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1. Toward a new history of Hasidism

By David Biale


Two years ago, I agreed to serve as the head of an international team of nine scholars from the US, UK, Poland, and Israel who are attempting to write a history of Hasidism, the eighteenth-century Eastern European pietistic movement that remains an important force in the Orthodox Jewish world today. I was perhaps not the obvious choice for this role. Although I’ve written several articles and book chapters on Hasidism, it has not been my main area of research. But Arthur Green, one of the foremost historians of Hasidism and the person who was supposed to head the team, was unable to take on the role and I had had some success as the editor of a large compendium on Jewish and Israeli culture (Cultures of the Jews: A New History). And so, my colleagues convinced me to take on the organizational and editorial work on the project.

Surprisingly, given its long history and influence, no general history of Hasidism exists. The first attempt at such a history was published in 1931 by Simon Dubnow, the doyen of Jewish history in Russia. Dubnow had begun collecting materials for a history of Hasidism in the 1890s. However, his history covered only the first half century of the movement, ending in 1815, which is when he believed the creative period of Hasidism came to an end.

If I was going to direct this ambitious project, I needed to come up to speed on the bibliography of research over the last half century. I was familiar with the major works of the older generation of scholars such as Gershom Scholem, Joseph Weiss, Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer, and Mendel Piekarz (to name some of the most important) as well as the younger generation, some of whom are members of our team (Ada Rapoport-Albert, Moshe Rosman, and David Assaf). Although the research community working on Hasidism is relatively small, there is still an impressive body of scholarly literature that has emerged over the last few decades.

Fortunately, at about the time I accepted the invitation to direct the Hasidism project, I was also approached by Oxford University Press to serve as Editor-in-Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies. My first task was to prepare a sample bibliography. So, instead of taking on a subject whose sources were at my fingertips, I decided to put together a bibliography of Hasidism, killing the proverbial “two birds with one stone” (or, as the Jewish saying has it, “to dance at two weddings”).

What emerged from this immersion in the sources was the growing sense that our new history could significantly revise the earlier scholarship. In most of the earlier studies, as well as in Hasidism’s own self-conception, the movement was founded by the Baal Shem Tov, who died in 1760. But like the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the Baal Shem Tov (also known as the Besht) wrote little and probably had no intention of founding a movement. It was only later in the eighteenth century that scattered charismatic leaders (known as rebbes in Yiddish, or zaddikim in Hebrew) began to be seen (and to see themselves) as a coherent movement. But since the Hasidim organized themselves as devoted followers of specific individuals, the movement had no central core. Each of these rebbes had his own philosophy and style of leadership, so that one should speak of Hasidism in the plural.

The nineteenth century, far from a time of stagnation, as Dubnow thought, now appears to have been the golden age of Hasidism. While it is questionable whether the majority of Eastern Jews were Hasidim, the movement spread rapidly and became even more active in areas of Poland and Galicia than in the provinces of Ukraine where it originated. In the twentieth century, Hasidism underwent a sharp decline as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of secular Jewish politics in Poland, and the devastation of the Holocaust (see The Holocaust in Poland). Following World War II, the movement rose from the ashes in North America and Israel, in exile, as it were, from its Eastern European homeland. Today, there may be as many as three-quarters of a million Hasidim (out of 13 million Jews worldwide). But a movement that presents itself and is often seen by others as devout guardians of tradition is, in reality, something new, a product of modernity no less than Jewish secularism.

David Biale, Editor in Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies, is the Emanuel Ringelblum Professor of Jewish History in the department of history of University of California Davis. He is the editor of Cultures of the Jews: A New History (Schocken Books, 2002) and the author of Blood and Belief: The Circulating of a Symbol Between Jews and Christians (University of California Press, 2008).

Developed cooperatively with scholars and librarians worldwide, Oxford Bibliographies offers exclusive, authoritative research guides. Combining the best features of an annotated bibliography and a high-level encyclopedia, this cutting-edge resource guides researchers to the best available scholarship across a wide variety of subjects.

