The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
             (A Companion to MENDELE)
Contents of Vol. 07.012 [Sequential No. 138]
30 November 2003

1) About this issue of TMR (LP)
2) More on Kadye Molodovski's "Der daytsh, yemakh shmoy" (LP)
3) "Nisht geshtoygn, nisht gegfloygn" revisited (LP)
4) A New Issue of _Khulyot_ (LP)
5) Books received (LP)
a. Latin American Yiddish anthology  b. New Neugroshchel anthology.

Date: 30 November 2003
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject:  In this issue:

_A warm friend, devoted family man, dedicated teacher and genial colleague,
Irving Saposnik must also be honored and remembered for his contribution to
Yiddish studies both as gripping instructor and as insightful critic.  Fully
engaged while Professor at the center of Jewish Studies at the University of
Wisconsin and Director of the university's Hillel House, he also wrote
imaginative and lively essays in the field of Yiddish studies.  [See his
recent "A Canticle for Isaac: A _Kaddish_ for Bashevis" (in _The Hidden Isaac
Bashevis Singer_ edited by Seth Wolitz) and "A Tale of an Umbrella: Isaac
Bashevis Singer, Woody Allen and Their New York Stories" (in _Isaac Bashevis
Singer: His Work and His World_, edited by Hugh Denman)].  His acute knowledge
of  the American cultural scene enriched his understanding of modern Yiddish
writers, particulary Isaac Bashevis Singer, with whose works he was intimately
involved for many years. Lovers of Yiddish bow their heads...

_The Table of Contents is given here of Volume 8 of _Khulyot_ (also spelled
_Chulyot_), which is in press and which should reach subscribers by the end of
the year.  _Khulyot_ is the only Hebrew-language journal devoted to Yiddish
studies and each issue includes a number of Yiddish-langauge texts in addition
to essays and translations in Hebrew. Permission forms for fulltext electronic
publication are being sent to all _Khulyot_ authors asking that they sign
these forms for each essay they have contributed.  Fulltext access to
_Khulyot_ throughout the internet will increase its range of usefulness.

Date: 30 November 2003
From: Leonard Prager 

Subject:  More on Kadye Molodovski's "Der daytsh, yemakh shmoy" [see TMR

A reader has reminded me of Sholem-Aleykhem's story "Der Daytsh" in
which the teller ends up cursing "the daytsh" who has been a paying
guest in his home and asks if I "think it possible that Kadye Molodovski
may be playing off the Sholem-Aleykhem story in her title?"  He also
points out that "yimakh shmam has a biblical source:  Psalms 109:13."

I do not think that K.M. is in any way alluding to Sholem-Aleykhem's
story or that the reader is invited to recall that story's satiric
ending because of a loose similarity of the verbal formula employed.
"Daytsh" in Yiddish has two principal meanings:  1. a German and 2. a
modern or reform Jew.  The "Daytsh" in S.A.'s story is not only not a
Jew , he is the victor in a battle of wit which the story's Menakhem
Mendl barely begins to comprehend.  Sholem-Aleykhem scores the "dreykop"
narrator for his dishonest dealing at the same time that he portrays his
plight realistically.

Here are the final words of "Der daytsh":  "abi poter vern funem
shlim-mazl, funem dozikn daytsh, yemakh shemoy vezikhroy zol er
vern!!..."  The reader has no doubt who the shlim-mazl in this story is
and can only sympathize with the "daytsh" against the teller.  The
expression in Psalm 109, Verse 13 (Yehi-akharito lehakhrit; bedor akher,
yimakh shemam 'Let his posterity be cut off; in the generation following
let their name be blotted out'.)  This passage is relevant to the K.M.
usage of the formula.

The "daytsh" image is often positive in pre-World War II Yiddish
writing.  In Perets's famous "Zibn gute yor," the great friend of the
poor, Elijah, appears disguised as a "daytshl."  The use of the
diminutive points to an affectionate relationship with him.

