May 27, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

No observance of Tisha B’Av is complete without reviewing the sad and mournful incident involving a dinner party in Jerusalem. An egregious error occurred and an arch enemy—rather than a dear friend of the host’s—showed up at a dinner party all because of a similarity in their names. With the ninth of Av soon upon us, it would serve our purpose to look at the following six Yiddish vocabulary words, germane to this tragic tale.

Festshtellen (ascertaining): Back in the year 70, the postal system as we know it had yet to be developed. Invitations were typically delivered by hand. Those who had the financial means dispatched their maids or butlers to personally deliver invitations. Such was the case when an upper-class Jerusalemite hosted a dinner party. Among the invitees was the host’s good friend Kamtza. Unfortunately, the butler delivered the invitation to Bar Kamtza, whom the host simply loathed. All this could have been prevented had the host directed the butler regarding “festshtellen” the names on the guest list.

Fahrshemmen (embarrass): Common etiquette dictates that difficult and embarrassing situations be dealt with tactfully and quietly, preferably away from others. It was quite apparent that the host was far too incensed to engage in common etiquette. Despite Bar Kamtza’s pleas that the host refrain from creating a scene, despite Bar Kamtza’s generous offer to ultimately pay for the entire dinner party, the host had no scruples as far as to “fahrshemmen” his enemy before all to see.

Fahribble (offense or indignation): Joe Kennedy may have said, “Don’t get angry, get even!” It was Jews—such as Bar Kamtza—who practiced getting even. When country clubs and golf clubs in this country would not accept Jews as members, Jews went ahead and built their own country clubs and golf clubs, often more opulent than the ones that excluded them. Rather than having a “fahribble,” Bar Kamtza could have hosted his own dinner party. And, had he sent an invitation to the host who ejected him, he would have been admired.

Mach zich nisht vissendik (remaining aloof): Adding insult to the injury of the public fahrshemmen of Bar Kamtza, there was a table of rabbis who witnessed the entire event. If the rabbis felt that it was not their place to make peace, fine! But, what about excusing themselves from the dinner party and feigning an excuse that an important issue suddenly came up? Evidently, the rabbis decided to take a different tack. They decided to “mach zich nisht vissendik.” As far as the rabbis were concerned, they saw nothing. They heard nothing. They knew nothing. For Bar Kamtza, this was the proverbial last straw. Little did the rabbis realize that Bar Kamtza’s anger would culminate in a devious plot, which would, ultimately, lead to national catastrophe.

Bahshaydenkeit (humility): The sage Zechariah ben Avkulas was known for his “bahshaydeneit.” Yet, his bahshaydenkeit did not prevent him from swaying other rabbis, as they vacillated between accepting or rejecting an animal sent to them by the emperor for sacrifice. It was his bahshaydeneit, which, ultimately, led to the destruction of the holy Temple in Je rusalem in the year 70.

Shooldik (guilty or responsible): No study of that infamous dinner party in Jerusalem would be complete without asking who was “shooldik.” Was it the butler who was remiss in festshtellen the guest list? Was it the host who insisted on publicly being fahrshemmen Bar Kamtza? Was it Bar Kamtza who let his fahribble lead to national catastrophe? Was it the rabbis with their mach zich nisht vissendik attitude? Was it Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkilus who—despite his bahshaydenkeit—should have realized the consequences of his advice? In no way would I be overstating it, if I were to say that everyone was shooldik. And that’s what Tisha B’Av is really all about …


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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