SHATNES.

Today’s NY Times has one of the most charming articles I’ve read in a while, “If You Build a Restaurant, He Will Not Come,” by Howard Kaplan. (I’ve actually gone to the trouble of getting a weblog-safe link, so that people reading this blog in ages yet to come, changing their genes on a daily basis and flying through interstellar space in personalized quantum bubbles, can still read this article without paying a fee.) It begins with the accidental discovery that Ira Glustein had never eaten in a restaurant, and goes on to a funny and touching family history that I have no intention of spoiling for you. What I want to tell you about is Mr. Glustein’s profession: he is a shatnes tester.

In Jewish law, it is forbidden to wear a garment containing wool and linen. In Hebrew, this unholy blend is called shatnes.
In Mr. Glustein’s words: “My vocation is shatnes — removing linen from wool clothing or wool from linen clothing. The majority of the shatnes that we find today is in men’s expensive suits, usually in the collar. It’s easy to remove by an expert, and it’s just a small tailoring job to repair. It doesn’t change the beauty or quality of the suit.”
Mr. Glustein said many Jews, devout ones included, have never heard of shatnes, even though it is mentioned in two places in the Torah and is no less binding than the dietary laws. A shatnes garment is equivalent to tref, or food unfit for a kosher table.

I’ve delved fairly deeply into Judaica at various points of my life, and I had never heard the word shatnes (more accurately shatnez, and yet more accurately sha’atnez), so I thought I’d tell you about it. (I did know about the prohibition of mixing fibers, but I didn’t know the word, and we’re all about the words here at Languagehat.)


So go, read the article already! Do I have to tell you everything? Go in good health, but go!

Comments

  1. I had the faint hope that a Shatner might be the term for one who tests for shatnez. No, but there did turn out to be a connection between Captain Kirk, etymology, and garments: see the Schattner website.

  2. A friend of mine was doing doctoral research on Yiddish in one of the Ultra-Orthodox communities in Jerusalem. She went to all kinds of religious lectures and extracted amazing examples. One mayse went something like this: “so you know, they sent a spaceship to outer space, and it exploded. They investigated the reasons and guess what they found? The seats in that spaceship were all shatnez”. Sorry, I don’t retain the Yiddish 🙂
    BTW my email server collapsed. No dinner indeed.

  3. A wonderful article, really. The singer in my band is Orthodox Jewish, and one of his Yeshiva age kids is learning shatnes testing. It’s a pity you never heard the word – it opens up a whole new world of Jewish humor.
    I’ll have to dig up the reference, but I believe it is one of the older loan words in Hebrew, from ancient Egyptian, in fact. Reb Berger could probably weigh in on this.

  4. I hope he does. And Renee, I’m very sorry to hear about your server!

  5. I tried to comment last night, and I thought I did, but apparently not. “Shatnes” for one reason or other became a big deal in the Orthodox community in the early ’70s in LA. I ripped down a whole bunch of “You’re going to Hell” because you mix flax and wool signs down — I rip down those kinds of signs whenever I come across them no matter the religion or denomination — and I probably have some of those signs packed away somewhere.
    I think “sha’atnez” is overdoing it. By a long shot.
    Arne

  6. Isn’t it a problem that they took a picture of his tuna sandwich?

  7. The always-indispensable talmid-khokhem (Torah scholar) Jacob Milgrom, in his Anchor Bible commentary to Leviticus 17-22, has the following to say on the etymology of sa’atnez. (In his notation, the s has a hat on it, the t has a dot beneath it, and the e has a macron. If I could write in Hebrew it’d be easier! Also, I’m not giving full bibiliographic references. I’m not sure I fully understand his terminology [lexical gloss? what other kind is there?] either.)
    The etymology of this untranslatable word is a subject of speculation. Albright [. . .] suggests that it is of Egyptian origin: *s’d-ng
    Also worth mentioning (says me, not Millgrom) is the rabbinic (folk? aggadic?) etymology given in Mishnah Killayim, according to which the word is made up of three words of two letters each, meaning, in sum, something woven, tied, and re-woven (or something like that; I’ve forgotten the exact gloss).