Date:  30 November 2003
From:  Leonard Prager 
Subject:  "Nisht geshtoygn, nisht gegfloygn" revisited (LP)

                    Nisht geshtoygn un nisht gefloygn

One of the best known and frequently employed Yiddish idioms is "(es iz)
nisht geshtoygn nisht gefloygn" (or its variant "(es iz) nisht geshtoygn
un nisht gefloygn"), understood to mean "There is no basis to" whatever
it is that has been claimed or proposed. Stutshkov in his thesaurus
lists the expression under the semantic category _sheker_ 'lie' and
Furman regards as synonymous "es heybt zikh nisht on" [no. 506] and "es
heybt zikh nisht on, es lozt zikh nisht oys" [no. 507].  The idiom is so
popular that it can be found as the refrain of a song (Dos Is Emes
[Nisht Geshtoygn] / Hert A Mayse, Kinderlekh /Nisht Geshtoygn Un Nisht
Gefloygn / Dos Iz Rikhtik [Nisht Geshtoygn]) and as the title of a book
of children's stories by Moyshe Shifris (Toronto:  Oyfgang, 1928).  As
with most idioms, the user and his/her listeners don't think too much
about the origin of the expression.  The meaning is altogether clear and
the energy of the speaker is expended on the right sarcastic
articulation of the words, with its stress on and perfect riming of
SHTOYG and FLOYG.  But occasionally, someone does ask:  "What is the
origin of 'nisht geshtoygn (un) nisht gefloygn'?"

Many who use the idiom are sure they know the answer, but the collector
of these answers soon discovers that no one is actually absolutely sure
of their explanation and that, in fact, nowhere can one find an
authoritative and fully agreed upon tracing of the expression's genesis.
Recently, at a meeting of a Yiddish reading circle, a member told me
earnestly that she had learned from a Yiddish scholar that the first
term of the idiom "geshtoygn" was originally 'geshtokhn', a reference to
the crucifixion of Jesus.  Here then we get the suggestion of a
protective distortion of the word, since it would have been dangerous
for Jews to mock the Crucifixion openly, especially in the centuries
when the speech of Jews was not all that different from that of their
neighbors.  This intrusion of the word "geshtokhn" makes the whole
question of the source of the idiom that much more intriguing.

In studying Yiddish idioms it is often wise to turn first to Ignats
Bernshteyn's classic compilation, _Yudishe shprikhverter un redensarten_
(Warsaw, 1908).  Here on page 63 one finds _geshtoygn_ (spelled the
old-fashioned way "geshtoygen") with the following Yiddish commentary
(here romanized):  "nit geshtoygn, nit gefloygn":  "anekdote:  a yud hot
gehat a vikuekh mit a krist. der krist hot zikh gevundert, az der yid
vil nit gloybn on di himelfahrt, un hot ihm dermohnt, az moyshe rabeynu
iz dokh oykh geshtoygn in dem himel arayn. deroyf hot ihm der yud dos
geentfert."  The opposite German page, under "Geschtojgen" gives us the
same comment on "Nit geschtojgen nit geflojgen" in the following words:
"Anekdote:  Als ein Christ einen Juden zum Glauben an die Himme lfahrt
Christi bekehren wollte, mit Hinweis darauf, dass ja auch die Bibel
erzaehlt, Moses sei in dem Himmel gestiegen, da antwortete der
skeptische Jude, er glaube weder an das eine, noch an das andere."  To
make certain we can all follow this discussion, which can easily become
confused, here is the commentary in English:  "When a Christian wished
to convince a Jew to believe in the Ascension of Christ with reference
to the Biblical account of Moses' ascent into Heaven the skeptical Jew
replied that he did not believe in one or the other."

From Bernshteyn and others we learn that the saying is based on anecdote, but
there prove to be variant narratives, with subtle differences among them.
Bernshteyn's version suggests that there are two figures involved and that the
first verb applies to the first figure and the second verb to the second
figure.  Many of the persons I queried for an explanation were sure that the
reference was to Christ, who 'neither ascended nor flew up' -- there being a
single figure and the two verbs being parallel, the second reinforcing the
first in a comic manner.  Continuing our search in Alexander Harkavi's 1928
_Yiddish-Hebrew-English Dictionary_, we learn under _shtaygn_, that there are
two forms of the past participle:  _geshtign_ and _geshtoygn_. The idiom
always requires the latter form in order to rime with _gefloygn_.  Harkavi
also gives the idiom at the entry _flien_.  In the modern usage the two verbs
are definitely _shtaygn_ 'to ascend' and _flien_ 'to fly'.

