Volume 50 Number 25
                    Produced: Mon Nov 28  5:38:30 EST 2005

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Hebrew "Source" of English Words (3)
         [Nathan Lamm, Robert Israel, Yehoshua Steinberg]
         [Martin Stern]
Yeridas Hadoros
         [Bernard Raab]


From: Nathan Lamm <nelamm18@...>
Date: Sun, 27 Nov 2005 06:34:49 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Hebrew "Source" of English Words

I'm afraid "upshot" was the straw that broke the camel's back. All such
assumptions depend on a willingness to ignore much of what we know to be
historically true. Let's take English, for example:

-We know that Modern English is directly descended from Middle English,
a language spoken in England from about 1066 to about 1500. The various
twists given to words to make them fit Hebrew origins are hard to
perform on Middle English words, as the language is spelled and
pronounced somewhat differently than the Modern equivalent. For example,
it's difficult for a Modern English speaker to read the Middle English
Chaucer without extensive notes. (The same difficulty does not occur, at
least not in the same way, with the Modern English Shakespeare.) And yet
Modern English derived directly from Middle English, with no Hebrew
influence. It came from the masses, not the clergy (who, in any event,
spoke Latin, not Hebrew). And there were no Jews in England at the time.

-Middle English is derived from Old English, spoken by Germanic
(Anglo-Saxon) invaders of England from about 600. Middle English came
into being by a heavy importation of Norman French words and usages, but
remains a Germanic language. Norman French, of course, is a corruption
of Latin. Latin was well developed by the Romans well before there was
any contact with Jews (who, at the time, spoke Aramaic anyway).

-Old English is a Germanic tongue which is unintelligible to Modern
English readers without special training. None of these "derivations"
from the Hebrew would be the same on those words.

-The vast majority of etymologies you'd see in a dictionary are not
guesses, or even educated guesses.  They are certainly not motivated by
some mythical 19th-Century German anti-Semitic plot of lexiographers. We
know them because we know how language developed; how the mouth is
shaped, leading to sound changes; because we have a historical record of
word usage, such as written use of a word with one spelling which leads
to use of the same word with another spelling. And because we have
common sense: "Upshot" is clearly composed of two English words, "up"
and "shot." I sincerely hope that the poster who suggested the word
"peshat" as an origin was joking, but such "derivations" are common in
claims such as these.

Once, in a Bible class in YU, I mentioned "The Word."  My professor, a
renowned authority and religious Jew, replied that the author of that
book had done more to set back serious study of language [among
religious Jews, I assume] than anyone else. People saw this "scholarly"
book, saw that it confirmed what they always "knew" as well as
satisfying some inner need for proof of Jewish superiority, and seized
upon its claims. Nevertheless, the book has remained on my shelf all
these years. Reading what it has wrought among the posters to this list,
and knowing of the falsehoods in its "haskamot," and although this is
seldom my practice, I'm now sorely tempted to throw it into the trash.

Nachum Lamm

From: Robert Israel <israel@...>
Date: Sat, 26 Nov 2005 19:53:49 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: Hebrew "Source" of English Words

Lisa Liel <lisa@...> wrote:
> Exactly.  Two of the ones that really irk me are "earth" and "upshot".
> The Arabic cognate of "aretz" is "ardh", with an emphatic "dh".  There
> should be no reasonable question but that the Semitic word came before
> the Germanic "erde", but go find a dictionary that even mentions the
> Semitic antecendent.

Not so obvious that it "came before", but in any case, how do you propose
it got from Arabic to the Germanic languages?

> And "upshot".  You all know what the word means, right?  It's the bottom
> line, or summation.  But if you look it up in a dictionary, you'll find
> an attempt to relate it to the final shot in certain archery
> competitions in England in the middle ages.  When it's clearly from the
> Hebrew/Aramaic "pshat".

Clearly?  I don't think so.

I'm not a philologist, but I must protest that determining word origins
is not just a matter of personal prejudices.  Whatever data is available
is used: in particular, documentary evidence that a certain word was
used in a certain way in a certain language at a particular time.  In
particular, the Oxford English Dictionary has extensive lists of
quotations for many of its words, going back as far as possible in
English (including Middle English and Old English).