  8. [The paragraph didn’t come out. I’ll try again:]
    The always-indispensable talmid-khokhem (Torah scholar) Jacob Milgrom, in his Anchor Bible commentary to Leviticus 17-22, has the following to say on the etymology of sa’atnez. (In his notation, the s has a hat on it, the t has a dot beneath it, and the e has a macron. If I could write in Hebrew it’d be easier! Also, I’m not giving full bibiliographic references. I’m not sure I fully understand his terminology [lexical gloss? what other kind is there?] either.)
    “The etymology of this untranslatable word is a subject of speculation. Albright [. . .] suggests that it is of Egyptian origin: *s’d-ng s’d ‘cut’ + ng ‘thread’. The LXX renders kibdelos ‘woven falsely.’ Gorg justifies the LXX on the basis of an Egyptian etymology: either sht ‘weave’ + n’dz false or s’dz ‘falsify volume/weight’ + N3’fabric’ (Coptic). It is probably a lexical gloss (Elliger, Fishbane) clarifying the meaning of ‘fabric of two kinds of yarn,’ and is itself still in need of explication: “combining wool and linen (Deut 22:11). Most likely, the term sa’atnez, well known in the time of H, fell into desuetude by the time of D, and therefore had to be explained.”
    Also worth mentioning (says me, not Millgrom) is the rabbinic (folk? aggadic?) etymology given in Mishnah Killayim, according to which the word is made up of three words of two letters each, meaning, in sum, something woven, tied, and re-woven (or something like that; I’ve forgotten the exact gloss).

  9. Thanks, very interesting information. As for the rabbinic etymology, would it have anything to do with this note from my “sha’atnez” link above?
    (2) How can one word be used for two different Derashos? The answer is that the Halachah of “Shu’a, Tavi, v’Noz” is learned from the fact that the Torah did not use the normal word “Kil’ayim,” but instead used the unusual word “Sha’atnez” (Rashi 5b). The word also teaches to be Doresh Semuchin, since the Torah used the word “Sha’atnez” and did not say outright “Shu’a, Tavi, v’Noz” (TOSFOS 5b DH Kulah).

  10. Yes, sorry I didn’t see that earlier. That’s the one I mean. And I was mistaken about the two-letter words: “sha’atnez” in rabbinic literature is glossed as an acronym for three words, the ones listed in your citation.
    In the classic Bible commentators (Ibn Ezra, Rashi et al.) there is an inter-generational dustup over whether these words actually mean what the putative gloss says they do. There is a fairly common practice, in the Bible commentators, taken over from the early midrash, of adducing etymons that have never been used that way in Rabbinic Hebrew. This has the interesting side effect of creating, or bringing into active usage, these previously non-existent words…

  11. Something as harmless and inconsequential as a semi-colon…

  12. The Amish and the Hasids are wonderful people, but nuts. I agree with Phillip Roth, but won’t repeat his words.
    What about kosher pickles, BTW? Salt solution, no vinegar. Where is that one.

  13. creating, or bringing into active usage, these previously non-existent words
    Much as the universe itself was created. I love this stuff. I’m reminded of an Avram Davidson story involving gematria, but I can’t remember the name at the moment.

  14. Is there s connection between Yiddish work for ghost (shatn) and shatnes?

  15. Yiddish shotn ‘shadow’ is a Germanic word with no relation to the biblical Hebrew sha’atnez.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    German Schatten “shadow, shade”; the e is silent, and the a comes out as [ɒ], [ɔ] and the like in southeastern dialects.

  17. zizka-2004 (John Emerson): Kosher pickles are kosher in the sense ‘associated with Jews’ rather than ‘in conformity with Jewish law’. They are made with garlic and dill added to the brine (not vinegar).

