108, entry 2003, Encyc. Judaica added Dec. 2022
Yiddish & Pizza
is such an exotic abundance of languages on the
buses in Naples these days that you feel as if you
have wandered into a workshop run by the Summer
Institute of Linguistics, those busy beavers of bible
translation who tell us, for example, that there are 8
languages spoken in Sri Lanka, 8 in the Ukraine, 9 in
Tunisia, 82 in Ethiopia, and 470 in Nigeria.
I hear some of them, I'm sure, on the buses,
depending on the time of day. In the mornings there
are loads of immigrant woman from Sri Lanka and the
Ukraine on their way to work as maids and cooks
(termed COLF in Italian, for "collaboratrici familiari"—family
helpers). Later in the day, young African men toting
huge sports bags jammed with sundry leather goods such
as purses and belts are seen making their way to the
bustling pedestrian malls downtown to peddle their
Interestingly, of the 33 languages listed for
Italy, I generally hear only two of those on the
busses: one is standard Italian; the other is
Neapolitan dialect. (Remember: linguists joke that the
difference between a language and a dialect is that a
language has an army.) There is even a language I had
never heard of, much less actually heard:
A tiny number speak it fluently; perhaps 4,000
occasionally use elements of it in their speech (1/10th of
Italy's 40,000 Jews). Linguistic affiliation:
Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western,
Italo-Romance. More commonly spoken two generations ago.
Used in Passover song. Jewish. Nearly extinct.
I don't think anyone in the small
(around 300-400) Naples Jewish community speaks it,
but I'll have to ask Aldo, a friend of ours. He is in
his 90's and a few years ago became the second oldest
university graduate in the history of the Italian
state. He was a young man when the Fascists were in
power and, because he was a Jew, was denied entrance
to a university. He bided his time and years later, at
the age of 80, wrote his university dissertation on The Influence of
Napoleon on the Liberation of European Jewry.
He says he had difficulty even finding a so-called
"graduate advisor" for his thesis; that is, some
professor who knew enough about the subject to judge
what he wrote. They did a short spot on him on
national television, where they showed him getting his
degree. He sported an elegant blue suit and an
is a rare Jewish Language --added Nov.2021
Aldo speaks only Italian, and it
is my impression that almost no Italian Jews speak
Yiddish. Once, an elderly Jewish gentleman from New
York whom I met in Naples asked if there was a
synagogue in Naples. Indeed, there was, and I took him
down there. He spoke no Italian, but he did speak
Yiddish, a disappearing language even among American
Jews. He managed to communicate in Yiddish at the
Naples synagogue with a single elderly gentleman, a
resident of Naples but originally from Eastern Europe.
They spoke while the younger generation of Neapolitan
Jewry stood around and listened, absolutely transfixed
as they listened to the historic language of the
Of border-line relevance in the paper some time
ago was a human interest story. There was a photo,
taken in Portland, Oregon of a young man and woman
—"street people"— sitting on their bags on the
sidewalk. One of them was holding up a sign that says:
"Pizza Schmizza paid me to hold this sign instead of
asking for money." The caption above the photo said:
"The Homeless. New frontiers in advertising". The
paragraph below said, simply, that the kids were paid
only in pizza and soft-drinks, and that this seemed to
be a new record in aggressive advertising. Reading
between the lines, they meant, I think, "a new low in
advertising". The reason it was featured in a
Neapolitan paper, no doubt, had to do with the pizza.
Neapolitans are always concerned that the rest of the
world is doing something wrong, clumsy, and unorthodox
—with an outright potential for true evil— with the
real Neapolitan product.* (My wife's comment upon
eating a Taco Pizza in Honolulu pretty much sums it
up: "This is pretty good, but they should call it
something else. It's not pizza.")
