April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I wouldn’t be surprised if American Jews who know the Yiddish word “gelt” (money) are familiar with the word only because of its connection with the festival of Chanukah. And that’s a shame, because in addition to Chanukah gelt, there are at least five other terms associated with the word “gelt.” Now that Chanukah is upon us and brightness is being brought into a dark world, I feel it appropriate to shed light on five other terms with the word “gelt.”

Treenkgelt (lit. drink money). Part of what makes Yiddish so special is its penchant for Yiddishizing foreign expressions. It was not unusual for our Eastern European ancestors to take a foreign term and translate it into Yiddish. Treenkgelt serves as one example. Treenkgelt is borrowed from the French “pour boire” (for drinking). Like its French origin, treenkgelt loosely translated means “buy yourself a beer.” Treenkgelt has been replaced by “leaving a tip.”

Kishkehgelt (lit. gut money or intestine money). Kishkehgelt was among the first Yiddish words that entered my vocabulary. Listening to my parents discussing with my Aunt Sara and Uncle Morris the rags to riches phenomenon of some of the Holocaust survivors in our community, inevitably the term kishkehgelt would crop up. Kishkehgelt is money accumulated through self-deprivation. Kishkehgelt is when you deny your kishkehs the best cuts of meat or high-quality food as you to scrimp and save.

Hahntgelt (lit. hand money). There are occasions where American culture considers a handshake to be sufficient to clinch a deal. Monetary issues will be dealt with sometime later. Rather than having a handshake obviate the need for money, Eastern European culture suggested that money accompany a handshake. The term hahntgelt refers to the transfer of money at the time of a handshake. Hahntgelt is the Yiddish equivalent of a down payment.

Deereh Gelt (lit. apartment money). Yiddish speaking immigrants of the early 20th century were hard pressed to come up with the proper Yiddish equivalent for several English words. “Apartment” was among those words. Yiddish speaking immigrants of the early 20th century along with others were equally hard pressed to come up with the monthly rent. Deereh, borrowed from the Hebrew, is the proper word for “apartment.” The monthly payment needed to rent the apartment is “deereh gelt.”

Loh Yecherahtz Gelt (lit. don’t bark money). In preparing Moses for the 10th and final plague, God forewarned Moses of a great outcry filling the entire land of Egypt. But God also reassured Moses that no dog “will whet its tongue” against the Children of Israel as they left Egypt (ExodusXI:7). Loh yecherahtz gelt is the Yiddish term for “hush money.”

As one who eschews Chanukah presents because of the calendrical proximity of Chanukah to a Christian festival, I suggest that in celebrating Chanukah, we make a concerted effort to rededicate ourselves to giving silver coins to the young ones. As we do so, let us encourage them to use these coins to give tzedaka. What better way to recall the Chanukah of our grandparents and great grandparents! As we celebrate the victory of few against many, let us realize that in addition to divine miracles, there were occasions when loh yecherahtz gelt, hahntgelt and treenkgelt kept the enemy at bay. Equally as important, let us recall that the pervasive poverty that followed our people from the old country to this country often necessitated kishkehgelt so that there would be enough not only for deereh gelt, but for Chanukah gelt as well.


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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