16 December 2013

The Adventures of Lemon Juice: an exercise for learning Hebrew

Once upon a time we had, every morning, a bottle of lemon juice on the table, with a Hebrew label: Mitz Limon Meshumar.
Mitz = juice
Limon = lemon
Meshumar = preserved (like shomer, shmirah, shomer Shabbos... it means guarded)
Preserved Lemon Juice.

Every morning, this bottle wound up on the table in precisely the same position, so that all we could see from where we sat was Mitz Limon Meshu...
We found different ways to finish the word.

It would make a good exercise for people learning Hebrew... only you'd better use a different label, as I think we've pretty much exhausted the possibilities of lemon juice.

Mitz Limon Meshumar... preserved lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshupatz... renovated lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshuga... crazy lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshuchrar... freed lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshutaf... lemon juice in a partnership.
Mitz Limon Meshulal... lemon juice captured as booty.
Mitz Limon Meshuneh... bizarre lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshubad... subjugated lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshupar... beautified lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshulach... lemon juice dispatched on an errand (usually fundraising).
Mitz Limon Meshulam... lemon juice paid for in full.
Mitz Limon Meshulash... triangular lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshukatz... lemon juice afflicted by vermin.
Mitz Limon Meshum... lemon juice made of garlic.
Mitz Limon Meshurar... lemon juice sung-about (I am not sure this word actually exists).

Rabba bar bar Chana and the Arabian Nights

Rabbi Geometry once mentioned a Gemara about a sea where metal nails fly out of ships.Say, said I, that sounds familiar. There is a sea like that in the story of the "Third Calender" in the Arabian Nights.

The Nights were set in writing c. 1450, but they are set in Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphate in, oh, the 700's.

 It occurred to me the other day that the yeshivos of Sura and Pumbedisa were for a time located in the exact same time and place as the Arabian Nights -- occasionally one turned up in Baghdad itself -- so I dug my copy out of the basement to see if I could find any Gaonim wandering around in the perfumed gardens of Caliph Haroun al-Raschid.

While I was there, I got distracted: the stories of Sinbad the Sailor are so famous, and I never read them... so I read the first one.


The first voyage of Sinbad the Sailor -- or at least the nut of it -- is taken almost verbatim from the story of Rabba bar bar Chana and the whale fish, on Bava Basra 73b.

(Once upon a time, says Rabba bar bar Chana, he and some others went a-sailing on a ship, and saw what appeared to be a mossy island. They disembarked and began to cook a meal on it... but it was really a whale; and, feeling the heat of the cooking fire, it rolled over; and had they not been close to the boat, they would have drowned.

The first time I heard this story, it was explained as a metaphor for Jewish history: we land on what looks like a safe kingdom to live in... but we better stick close with the Torah!)

Fancy meeting you here!
In the end, I did not find any mention of contemporary Jewish society in the Nights (I only skimmed the Victorian children's version); but it is obvious that there was Jewish influence on them here and there.