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2. KID REVIEW: Holly evaluates “Estie the Mensch”

Holly holds "Estie the Mensch.What does it mean to be a good person?

That’s the question considered in Estie the Mensch (Random House, 2011) a picture book written by Jane Kohuth and illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger.

Estie is a shy girl who is much more comfortable hanging out with animals than humans and enjoys nothing more than pretending to be everything from a dog to a monkey to a fly. Most of the time, her family enjoys her antics, but sometimes, when they’ve had enough, they say, “Estie, be a mensch.”

“Mensch” is a Yiddish term that means to be human. But not just any human, rather, a person of integrity and honor.

Estie isn’t sure exactly how to do this. Until a day at the zoo. After amusing a friend by imitating everything from a snake to an ostrich, Estie discovers that, in some situations, acting like a kind human being is the best thing to do.

Holly says she trioes to be a mensch in the ballet and hip-hop dance classes she takes. Not only does she try to be friendly to her classmates, she also walks like a lady.

Holly also shared her other thoughts about the book. Take it away, Holly!

Our reviewer: Holly

Age: 8

Things I like to do: Dance, swim and play with my dogs — Mystic and Pepper.

This book was about: A little girl named Estie who liked animals and acted like them. Her parents always told her to, “Be a mensch,”  or to behave like a lady. She went to the zoo with her grandma and her grandma’s friend and a boy named Petie. She acted like the animals there and made Petie laugh. Then Petie dropped his ice cream and Estie scooped some off her cone to give to him.

The best part was when: When Estie acted like all the animals in the zoo. But she really couldn’t stretch her neck as far as an ostrich does.

I smiled when: She gave part of her ice-cream to Petie.

I was worried when: Petie dropped his ice cream. I thought he would be upset and just sit and cry, but Estie helped him.

This book taught me: Not to be afraid of animals. To love the animals you love. Oh, and to share.

Three words that best describe this book are: “Fun.” “Creative.” “Adventurous.”

My favorite line or phrase in the book: “Estie, be a mensch.” Her mom and dad said it all the time.

Other kids reading this book should watch for: What they can do to be nice to animals and to your friends.

You should read this book because: It teaches you some words in a different language. You can learn more about sharing and animals.

Thanks, Holly!

If you’d like to know more about author Jane Kohuth, you can visit her webpage , read this interview or read this other interview.

If you’d like to know more about illustrator Rosanne Litzinger, you can read her biography.

Here are some other reviews of Estie:

3. Nosh, Schlep, Schluff

noshschlep

Nosh, Schlep, Schluff: BabYiddish by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke

Check out my review on Waking Brain Cells.  This blog will no longer be updated at the end of this week, so change your bookmarks and RSS feed readers now!

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4. Yiddish Expression of the Day

Lobbus--little monster

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5. Yiddish Expression of the Day

toches--behind, fanny (in the American sense, not the British)

9 Comments on Yiddish Expression of the Day, last added: 1/20/2009
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6. Alliterative morning

Today I Skimmed Schmaltz, and was Rawked at by a Raven.

Raven with Sausages by quinet

The schmaltz came from a mess of chicken soup I made. A thick layer of chicken fat rose to the top overnight and was skimmed off and used to season the cat’s breakfast.

Chicken soup for the soul by tsheko

The raven is a Common Raven, who was hanging out in one of the San Francisco parks that I walk through on my way to work. Common Ravens are more common out here than they are back east.

They are about the size of a small dog, and live shoulder to shoulder with their smaller corvid friends the Crow and the Western Scrub Jay. All three species enjoy Rawking, poking at things with their substantial bills, and Making Trouble.

What alliterative things happened to YOU today?