Let's take the case of "upshot".  The OED's earliest sources for this
are from the 16th century, where it definitely does mean a final shot in
a match at archery, often used figuratively:

  1531 Privy Purse Exp. Hen. VIII (1827) 143 Item [paid] to the same Coton
  for one up shotte that he wanne of the kinges grace, vjs. viijd. 1575
  LANEHAM Let. (1871) 54 Wel, to this number of biniteez, take ye one mo
  for an vpshot, & heer an eend. 1589 NASHE Anat. Absurd. Ep. Ded. 4 Euery man
  shotte his bolte, but this was the vpshot, that England afforded many
  mediocrities. 1597 HOOKER Eccl. Pol. V. lxv. 12 As for their last vpshot
  of all towards this marke, they are of opinion [etc.]. 1614 JACKSON Creed
  III. i. 13 As it were for an vp-shot to all the fooles thunderbolts they
  had let flie before. 1618 BOLTON Florus (1636) 56 That event which vertue
  was about to have given heere, for an upshot, or clozing Victory, fortune

The meaning "The result, issue, or conclusion (of some course of action,
etc.)" comes somewhat later, and is in frequent use from about 1830.
The earliest quotation given for this meaning comes from Shakespeare, by
the way:

  1604 SHAKES. Ham. V. ii. 395 So shall you heare..Of accidentall
  iudgements,..And in this vpshot, purposes mistooke.

Robert Israel                                <israel@...>
Department of Mathematics        http://www.math.ubc.ca/~israel 
University of British Columbia            Vancouver, BC, Canada

From: Yehoshua Steinberg <ysteinberg@...>
Date: Sun, 27 Nov 2005 06:20:38 -0500
Subject: RE: Hebrew "Source" of English Words

From: Lisa Liel <lisa@...>
>Exactly.  Two of the ones that really irk me are "earth" and "upshot".
>The Arabic cognate of "aretz" is "ardh", with an emphatic "dh".  There
>should be no reasonable question but that the Semitic word came before
>the Germanic "erde", but go find a dictionary that even mentions the
>Semitic antecendent.

Not unreasonable.

>And "upshot".  You all know what the word means, right?  It's the bottom
>line, or summation.  But if you look it up in a dictionary, you'll find
>an attempt to relate it to the final shot in certain archery
>competitions in England in the middle ages.  When it's clearly from the
>Hebrew/Aramaic "pshat".

Here you may be approaching the borderline, and I'm not sure you'd quite
get through customs.  The root peh-shin-tet in the Bible generally means
skinning/undressing/spreading out. This was adapted (a process known as
"hash'ala") by Rabbinic Hebrew to refer to explanations or resolutions
to questions, apparently for similar reasons to the Code of Jewish Law
being called the "Set Table," i.e. the solution is apparent and
available for all observers, stripped of cloak.

IMHO, it is unlikely that Western languages would have been infuenced by
Talmudic colloquialisms, so in this case it certainly seems reasonable
to assume that the root is "shot" and "up" is a prefix.  (As an aside,
I'd point out that peh-shin-tet in its "spreading" meaning is quite
close to the root shin-vav-tet [or shin-tet in Menachem], meaning
"spread out", as in e.g.  Num. 11:8. If so, this would be a perfect
example of the ingenious way the Holy Tongue maintains the kernel of
meaning inherent in the underlying biliteral root, with a nuance being
modified by the addition or subtraction of a letter to that root).

While we're at it, two more examples that lead me to the conclusion that
the editors of American Heritage must have been on a shoe-string budget,
precluding the purchase of a Hebrew Bible.

Middle English holwe, holowe, from holgh, hole, burrow (influenced by
hole, hollow), from Old English holh.

Middle English halwen, from Old English halgian.