  18. marie-lucie says:

    The injunction against “mixing milk and meat” at the same meal is supposed to be prohibiting a ritual performed by another religion. Is the “shatnes” prohibition similarly based on a foreign custom, or something else? For instance, linen can be washed in boiling water without losing its properties, but wool can only be washed carefully by hand in cold or warm water, so mixing the two in the same fabric would pose a problem.

  19. Related but not identical. Linsey-woolsey is used for the most holy purposes: the ritual clothes worn by Jewish priests, and today in the fringes of the shawl worn by all male Jews. Using it for secular purposes is a desecration.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks JC. But what makes it so sacred?

  21. Perhaps it originally symbolized the fusion of farmers (who grew flax) and nomads (who herded sheep) that constituted the Israelites. I don’t think anyone really knows.

  22. The prohibition on mixed fibers occurs together with other prohibitions on “mixed things”: cross-hybridized species, planting different grains together, or plowing with different animals yoked together.

    The use of mixed fibers in ritual clothing is an exception to the general rule.

  23. B. J. Noonan (2016), Unraveling Hebrew שַׁעַטְנֵז [šaʿaṭnēz], J. Biblical Lit., 135, 95:

    Hebrew שַׁעַטְנֵז [šaʿaṭnēz], which refers to a mixed fabric, occurs only in Lev 19:19 and Deut 22:11 in prohibitions of various mixtures. Its meaning is clear, but its etymology has hitherto eluded a convincing explanation. I propose that, as a word denoting a hybrid of materials, שַׁעַטְנֵז [šaʿaṭnēz] is a lexical blend. Its two source words are *שַׁאַת [šaʾat] and *עִנְז [ʿinz], the early Hebrew forms of the Semitic words for “ewe” (*ṯaʾat) and “goat”, (*ʿanz/*ʿinz), respectively. The resulting blend originally referred to a mixture of sheep and goat wool but was subsequently generalized to designate any mixed fabric, which is precisely what שַׁעַטְנֵז [šaʿaṭnēz] means in Lev 19:19 and Deut 22:11.

    Noonan proceeds to argue for the chain *šaʾat-ʿinz > *šaʾatinz > *šaʿatinz > *šaʿaṭinz > *šaʿaṭniz > *šaʿaṭnēz. I am not sure about all the steps, but it’s a better etymology than the proposed Egyptian loan.

  24. The prohibition on mixed fibers occurs together with other prohibitions on “mixed things”: cross-hybridized species, planting different grains together, or plowing with different animals yoked together.

    Never mind religion, that last one just sounds extremely impractical. (Different heights, different paces…) But I’ve never ploughed with animals, so I don’t know.

  25. I am not sure about all the steps, but it’s a better etymology than the proposed Egyptian loan.

    Yeah, I’m automatically dubious of any etymology that proposes a blend of two starred forms, but other than that, it’s certainly attractive.

  26. Rodger C says:

    The injunction against “mixing milk and meat” at the same meal is supposed to be prohibiting a ritual performed by another religion.

    My understanding is that it was an extension of the prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, and that this was a Canaanite delicacy that the Hebrews regarded as overrefined in a hideous way.

  27. David Marjanović says:

    Rumor has it that that wasn’t a delicacy but an oracle method and was outlawed as incompatible with monotheism.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    I didn’t hear about the “oracle method” but I understood it was something religious or at least ritual, not just a favourite food.

  29. Yeah, I’m automatically dubious of any etymology that proposes a blend of two starred forms, but other than that, it’s certainly attractive.
    That’s more excusable when you have an opaque word in an early source, but it’s still a problem. ‘inz is unquestionably the earlier form of Hebrew ‘ēz, but it’s odd that *šaʾat ‘ewe’ would leave no later trace.

    I am also struck by the proposed copulative noun compound “ewe-goat”. This kind of compound is rare in Hebrew, and I believe in Semitic in general. Noonan does not address this in the paper.

  30. When the reason (if there ever was one) for a scriptural prohibition is unknown, one of the default hypotheses is that people throw out is that it is prohibiting an earlier pagan practice.