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7. British Slang of Jewish Origin (?): Oof and Fefnicute

By Anatoly Liberman

Both specialists and laymen are aware of Yiddish words that have become part of German and American slang. The presence of Yiddish words in British English is harder to detect. Below I will offer a hypothesis that will carry conviction to few (among other things, because I myself have relatively little trust in it). Yet the harm will be minimal: the word in question (fefnicute) has so little currency that only a professional etymologist can have an interest in it. But first an example of a solid etymology. In the eighties of the 19th century, the word oof “money” surfaced in England, was associated with “the gutter,” and some time later attracted the attention of philologically-minded people. As usual, all kinds of fanciful hypotheses were offered. Especially the compound oof-bird “money provider” misled the amateurs who took part in this fairy tale goose chase. It was suggested that oof is an illiterate pronunciation of French oef, with reference to the bird that lays golden eggs.

I sometimes feel sorry for those who did not read Gogol’s Dead Souls. The protagonist of the book Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov appears in a provincial town as a stranger enveloped in mystery, and the locals offer various conjecturers about who he really is. According to one story, he is Captain Kopeikin. The story is long and heart-breakingly sad. The audience listens to it with bated breath, but the captain has a wooden leg, while Chichikov’s extremities are all intact, so that the narrator is forced to concede defeat. Many silly hypotheses would have been nipped in the bud if their authors had heeded the fate of that narrator. Consider the following: the explanation “is to the effect that the term is a corruption of the name of the late William Hoof, the wealthy railway contractor, who died at Madeley House, Kensington, in 1855, leaving upward of half a million sterling.” A great improvement on that etymology is this: oof is from hoof, because it is the hoof of the mare that is indispensable to her expedition, as proved by the line from a song: “Money will make the mare go.” Even the great Walter W. Skeat contributed to this fruitless discussion; his etymology was, naturally, not so ridiculous.

Then Willoughby Maycock sent a letter to Notes and Queries, and the dispute was over (I retain the spelling of the original): “Oof is merely an abbreviation of ooftisch, a word in common use for the past twenty years or more [the letter was printed on October 21, 1893] among Houndsditch Hebrews of Teutonic origin. These gentlemen had so little confidence in one another at card-playing for money, that it was their practice to insist on the stakes being placed on the table—auf tische—whence ooftisch. It was introduced, so to speak, into society mainly by the facetious columns of the Sporting Times, but was not invented by that organ, as many—including Sir Charles Russell, in the Osborne trial—erroneously suppose.” Willoughby Maycock had a good deal to learn from our speech codes. Nor was his vicious reference to the Houndsditch Hebrews of Teutonic origin, them of little confidence, necessary, for on October 14 of the same year S.J.A.F., another regular contributor to Notes and Queries, almost guessed the answer: “I have known this word for quite thirteen years, if not longer. In Low German there is the slang word ooftisch, which also means ‘money.’ Hunting the oof-bird is quite a common phrase in some circles far removed from the gutter. Oofless I have also heard. Possibly oof is derived from Low German or Dutch patois.” So it turns out that oof is the first syllable of ooftisch, a Yiddish term for cash (down) on the nail. The OED accepted this etymology with a mild disclaimer.

Three notes. 1) Houndsditch is a street in the City of London. It got its unsavory name many centuries ago, but is now a respectable street (no ditch, no dead dogs in it). One should not conjure up a picture of distrustful Jews gathered in a slum and shouting ooftisch, even while playing for low stakes. 2) The Osborne trial (1891) made a sensation in England. In it Mrs. Osborne was accused by Mrs. Hargreave of having stolen her jewelry. Mrs. Osborne instituted a suit against Mrs. Hargreave for slander. Her counsel was Sir Charles Russell, one of the most famous lawyers of his time. In the middle of the proceedings, a letter was submitted proving that Mrs. Osborne had indeed stolen the precious objects. The word oof was used in the trial, and this is, most probably, the reason questions about its origin suddenly came up. (3) William Hoof is an authentic figure. He was a rich man, but oof has nothing to do with his name.