Contiinuing our search for enlightenment we look at a more recent
reference work, Yisroel Furman's _Yidishe shprikhverter un rednsartn_
(Tel-Oviv:  Farlag "Hamenoyre", 1968).  Under _geshtoygn_ (p. 112) we
find no. 375 "nisht geshtoygn, nisht gefloygn," which proves to be a
lengthy explanation, beginning with an indication of its use:  " az
emetser dertseylt epes, un men vil zogn az s'iz nisht rikhtik oder nisht
emes, banutst men dos vertl. oykh der lerer vet iberhakn mit dem vertl
dem talmid, ven er zogt nisht rikhtiks.  ['When someone says something
and one wishes to tell them they are wrong or untruthful, one uses this
expression.  When a pupil errs, the teacher will correct him with these

More pertinent to our search is Furman's approach to the question of
origin.  He writes:  "dos v[ort] shtamt (loyt a farshpreyter meynung)
fun apikorsim, velkhe hobn geleyknt, az moyshe rabeynu iz aroyf tsu got
oyfn barg sine un az kristus iz lebedik gevorn un aroyfgefloygn in himl.
vegn moyshe hobn zey gezogt "er iz nisht geshtoygn" (geshtoygn -- fun
shtaygn) un oyf kristus "er iz nisht gefloygn". ze nr. 506, 507 -- in
yidish-daytsh hot men gezogt:  "Nit gestoche nit gefloche."  [p. 112]

Here indeed Furman grapples with the crucial questions and gives us a
clear answer -- based, however, on "a farshpreyter meynung", i.e. common
opinion.  We know that in etymological and related matters, common
opinions are often wide of the mark.  Furman agrees with Bernshteyn:
there are two figures and they are Moses and Jesus respectively.  But
Furman adds a sentence which needs examination:  "in yidish-daytsh hot
men gezogt:  "Nit gestoche nit gefloche."  [In Judeo-German they said
"Nit gestoche nit gefloche."]

Furman's source may have been Abraham Tendlau's _Sprichwoerter und
Redensarten deutsch-juedischer Vorzeit_ (Frankfurt am Main, n.d.
[1860]) where we find that very "Nit gestoche', nit gefloche'! referred
to by Furman (no. 985, p. 346).  Tendlau's explanation of the idiom's
use is identical to that of all the other sources we have mentioned thus
far:  "Der Sinn, der mit dieser sehr verbreiteten Redensart verbunden
ward, war:  'in keiner Hinsicht richtig! durchaus falsch und
widersinnig!' z. B. 'Das haasst gearbeit! nit gestoche' nit gefloche'!
"Das is e Geschwaets! nit gestoche' nit gefloche'!'".  But when it comes
to the explanation of the anecdotal origin we meet a variation.
Tendlau, writing a century and a half ago says:  "Die Redensart selbst
aber soll sich darauf gruenden, dass einst ein Christ einem Juden
vorgeworfen, wie er leugnen koenne, dass Jesus in den Himmel gestiegen,
da ja auch von Eliah erzaehlt werde, er sei in den Himmel geflogen,
worauf denn der (polnische) Jude geantwortet habe:  "Nit gestoge', nit
gefloge'", es verhalte sich mit beiden nicht woertlich so."

In Tendlau we have Elijah and Jesus rather than Moses and Jesus; and we
recall that many persons today understand the reference to be solely to
Jesus, and at least one individual has suggested that the original term
in the place of today's `geshtoygn' was _geshtokhn_ 'pierced', shifting
the theological focus from the Ascension to the far more basic
Crucifixion.  Tendlau attributes the original anecdote to a Polish Jew.
Is this an expression of the German Jew's famous disdain for his Ostjude
cousin?  What does the partic ular form, as indicated in the spelling,
tell us?  There are a number of ascensions in the Tanakh as well as in
the New Testament.  Elijah is supposed to have ascended into the heavens
in a chariot.  Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the
tablet s of the Law from God himself.  The Tendlau version introduces a
Polish Jew who says /g/ rather than /x/, giving us _gestoge'_ and
_gefloge'_ in place of _gestoche'_ and _gefloche_.  What can our
linguists tell us here?