  31. Just as unknown nouns are always “ritual objects.”

  32. No, surely artifacts of unknown purpose are always “ritual objects”. Unknown nouns are always the names of gods.

    And anatomical structures of unknown purpose are always connected with mating displays.

  33. Quite right, I was too hasty.

  34. January First-of-May says:

    the prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk

    My Jewish grandmother explained the prohibition in question to me as being technically against boiling a calf in its mother’s milk – with the caveat that, for modern mass-produced milk (or meat, for that matter), it’s impossible to be sure either way, so you’d better not combine meat and milk at all.

    …Incidentally, does anyone have a more complete list of English meat names of Anglo-French origin?
    I know that cow meat is beef, sheep meat is mutton, pig meat is pork, calf meat is veal, and deer meat is venison (though that last one is getting somewhat obsolete), but, as far as I can tell, lamb meat is just “lamb”, and I have no idea whether there are similar “fancy” names for any other kinds of meat (such as goat, or chicken).

    (P.S. I kept having this comment refused. Any ideas why? There isn’t any Russian in it…)

  35. Sometimes Akismet just decides it doesn’t like you. I had a recurring problem where all my posts would end up in the bit bucket for a week or so and then start working again — which I fixed by changing my ‘byline’ and become original; it hasn’t happened since. (/me knocks on wood).

    (For better or worse the developers of Akismet provide no knobs for blog owners to adjust and no explanations for its decisions, so like an iPhone, if you want it you gotta like the way it works. Maybe it’s an AI that’s learning all about our bad sides by reading spam in preparation for the ultimate fake news campaign).

  36. deer meat is venison (though that last one is getting somewhat obsolete)

    Not sure what you mean. The word certainly isn’t obsolete; it’s the standard way to refer to it (nobody says “deer meat”). The thing itself isn’t eaten as widely as it once was, but I’m not sure “obsolete” is the right way to express it — I’d say “out of fashion.” Still delicious, though!

  37. There is chevon.

    Wallis, one of the first to observe this in writing (Scott’s Gurth and Wamba discussing it in the 12th century being probably an anachronism), also had brawn.

  38. Fowl, though it’s mostly obsolete.

    I think eating dinde on Thanksgiving sounds swell. Or would it be anglicized to dindy?

  39. The most appealing explanation I know for the calf/mother’s milk prohibition is simply that it appears callous. This goes together with the prohibition on slaughtering an animal and its offspring on the same day (Lev. 22:28).

  40. >>This goes together with the prohibition on slaughtering an animal and its offspring on the same day (Lev. 22:28).

    And chasing away the mother bird from the nest before taking an egg…

  41. Re fowl : That’s maybe fancy, but it’s not Anglo-French; it’s the Germanic word for “bird”.

  42. Guh! Indeed.

  43. The French bird word in English would be poultry but it’s not used for the meat I think.

    (Poultry is what a poulter sells. L pullus (cognate with foal and root cognate with few) already meant a young animal, with an extra diminutive we got F poulet = ‘chicken’).

  44. The Oxford Historical Thesaurus lists the long-obsolete pullen and geline. For horsemeat, there is chevaline, proposed in Algernon Sidney Bicknell’s Hippophagy: The Horse as Food for Man (1868; which see).

  45. No, surely artifacts of unknown purpose are always “ritual objects”.
    Relevant.

  46. Excellent!

  47. Hudson Valley says:

    Y: “Dindy” would be dandy!

    Lars (T.O.O.), RE: poultry,
    Dictionary.com says, “poul·try noun, domestic fowl, such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese; the flesh of chickens and other domestic fowl as food.”

    – Around here, it’s a fairly normal way of referring to more than one type of food bird (dead or alive), just as “hosiery” covers both socks + stockings.

    One discussion at Englishforums.com suggests,
    Fowl is used most often when discussing hunting or dealing with game birds. I don’t recall anyone ever saying they are going to hunt poultry! Poultry is always used when referencing domestic birds, and never in connection with wild game.

    Poultry is most often used when discussing groceries or cooking domestic birds.

    Fowl is only used in cooking when discussing cooking game birds.

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