So after work I headed to the library to study, but decided to distract myself with a book before diving into my studies. Oy, was I distracted.
I ran into a book called Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of its Moods, by Michael Wex. I learned about the biblical origins of kvetching, the Talmud, and why I’m a shmuk for not having already added Yiddish to my list of languages.
In Yiddish, kvetch means to complain, and the Israelites kvetched quite a bit. They kvetched about being led to the Red Sea, about being sent manna, and about their leaders.
Wex explains the importance of kvetching, which is a way to remember the uniqueness of the Jewish culture. “If we stop kvetching, how will we know that life isn’t supposed to be like this? If we don’t keep kvetching we’ll forget who we really are. Kvetching lets us remember that we’ve got nowhere to go because we’re so special. Kvetching lets us know that we’re in exile, that the Jew, and hence the ‘Jewish’, is out of place everywhere, all the time” (6).
The Talmud is composed of the Mishna, and the Gemara(or Talmud). The Mishna consists of “a direct investigation of the text of the bible and is divided into sixty-three different tractates…” (10) The Gemara is a discussion of the intricacies of halokhe, or Jewish law, without ever settling on the correct answer. Perhaps the study of the Talmud has enabled the Jewish culture to produce such excellent lawyers.
Shmuk is a word I often heard growing up amongst my teenage friends. It basically means “jerk” in Yiddish, but it’s a lot stronger in Yiddish than in English.
I’m just verklempft that you took the time to read this post.