I would propose a collection be taken up to buy them a Bible, and if
necessary to pay for the overtime needed to pay for the effort in
opening respectively to e.g. Deut. 21:1 ("challal" - corpse [devoid of
life and hollow], Is. 53:5 ("mechulal" - pierced); ( Lev. 19:24
("hillulim" - praise) or II Sam. 14:25 ("lehallel" - to praise).

Yehoshua Steinberg <ysteinberg@...>


From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Sun, 27 Nov 2005 10:15:01 +0000
Subject: Re: Minyan

I have been following the correspondence on the need to daven with a
minyan over the last few digests with an increasing sense of
dismay. Whether it is a chiyuv (obligation) or not was the initial
question raised. From there the discussion seemed to divert to
questioning whether it has very much intrinsic value and should
therefore be pushed aside for almost any reason.

Even if the Mechaber had meant by using the term 'yishtadel' rather than
'mechuyav', he did not imply that it is of little value, merely that it
was not an absolute obligation where serious difficulties are present -
unlike the actual davenning which must be done except in
life-threatening situations. Wherever possible one should try to arrange
one's activities so that one can daven with a minyan but this may not
always be possible, for example weekday minchah in the winter for those
who do not work in Jewish areas.

Women are obviously exempt from attending a minyan and so might be
expected to put it on a somewhat different position on their scale of
values, as was evident from some contributions to this debate. As a
result some would seem to wish to prevent their husbands from so doing
in cases of borderline need which might be considered being a mikhshol
lifnei iver.

There is no consideration of selfishness in attending a minyan whether
one needs it for one's own personal purposes like saying kaddish or
not. The basic value of davenning with a minyan is not personal at all
but an attempt to give greater glory to HKBH - Berov am hadrat Melekh
(the glory of the King is magnified by the greater multitude gathered to
honour Him).

Martin Stern


From: Bernard Raab <beraab@...>
Date: Sun, 27 Nov 2005 03:34:57 -0500
Subject: RE: Yeridas Hadoros

>From: Sam Gamoran
>I remember hearing a lecture (sorry I don't remember where or when) in
>which the speaker posited that the decline of each generation is a
>lesser capability to contribute to new Torah knowledge.  However, each
>generation makes a positive contribution so that the body of total
>knowledge is always growing.
>Furthermore although each generation contributes less it knows more in
>total than the previous generation.  For this reason, halachik decisions
>are rendered following the achronim (later decisors) rather than the
>rishonim (earlier decisors).  If there was a possibility that the total
>body of knowledge might be declining (forgotten?) then posqim would have
>to follow the earliest known opinions rather than the latest ones.
>At the same time this limits the ability to overturn a previous
>generation's decision because they were more capable even if less

This is a nice theoretical rendering, but the real reason that later
decisions take precedence over earlier ones is that halacha must relate
to the world around us, which is constantly changing. Just one example:

The growth of Bais Yaakov schools for girls in the early 20th century
was in violation of centuries of earlier prohibitions on the teaching of
Torah to girls. But the availability of secular education to girls
became widespread in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and so it
was recognized by a very few with deep understanding that unless girls
were allowed to study Torah they would be lost to Yiddishkeit forever,
and this would of course spell the end of Yiddishkeit in general.

We have survived as a people because we have been able to adapt to
changing circumstances. That is why the reaction of the Lakewood Yeshiva
world to the internet is so interesting. It signifies a desire to return
to the "shtetl" mentality: to maintain an isolated but well-controlled
community. This is truly a step backwards in time, or at best, an effort
to keep from going forward. But the shtetle was isolated not by choice
but by the era. In an era of easy communication across all barriers of
time and place, can one community really isolate irself? And we should
not forget that the shtetle was inevitably accommpanied by a crushing
poverty, due at least in part by its isolation from the general economy.

Ironically perhaps, one of the most visible frum businesses in Lakewood
is an international telephone service run by Oorah as a non-profit kiruv
organization which provides jobs and parnassa to many frum men and
women.  I doubt that they can survive without use of the internet, as is
true of almost any business today. How this will all shake out will be
interesting to observe.

b'shalom--Bernie R.


End of Volume 50 Issue 25