It is now my turn to become the hero of a story Captain-Kopeikin style. In Lancashire, the now obsolete or dead word fefnicute “a hypocrite; a mean, sneaking person” was recorded in the 19th century. The verb to fefnicute meant “to fawn, play the hypocrite; to speak fair to a person, but revile him to others.” A fefnicute “tells a fine tale to get hold of something.” The word may have originated in the Rochdale dialect. The few people who pondered the derivation of fefnicute referred to feff “to flatter, butter up; fawn, play the hypocrite” and feft “to persuade a person to do some action to his own harm and your advantage,” with the second element being acute. But without accounting for n, we will not get anywhere. The word had the variant faf(f)necute, feflicute, and even thefnicute, a possible indication of its etymological obscurity to the speakers Unless thefnicute can be written off as due to the substitution of initial th for f, it must owe its form to theft, because fefnicute was sometimes used as a vague derogatory term.

Now, while reading the section “On Language” in the newspaper Forward for July 31 2009 (articles in this section are anonymous, signed by “Philologos”), I came across the Yiddish verb fonfen “to speak as though one’s nose were stuffed,” related to the well-known noun fonfer. Philologos cited Leo Rosten’s book The Joys of Yiddish and reproduced the definitions of fonfer from it. This is what fonfer means: “a double-talker; a man who is lazy, slow, ‘goofs off’; one who does not deliver what he promises; a shady, petty deceiver; one who cheats; one who goes through the motions of a thing without intending to perform to his capacity or your proper expectations; a boaster, full of bravado; a specialist in hot air, baloney—a trumpeter of hollow promises.” Rosten’s glosses seem to be overspecified, for what we have is “a cheat; a dissembler; a boaster.” The match between a fonfer and a fefnicute is rather close.

Fefnicute is obviously a compound. I believe that it should be divided as fefn-i-cute. The attested spelling fefnecute suggests that we may be having a word like rag-a-muffin or scal-a-wag ~ scal-i-wag. Perhaps fefn- is a garbled echo of Yiddish fonfer. The second element makes one think of coot, which has been recorded in dialects with the variant cute. This bird name (the wild goose chase continues) is the mainstay of several phrases, such as bare (mad, crazy, lousy) as a cute. The coot is a kind of duck, and ducks and geese are supposed to be dumb; hence the uncomplimentary epithets in the simile. A connection with (a)cute is improbable, for both elements of such compounds are always nouns.

Two circumstances weaken my etymology. First, I had to fall back on metathesis (transposition of sounds): from fonf- to fefn- and the alternation e ~ o (fafnicute exists, whereas fofnicute does not; could Yiddish o have been taken for Engl. a, which later yielded e?). Second, I cannot explain why the word survived (or came into existence?) only in Lancashire. However, anti-Semitism was rampart in those parts (consider the once popular local war cry: “Christianity; no Jews,” so that Jew-cheat-a-fool as a term of abuse would have made sense there. Philologos states that the Yiddish noun continues as British slang fonfen “a con man’s spiel.” It did not show up in the editions of Partridge I have consulted, but there is probably no need to doubt the information. Thus, my hypothesis, despite the nf ~ fn problem receives a tiny boost. I notice that the rare American slang word shillaber “to shill; to decoy an accomplice, especially one posing as a customer to encourage buyers,” that is, a synonym of fonfen, also has a in the middle and may be an extended form of German Schieber “black marketeer” (see my book Word Origins, pp. 68-69). To be sure, this structural coincidence does not go far. Perhaps someone reads our blog in Manchester or Liverpool and will send us a comment. The Oxford Etymologist, having nothing else to do, has lost much sleep over the fortunes of fefnicute.


Anatoly_libermanAnatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins…And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears here, each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to blog.us@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.”

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8. Another picture book roundup - read on!

Once again my bags of books are overflowing! Here are a few new titles worthy of mention:

Jacobs, Paul DuBois and Jennifer Swender. 2010. Fire Drill. Ill. by JuyVoun Lee. New York: Holt.