Hugh Denman in a private communication assures me that "Tendlau's
reference to the Galitsyaner's "Nit gestoge', nit gefloge'" does not
tell us very much, since it is only intended to represent CY [ou] for
NEY [oy] and, of course, reflects CY [-e] [-n].  However, Furman's
accurate citation of the WY "Nit gestoche nit gefloche" (which also
corresponds to the Alemannic and Bavaro-Austrian forms) is much more
useful, since it explains the origin of the misconception about the
crucifixion which evidently arose from EY misinterpretation of WY, i.e.
taking 'pierced' for 'ascended'."

Meyer Wolf has brought to my attention Immanuel Olsvanger's version of
the anecdote (in_L'Chaim_ , New York:  Schocken Books, 1949, page 145).
Here we have a dispute between a Christian priest and a Jew, a reference
to Christ and Moses, but the idiom is attributed to a third person,
giving us another striking variant (the romanization is not that of
YIVO):  "173.  NISHT GESHTOYGN, NISHT GEFLOYGN.  A id hot zakh amol
geampert mit a galach.  Yederer hot gevelt darvayzn, az zayn emune iz di
richtike.  Der id hot gehaltn in eyn redn fun Moyshen, un vi azoy er iz
arufgeshtign af'n barg Sinay, un der galach hot geret fun Yezussn, un vi
azoy er iz arayngefloygn in himl arayn.  Un zey hobn zach shtark
tsuvertlt.  Der id hot geshrien:  "Nit emes, Yezus iz nit gefloygn," un
der galach hot geshrien:  "Oyb azoy, iz Moyshe nisht geshtign."  A
driter id, vos hot zach tsugehert, hot af deruf gezogt:  "Vos darft ir
zach krign?  Nit der iz geshtoygn, nit yener iz gefloygn!"  Fun danen
nemt zach dos vertl:  "Nit geshtoygn, nit gefloygn."

Olsvanger comments somewhat copiously on this anecdote:  [footnote 1]
"This anecdote...originated in the explanation of an expression the
meaning of which had been forgotten.  The past participle of _shtaygn_,
'rise', is, correctly, _geshtign_ 'has risen'.  Here, however, the
onlooking Jew changes it to _geshtoygn_to make a witty rhyme with

MEYYED gives _geshtign_ as the past participle of _shtaygn_, marked as
"of doubtful admissibility in the standard language".  We surely cannot
believe that _geshtoygn_ was introduced into Yiddish as a variant of
_geshtign_ by this anecdote alone, and is hence only used in the idiom.
In Alexander Harkavy's 1928 Yiddish-Hebrew-English Dictionary, we learn,
under _shtaygn_, that there are two forms of the past participle:
_geshtign_ and _geshtoygn_.  The idiom of course requires the latter
form in order to rhyme with _gefloygn_.

Meyer Wolf(1) has brought to my attention a number of interesting uses
of _gefloygn_ in Yiddish literature, several of which appear connected
semantically to our idiom.  He writes:

1. Kulbak. in his poem _Vilne_ (part giml beginning "baynakht"), has
this unexpected usage:  "di tsvelf mazoles hobn mild gegosn shayn, / es
hot der zilberner ari aropgekukt mit kalte oygn./ un s'hobn shtern vi di
feygelekh geshtoygn un gefloygn..."

2. Mendele, in _Fishke der krumer_ (chapter vav, penultimate paragraph)
observes:  "Dort vert oykh zeyer oft geshlosn azelkhe mine shidukhim,
vos nisht geshtoygn." If this is not a typo, "nisht geshtoygn" seems to
mean "toygn nisht" or the like.

3. "nisht-geshtoygn" is often used as an adjective meaning 'not real,
imagined'; for example, in Yitskhok Bashevis' story "Di nodl" (5th
paragraph from end) we find:  "zi't ongehoybn zikh doktern un zikh
aynredn alerley nisht-geshtoygene shlafkeytn."

