Jews wanting to know if someone is Jewish is very different from goyim wanting to know if someone is Jewish
There’s an old Jewish joke about that, because of course there is.
dare i ask what it is
(look, I left that wide open, somebody had to ask what it is)
So it’s sometime in late-19th-century Europe, and a little old Jewish man is taking a journey by train. Where’s he going? I don’t know where he’s going, that’s not part of the story. He’s just sitting there in the train car with his little suitcase, minding his own business, maybe watching the scenery go by, when suddenly –
– suddenly the door between cars opens, and a big burly guy swaggers in and plants himself in the middle of the aisle, and bellows “Are there any Jews in this car?”
Of course there’s dead silence, and of course our guy is frozen, because all his personal and cultural experience tells him that answering yes automatically to that question is not a survival-oriented behavior.
“Any Jews in this car?” the big man repeats, getting impatient – and he looks like the kind of man who gets angry when he’s impatient.
Except our guy is suddenly angry himself, because it’s not right that this kind of question should make him so afraid.
So he drops his suitcase on the floor, thump, and he gets to his feet and he shouts “Yes! I’m a Jew! What do you care?”
And the big man looks at him and beams like the sun coming up, and says “Chasdei Hashem! Come with me, reb yid, we need a tenth for a minyan in the next car.”
Okay, I’ll bite, what do those words mean in English? (“Reb yid”, “chasdei hashem”, “minyan”)
Because I’m raised by a Lutheran Christian and a reform Jew and I don’t actually have a good grip on any culture to begin with.
A minyan is a quorum of ten adults (in Orthodox and other more traditional circles, ten male adults), required for communal prayer. Certain parts of the liturgy can only be said in communal prayer, which means it’s fairly common for a group of nine to be looking for a tenth.
Chasdei is the plural-possessive of chesed, which can be translated as “kindness". Hashem literally means “the Name”, and it’s used as a stand-in for God’s name in casual conversation (which is to say, essentially any mention of God outside of prayer). The phrase “chasdei Hashem” means “kindnesses of God”, more or less, and is used in the exclamatory sense of “God is good!” upon experiencing or hearing of good fortune.
Reb yid literally means “Rabbi Jew”, which sounds super weird in English and will call for some unpacking. Reb is used in most Yiddish-speaking communities roughly the way sir is used in English; while its original meaning denotes a specific formal title, it also has a casual courtesy meaning that one uses instead of saying “hey you.” Yid, when used by native Yiddish speakers, means not just “Jew” but “fellow Jew”. The phrase together is thus used as polite address to a stranger whom the (Jewish) speaker knows to also be Jewish.
seeing the phrase “chasdei hashem” always makes me start singing miami boys choir, it’s a serious affliction. #dayschoolproblems
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