A picture perfect, non-threatening, multicultural, rhyming book about fire drills.  What more can one ask for? A must-have for every Kindergarten teacher.

Elya, Susan Middleton. No More, Por Favor. 2010. Ill. by David Walker. New York: Putnam.

Know a picky eater? Well, he's in good company.  There are plenty of picky eaters in the rain forest too! 
Deep in the rain forest - selva, so green,
lives Papagayo, an eating machine.
"Here, Bebe Parrot, papaya is yummy."
"No!" says the baby. "No more in my tummy!
Papaya for breakfast, for lunch and la cena.
Too many times in a row no es buena!"
With cute, double-spread acrylic on paper illustrations, a glossary and pronunciation guide for the many Spanish words, and a very funny story about eight picky rain forest inhabitants, No More, Por Favor is great fun! ¡qué divertido!


Roberton, Fiona. 2010. Wanted: The Perfect Pet. New York: Putnam. (first published in Australia)

Simple ink sketches, highlighted with minimal coloration tell the simple story of Henry, who, "more than anything else in the whole wide world," wanted a dog.  It is also the story of a duck, to whom
Nobody ever wrote. Nobody ever called. Nobody ever e-mailed,
that is, until he created "The Perfect Disguise."  Funny, touching, and hilariously illustrated!
                            

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9. Low-Key Thoughts on ‘Highfalutin’

By Anatoly Liberman


Allegedly a nineteenth-century Americanism, highfalutin is now known everywhere in the English speaking world, but, as could be expected, its etymology has not been discovered—“as could be expected,” because the origin of such words is almost impossible to trace.  Many years ago, while investigating the history of skedaddle, I think I found a reasonable source of this verb.  I was neither the first nor the second to discover it, but I put some polish (“kibosh,” as sculptors said 150 years ago) on it.  My thoughts on highfalutin are low-key for an obvious reason.  As will be seen, I have only one feeble idea and am offering it in the hope that, despite the lack of a persuasive solution, it may redirect the search for the source of this enigmatic adjective.  But before sharing my small treasure with the world, I would like to quote the explanation given in John Hotten’s Slang Dictionary (the spelling and punctuation of the original have been retained): “Highfaluten, showy, affected, tinselled, affecting certain pompous or fashionable airs, stuck-up—‘Come, none of your highfaluten games:’ American Slang, now common in Liverpool and the East End of London, from the Dutch Verlooten.  Used recently by The Times in the sense of fustian, highsounding unmeaning eloquence, bombast.”   (Note how often the names of cloths end up meaning ‘pompous speech’: here fustian and bombast, both reflecting the idea of padding.)  Hotten’s dictionary appeared in 1859, but I was quoting from the third edition (1864).

We notice three things in Hotten’s entry: the spelling (highfaluten), the use of the word in Liverpool and London, and the proposed etymology.  The etymology is fanciful.  Dutch verlooten (now spelled verloten) is a verb (the infinitive) meaning “to dispose of a thing by lottery, raffle.”  There is also Dutch loot “shoot; offspring.”  No connection can be established between either of them and highfalutin.  The ghost of a Dutch etymon was raised once again in 1902, when a contributor to Notes and Queries traced -faluting to verluchting “an airing” (luchtig “airy, thin, light; unsubstantial, etc.”)—thus, “flighty talk,” another dead-end proposal.  Unfortunately, Hotten’s derivation has been repeated in several popular books in which verloten was upgraded to an adjective meaning “high-flown, stilted.”  But two other features of Hotten’s comment have hardly been discussed at all.  I cannot imagine that by the middle of the 19th century an Americanism mainly used at home in reference to the inanity and shallowness of official orations (this is the impression the earliest quotations make) reached Liverpool and even the East End of London.  The parents of those whom Jack London met and described in his 1902 book The People of the Abyss (it is about the slums of the East End) would hardly have known and appropriated this piece of American political slang.  I also doubt that The Times would have used it then; in the middle and even at the end of the 19th century it was customary in England to pity the coarseness of “our American cousins” and resent Americanisms.  So I risk suggesting that the word is British, even though the first recorded examples are from the United States.  Finally, we see that Hotten did not hyphenate the word and spelled it highfaluten, not highfalutin, let alone high-faluting or high-falutin’.  He probably did not think that the second element of the compound was a participle.

