So there it is--Refael Mordechai is a menshlich guy every day of the week. This was at the 3rd se'udah at the shul, and everyone there was very impressed. The power of gematria.


A month or two ago, it occurred to me that next year will be shenat Lubavitch--5770--which has nothing to do with the theme of this post. And then it occurred to me that the gematria for 770 is tav-shin-ayin. And tav-shin-ayin spells the Hebrew word for 9. Therefore we learn that 770 = 9, from which it follows that 761 = 0, from which anything follows that you want to follow. The power of gematria.


At night on motzaei Shabbat, lying awake while waiting for the alarm to awaken me for Selihot, I was reviewing my gematriatical sermon on the name "Refael." It occurred to me that I didn't need to rely on the English "menshlich guy." "Guter mensh," "groyser mensh," "gantser mensch." And on further review, I realized that the correct gematria for "Refael" is 311, not 301. But I got a vort out of 301, and nobody challenged it, even though the whole basis for it was incorrect. Herein lies the true power of gematria.