May 24, 2024
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May 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The late Barry Goldwater, who served as a senator from the state of Arizona and who, 60 years ago, made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency of this great nation, was known to have said, “Income tax has created more criminals than any other act of government.” With the tax deadline mere days away, I feel that it would be timely as well as of interest to many of us to look at five Yiddish words connected with a yearly activity that precious few look forward to: the filing of income tax.

REGEEROONG (government) Speaking before a group of adult students in Kyiv some 25years ago, I foolishly tried to convince my students that all governments really don’t give a damn about the financial wellbeing of their citizens. Because I was there to teach Yiddish and not anarchy, I put it very succinctly. I told them that as far as I was concerned, regeeroong iz a fahrfeeroong (government is a seduction). How else can we explain that here in the United States, the IRS alone operates on a budget over $14 billion? Imagine, if you will, how much tax money is paid to employ those who take our taxes!

SHOOLDIK (guilty, responsible, owe). The Yiddish word for innocent is oomshooldik (lit. unguilty). Shooldik, however, has another meaning based on the word “responsible.” In English, “I owe you a letter,” translates into Yiddish, “Ich been dir shooldik ah breev” or “I am responsible (to send you) a letter.” Similarly, when tax time rolls around, countless Americans hold their breath as they wait to find out veefl zynen zay shooldik dehr regeeroong (how much they owe the government).

MONNEN (demand one’s due of money). As one who detests owing money, rarely does it happen that I end up owing the IRS money. My own peace of mind requires that I never find myself indebted to the government. Put differently, I dread thinking that dee regeeroong monnt by meer gelt (the government demands money from me). For me, it’s the equivalent of seeing a picture of myself hanging at the post office. To avoid this, I usually ensure that the government receives more than I owe them. For those of you who recall my Chanukah article, I view this as loh yecherahtz gelt (hush money).

KREEKTZOLL (refund). Kreek is an alternative form of tzoorik (return/back). It makes perfect sense that those who expect kreektzoll from the regeeroong generally file earlier than those who are shooldik the government a shayneh porr cent (a tidy sum of money). Living in a culture of purchasing and spending beyond one’s means where, not taking into account mortgages, the average American was $21,800 in debt last year, it is easy to understand that in many cases, any kreektzoll has long been spent before the check arrives in the mail.

SHTYEHREN (taxes). Throughout history, we Jews have been especially sensitive to shtyehren because foreign governments had no compunction levying special taxes upon our people. “Fiscus Iudaicus” (Latin for the Jewish tax) was imposed upon us by the Romans soon after the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. In addition to filling the coffers of Rome, “Fiscus Iudaicus” exempted those who paid it from sacrificing to Roman deities. Byshtyehroong (donation) is derived from the word shtyehren, although most Yiddish speaking Jews use nedoveh, taken from the Hebrew.

Whether we like it or not, the regeeroong is our business partner whose very existence rests on monnen shtyehren. When was the last time many of us were not shooldik the regeeroong gelt? Kreektzoll aside, the Goldeneh Medeeneh (Golden Land) has taken on a new meaning. It is a country that takes our gold.


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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