The other conjectures on the derivation of highfalutin

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10. Monday Artday : Mystical your name is WOMAN



its very necessary to enlarge this... so click on the picture please

This was a practice piece done in oils, that I've never finished and maybe never shall. It's huge. I shall just borrow bits and bites from it.. and revamp it to suit my tastes.... (er..eventually So, I had a little fun with it for this weeks entry ! In thinking it through, the word ,Mystical I wondered, "who" could be more mystical than " woman"? I mean, don't we just "ooze" mystique? (or so I am told).... (eyes twinkling)..... no insult
to my own sex... but i placed the word very LIGHTLY on her lips.... so she could maintain that mystique for just a while longer!

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11. How The G8 Got It Wrong: Or Why Aid Isn’t The Answer

Rebecca OUP-US

Today we are thrilled to have an original piece from Paul Collier the author of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Below, Collier a Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, argues that the G8 did not go far enough in its efforts to assist Africa.

Since the 1960s around a billion citizens of the world have been diverging from the rest of us at an accelerating rate, a trend which will generate unmanageable social pressures. Most of these countries are in Africa, and so it is appropriate that the region should again have been on the G8 agenda during the recent summit in Germany. (more…)

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12. On the Shoulders of Giants

medical-mondays.jpg

The debate regarding the healing potential of alternative and complementary medicine can be a heated one. In his book, Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine Barker Bausell, professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, dissects alternative medicine practices, and finds that much of their healing powers lie in the placebo effect. In the post below, he takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the battle between alternative medicine and the placebo effect.

One of the many daunting tasks I faced in writing Snake Oil Science: the Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine was to compare the biological plausibility of the theories supporting the analgesic effects of alternative medical therapies with that of their chief rival, the placebo effect. (more…)

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13. Snake Oil Science: The Use of Placebos in Research

medical-mondays.jpg

This morning we presented a post from R. Barker Bausell, author of Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine , in which he argues that the placebo effect has as much healing power as alternative medicine. Below, in an excerpt from Bausell’s book, we learn about the history of the use of placebos in scientific research.

…The placebo effect itself escaped serious scientific scrutiny until 1955, having largely been considered prior to that time to be more a part of medical lore (or physician mystique) than a documented clinical entity. (more…)

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14. Online Yiddish and Hebrew Children's Books

This is from Sharon Levin, Bay Area bookwoman extraordiare:

The Center for Jewish History recently completed a pilot project to digitize and make freely accessible online 40 Yiddish and Hebrew children's books, many of which are richly illustrated, from the collections of two of the Center's Partners: The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and the Yeshiva University Museum.

The collection, which is still growing rapidly and also includes books from other CJH partners, can be found online here.

The books were digitized and made available by the Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory, the Center's state-of-the-art in-house digital collections-building facility. In addition to making the children's books available through CJH Digital Collections, the books were also uploaded to the International Children's Digital Library (www.icdlbooks.org), thereby making them even more widely accessible to current and future generations.

The Children's Books Pilot Project at the Center for Jewish History was supported in part by funds from the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) through the New York State Regional Bibliographic Databases Program. Thanks to the success of this METRO-funded pilot project, the Center has since received a generous gift from the Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund to digitize a further 50 children's books.

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15. Yiddish Expression of the Day

A maidel mit a vaidel--a pony-tailed nymphet

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16. Yiddish Expression of the Day

A ritch in kop--crazy in the head

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