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

Although national elections are a little less than a year away, many of the presidential hopefuls are filled with dread lest any of their rivals engage in a smear campaign against them. The word “smear” finds its origins in the German/Yiddish “shmear.” But “shmear” also can be used in other contexts as well. Below are three Yiddish words as well as a Yiddish adage and a Yiddish phrase that do anything but smear or tarnish the word “shmear.

Shmearkez (cream cheese). I might very well be among the minority who prefer a bagel either buttered or with nothing at all. The majority, at least in New York, prefer their bagels with shmearkez. For decades now, New Yorkers, Jew and non-Jew alike, have been ordering “bagels with a shmear.” The only thing that might improve a bagel with a shmear is when the shmearkez is covered with lox or nova.

Shmearechtz (ointment). I recall dropping in on an optometrist. At the time, he was talking to a patient who was complaining of dryness of the lower eyelid. Because the optometrist was very laid back and eschewed practicing optometry by the book, he told the patient that he could write him a prescription, but that any type of grease that was non-injurious to the eye would work just as well. And then, turning to me, the optometrist said, “From where we come from, we call that shmearechtz.”

Bahshmearen (daub). Although bahshmearen can have a negative connotation suggesting smudging, bahshmearen can also be heavenly mandated. On the eve of departing from Egypt, thereby preparing our ancestors for a life of liberty, certain preparation had to be undertaken by the Children of Israel. Among them was the slaughtering of a lamb to be roasted and eaten with matzah and maror. Prior to the repast, God commanded the bahshmearen of the lintels and doorposts with the blood of the slaughtered animal.

Az meh shmeart, fort men (lit. once one lubricates, one travels). Perhaps “locomotion requires lubrication” would be more succinctly stated. A financial reward is required for many services. An inducement is desired for many services. Strange, isn’t it, that in colloquial English this is referred to as “greasing someone’s palm?” Most pervasive in our culture is tipping. Derived from the acronym “tips” (to insure prompt service) tipping brings with it a certain irony in that meh shmeart occurs at the conclusion of the experience rather than at the beginning.

Vee geshmeart (without a hitch, smoothly). As a dutiful son, I made a point of visiting my aged parents every three months. This necessitated air travel. Without fail, I would call my wife once I reached the boarding lounge. Being my sardonic self, my first words to her over the phone were “I made it past ‘Checkpoint Charlie.’” On the rare occasion that I passed through airport security without having to wait in line and without any scrutiny on the part of the TSA agents, I should have told my wife that “everything went vee geshmeart.”

Whether your appetite includes shmearkez or your medications contain shmearechtz, please leave any bahshmearen to the Redeemer of Israel. While it is true az meh shmeart, fort men, bear in mind that precious few navigate the highways and byways of life vee geshmeart.


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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