April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Korten Shpiller (card player) I’m not. Yet, for centuries now, a custom has arisen where, come this Sunday night, Torah study is put on hold. There is a concern that Torah study could be misconstrued as recognition of a purported birth that occurred in Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago. In place of study, there are those who spend time playing cards, typically referred to as nittel korten (natal cards). I wonder if those who do play cards are aware of the following Yiddish terms?

Pahsh (deck, as in cards). The 1965 Movie “The Cincinnati Kid” deals with a poker game between the two great actors Edward G. Robinson and Steve McQueen. For me, the movie was an eye opener to see “vee men dehrshmekt dem pahsh” (how one sniffs the deck) to ascertain that the cards were not touched by human hands, thereby preventing underhanded activity such as stacking the deck.

Oistaylen dee korten (deal the cards). In Yiddish, a card dealer is known as a korten gebber. Personally, I see dealing cards as an unenviable task. Rather than dismiss it as chance, there are those who are apt to take their anger out on the dealer after having been dealt a losing hand. Perhaps such individuals should consider taking up a different pastime.

Felshen in dee korten (lit. falsify the cards, a genteel way of saying cheating). A felsher is one who falsifies, counterfeits, and cheats. Yet, the sad reality is that “nor zich alayn nahrt opp a felsher” (a cheater only fools himself).

Tahsehven dee korten (shuffle the cards). There is an art to shuffling cards. Unbeknownst to me prior to preparing for this article, there are four different ways of shuffling cards. I would imagine that any one of these four methods is a skill that is developed through practice. Of note, “tahsehven” is specific to shuffling deck of cards. Other Yiddish words exist for shuffleboard and shuffling off to Buffalo.

Fahrshpeeln (losing). The prefix “fahr” is often used to express a negative effect. For example, “ahcht,” a homonym to “ahcht” (eight), is the Yiddish word for attention or consideration. Yet, “fahrahcht” means scorn or disdain, the exact opposite of consideration. Similarly, “fahrshpeeln” is an antonym to “shpeeln.” Whereas the latter refers to playing, the former indicates that you are out of the game, or all played out.

Come Sunday night, let’s pass on the pahsh. If there is no oistaylen dee korten, and no tahsehven dee korten, there can be no possibility of felshen in dee korten. Most important of all, everyone will be protected against fahrshpeeln. Instead of shpeeln in korten (card playing), wouldn’t our time be better spent contemplating how blessed we are to be Hashem’s chosen?


Rabbi Shawn Zell has recently returned to New Jersey, after serving at a pulpit in Dallas. He possesses certification in teaching Yiddish. Rabbi Zell is the author of three books.

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