THE SHOCHET SHECHTS.

A recent New York Times Magazine focused on food, and one of the stories is “Kosher Wars,” by Samantha M. Shapiro. It starts out talking about Andy Kastner, a rabbinical student who has been “studying how to slaughter animals according to Jewish law.” Shapiro explains the words shechita, ‘ritual slaughter,’ and shochtim, ‘ritual slaughterers’ (the singular, which she uses later without italics or explanation, is shochet). A couple of paragraphs later, she writes: “He has been trying to set up a grass-fed-kosher-meat co-op in his neighborhood; he says he hopes to travel to a local farm and shecht the animals himself.”
I was quite startled by this, since shecht is not an English verb except in the variant of the language used by Orthodox Jews familiar with Yiddish, in which ‘to slaughter’ is shekhtn. (A Google search on “to shecht” will illustrate the point; the first hit is “If Nick wanted to shecht a creature having all the proper simanim, what should his chalaf not have?”) What startled me more, when I looked the words up in my trusty Weinreich, was to find that the nouns are written with the letter khes, whereas the fricative in the verb shekhtn is written with khof (the fricative variant of kof). What this means is that the nouns and verb are of different origin, and a moment’s reflection reminded me that the German verb ‘to slaughter’ is schlachten (which is of course cognate with slaughter; both are from extensions of the Proto-Germanic root *slah- that gives slay as well); I presume the Germanic verb lost its l under the influence of the Hebrew words, so similar in meaning. While not as startling as the fact that Hebrew ish איש ‘man’ and isha אשה ‘woman’ are unrelated (via Anatoly), I thought it was interesting enough to share.

Comments

  1. That’s a coincidence – I have translated three Germany legal texts on Schächten (halal or kosher slaughter) in recent months. The first was a court decision, and the others were talks on animal welfare. You can find Schächten in Grimm’s dictionary – it says it comes from the Hebrew.
    http://germazope.uni-trier.de/Projects/DWB

  2. For “startled”, surely you meant to write “shocked” (or “shocht”).

  3. The commonly accepted explanation is that “shekhtn” is indeed related to shochet (shoykhet in Yiddish), but is one of a few handfuls of Hebrew-origin Yiddish words that are spelled phonetically, and in Yiddish phonetic spelling, only khof is used for the sound /x/. Other such phonetically-spelled Hebrew words are meker (eraser) and opmeken (to erase) from the root mem-khes-kuf, and tomer (lest), from the root alef-mem-reysh. Conversely, there are a few non-Hebrew origin Yiddish words that are spelled as if they were from Hebrew, such as khoyzek (mockery).

  4. Very interesting—I did not know that.

  5. The dialetic used in the “If Nick” sentence is usually referred to as “Yeshivish”, because its usage is a sort of status marker among yeshivah bochurim.

  6. A.J.P. Crown says:

    How do you mean, a status marker?

  7. I presume that the more Hebrew/Yiddish words you can jam into an English sentence, the more impressive a yeshiva bokher you are.

  8. Wrongshore says:

    This is off topic (though tangential) — do any LH readers know how to write or even type in Aramaic, and would be willing to assist me in designing a ketubah?
    I hope this is not too intrusive a request.

  9. John Emerson says:

    Wrongshore’s request was suggested by me, and everyone be nice to him!

  10. John Emerson says:

    Wrongshore’s request was suggested by me, and everyone be nice to him!

  11. Ketubah? Would that be a Shephardic Jewish wedding contract?
    http://www.galleryjudaica.com/main/ketubot.htm

  12. A.J.P. Crown says:

    He’s not from Minnesota, is he? My Aramaic is not for sale.

  13. Not intrusive at all, and I hope someone can help you.

  14. Wrongshore says:

    Nijma, a ketubah is a Jewish wedding contract, not specific to Sephardim.

  15. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Best of luck, Wrongshore. Sorry I was rude, it’s John’s influence. Needless to say I’m too stupid to speak Aramaic, though I wish I did.

  16. Ish and isha are unrelated?!
    That’s fascinating, but I’m a bit disappointed that the linked pages don’t really justify the claim; they seem to take for granted that ish is from ‘-sh-sh, so when they show that isha is from ‘-n-sh, they act as though that settles the matter. I, however, had always taken for granted that isha, anashim, and nashim are from ‘-n-sh, and had had no problem assuming that ish was as well.
    I’ll have to look into this further.

  17. Please report back if you make any discoveries!

  18. Hi Ran -
    It’s an interesting point; the same question was raised by Mark in the comment on my post. I think I missed that theory because I didn’t find anyone (besides Gesenius) that mentioned it. I looked at *many* sources – dictionaries, commentaries, articles – and I think that no one else discusses it is significant (not that the lack of discussion automatically disqualifies the theory, of course.)
    I recommend considering the later comment of Moshe (who is a university professor of Semitic languages.) He claims that it’s not possible for ish to come from isha.
    Thanks again for the link!

Speak Your Mind

*