In "nisht geshtoygn nisht gefloygn", Jewish wit has immortalized the
irrepressible voice of the truth-seeker, but the absolute truth of the
idiom's origin is elusive.(2)


1) Meyer Wolf has also scouted out an internet reference to the idiom
under discussion [see
http://www.gutenberg2000.de/kohn/jgilblas/jgil02.htm].  In _Der
juedische Gil Blas_ by Joseph S. Kohn we have two opposing views and a
third voice which rejects them both.

2) Hugh Denman, Joseph Sherman and Meyer Wolf kindly read this article and
made many valuable suggestions.

Date: 30 November 2003
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject:  A New Issue of _Khulyot_

                                                  Khulyot 8

Table of Contents

"The tongs were made with tongs" [Avot 5,6]:  A Word from the Editors

Avraham Sutzkever at 90

_ Heather Valencia:     Sutzkever, France and Paul Valery
_ Shalom Luria:           A Selection of Avraham Sutzkever's Early Poems
_ Yechiel Szeintuch:    A Poetry of the Inexpressible

> From the Writings of Dov Sadan


Between Desire and Necessity


_ Yaakov Shteynbarg [Jacob Steinbarg]:  To the Girl of My Dream
(Original and Translation)

_ Shmuel Werses:  The Travels of Mendele Mokher-Sfarim in the Realm of
the Jewish Family

_ Gershon Shaked: Menakhem Mendl -- The Shlimazl of Capitalism

_ Ziva Shamir:  Ode to the West Wind (On Bialik's "Yam lider") Appendix.
Kh.  N. Bialik:  Sea Poems (Original and Translation)

_ Shifra Kuperman: David Einhorn's Lost Papers
_ Bilha Rubinstein:  On Isaac Bashevis-Singer's  The Slave
_ Lea Garfinkel: Isaac Bashevis Singer's Yentl-Anshl -- A Tragic Figure
_ Shalom Luria:  Poems by Glatstein, Sutzkever, Rivka Basman


_ Yudl Mark: Zelik Kalmanovitsh

Books Received

_ Shalom Luria: Avraham Novershtern's _Kesem haDimdumim_
_ Itai B. Zutra: On Berkovitz and His Yiddish Fiction


_ Zalmen Reyzen: On the History of Yiddish Folk Literature
_ Yisroel Tsinberg: On Wandering Motifs in Yiddish Folklore
_ Isidore Levin: Estonian and Latvian Jewish Folklore in the Archives of
the Tartu Literary Museum
_ Boris Kotlerman and Avidov Lipsker: The Jewish Folklore Archive in
Tartu, Estonia

On the Periphery

_ Shmuel Bunim: French Words in the Yiddish of  Immigrants in France
_ Hamutal Bar-Yosef: The Reception of Leonid Andreev in Hebrew and
Yiddish Literature and Theatre

Yiddish in the Limelight

_ Miriam Kachanski: Abraham Goldfaden and 'Lovers of Zion'
_ Shalom Luria: Ezra Lahad
_ Ezra Lahad: The Memoirs of Moyshe Zayfert [Moshe Zeifert] (1851-1922)
_ Moyshe Zayfert: Selections from his Memoirs (History of the Jewish
_ Zelda Kahana-Newman:  In Search of  Lost Irony -- from _Sipur  pashut_
['Simple Story'] to _A poshete mayse_ ['A Simple Story'].


_ Shmuel Avneri. Eliyahu Maidanik and His World View
_ Eliyahu Maidanik: A page from my childhood memories
(Yiddish original and Hebrew translation)

Yiddish abstracts

English abstracts

Date: 30 November 2003
From: Leonard Prager 

Subject:  Books received -- a. New Neugroshchel anthology, b. Latin
American Yiddish anthology.  To be reviewed in future issues of TMR.

Alan Astro, ed.  _Yiddish South of the Border; an Anthology of Latin
American Yiddish Writing_.  Introduction by Ilan Stavans.  Albuquerque:
University of New Mexico Press, 2003.  ISBN 0-8263-2348-0.

Joachim Neugroschel.  _No Star Too Beautiful.  An Anthology of Yiddish
Stories from 1382 to the Present_.  Edited and translated by Joachim
Neugroschel.  New York:  W.W.  Norton, 2002.
End of The Mendele Review vol 7, no. 12
Editor, Leonard Prager
Associate Editor, Joseph Sherman

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