Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Help for Hebrew-learners

It is to be counted among the beauties -- nay, the graces -- of Classical Arabic,
as indeed still practiced by the more observant in our own day,
that, before reading-forth Scripture
(or indeed  any text  indited in that language 
wherein the Koran was revealed),
you utter the word  -- just this! -- :


Which, being Englished, is as much as to say:  In nomine Dei.
(Let us pause as we contemplate the majesty of al-ism -- ha-Shem.)


And now  this winter evening,  reading poetry by candle-light,
and savoring a bit of brandy
(forbidden to the devotees of al-Rasûl,  
but mercifully permitted to those of Moses,
or of the Nazarene Carpenter)
I happened upon these passages,
from the pen of Charles Reznikoff (1894 - 1976;  born in America
of emigrant Ashkenazi parents):

How dificult for me is Hebrew:
even the Hebrew for mother, for bread, for sun
is foreign. How far have I been exiled, Zion.

I have learnt the Hebrew blessing before eating bread;
is there no blessing before reading Hebrew?


Time was, one time,  back in the day,
that I fared forth at lunchtime  in the company of damsels:
a lovely Jordanian muslimah, whose name in Arabic means ‘gentle rain’,
and a stern German, a Swabian Christian
(brought along quasi as chaperone)
at a time when I myself,  all pagan and unbaptised,
was quietly Christianizing:
and requested that the Muslimah  should say grace before our meal.

Expecting something elaborate, along the lines of
words I had heard
at the table-grace  of comfortably Protestant-raised relatives,
(“Bless this food to our use,
 and us to thy service … “)

instead she said,  just this:


(Such polyvalent brevity 
is actually not characteristic of Arabic,
which seems to have a distinct blessing for every occasion,
along with an appropriate rejoinder.

As, to someone who has just had a haircut:

“Na`îman !”


“Allah yin`im `aleek !”  )


E’en so!  May not the Hebrew words
that bless the bread,  thus bless the text?

O ye of Zion and of Judah,
of all the Diaspora,

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