of which, see this
item on Haggis pizza! If you're a
I even ran into a young Japanese
cook in Naples a few weeks ago. He didn't speak a word
of Italian, but his sponsors in Kagoshima, Japan, had
sent him to Naples with an interpreter (!) to learn
how to make real pizza and bring home the bacon (not
an authentic topping, by the way) to Japan where he
will strut his stuff in a genuine Neapolitan pizza
place in Kagoshima. That city and Naples have one of
these strange "sister city" deals going. There is also
a street named "via Kagoshima" in Naples (click here). There may very
well be young Neapolitan cooks running around
Kagoshima at this very moment with their interpreters,
learning how to make sushi and fugu, the infamous poisonous puffer
or blowfish of the family Tetraodontidae, class Osteichthyes, and
the body of which contains a toxin 1250 times more
powerful than cyanide, one serving of which costs
$200, and even a slightly imperfect preparation of
which will kill you in no time flat. There is, by the
way, at least one Japanese restaurant in Naples, and
that does not reassure me.
What the paper didn't explain,
and what the proprietor of my local morning coffee bar
wanted to know, was the name of the restaurant, "Pizza
Schmizza". I explained that it was a chain of
restaurants in the US state of Oregon. But what was
"Maybe it's Neapolitan Yiddish," I said.
That did no good, since, as I have said, not
even Neapolitan Jews speak or know anything about
Yiddish. Neapolitan Jews are Sephardic —that
is, originally from Spain—
not Ashkenazi Jews (who are from Eastern Europe and
have given us Yiddish).
If you don't know
what Sephardic is, see this link.
Everything you everything you ever wanted know. More, I
it's a Yiddish example of what is called, depending on
the context, 'echo-word reduplication,'
'linguistic doubling,' 'rhyming reduplication' and, at
linguistics department beer-parties, 'phonesthemic
doubling'. Some examples in English are drinky-winky,
harum-scarum, helter-skelter, higgledy-piggledy, and
in so-called Cockney Rhyming Slang, 'loaf' for 'head'
(since 'loaf of bread' rhymes with 'head'). Yiddish
uses the sound 'schm—' as the PSDA (Phonesthemic
Secret Double Agent) for humorous effect."
Farther afield —leaving pizza and schmizza
behind, but still in the baffling Neapolitan-Yiddish
crossover department— is the Neapolitan song, Oj, Marì! (complete text, here).
Italian-American singers are required to sing it wrong (!) in
order not to cause giggles since the Neapolitan oy sounds exactly
like the Yiddish expression of despair, oy (as in Oy, vey.) If you
sing Oj, Marì!
to a bunch of people (say, in New York) who are
familiar with Yiddish, they'll start laughing and
saying things like "Oy, Mary. Why don't you marry a
nice Jewish boy?" Thus, singers such as Dean Martin
had to sing, Uè,
Marì! That expression, Uè (sounds like
is, indeed, Neapolitan, but it means "HEY!" whereas
the original oj
(sounds like O-E) is the vocative O! in Neapolitan
—vocative as in O
Lord! and, in this case, O Mary! But instead of
saying O Mary!,
with Uè, Marì!
you're saying "Hey! Mary! or even worse, something
like "Yo! Mary!" It gets even more confusing since Yo is dyslexic
Yiddish for Oy.
I need a drinky-winky.
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The Encyclopaedia Judaica
is a 22-volume English-language encyclopedia of the
Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel. It covers diverse
areas of the Jewish world and civilization, including
Jewish history of all eras, culture, holidays, language,
scripture, and religious teachings. As of 2010, it had
been published in two editions accompanied by a few
revisions. This is their timeline of Jewish History in
- The first Jewish
settlement there probably dates to the beginning of
the first century C.E. [Common Era, i.e. AD], if not before. Josephus
(Antiquities, XVII, 23–25, and Wars, II, 101–05)
reports that during Augustus’ rule there was already
community at Puteoli (Dicaearchia) [modern
Pozzuoli], near Napoli. Puteoli was the most
important mercantile harbor of Roman Italy in that
period. Some sepulchral inscriptions in Latin dated
to a later period indeed attest a Jewish presence in the area.
- By the fourth
century C.E., the community of Naples was of
considerable size and economically important. A
burial ground was excavated in 1908 in Corso Malta.
The tombs date from the end of the 4th century
to the middle of the 5th century C.E.
Three of the inscriptions are in Latin, one in
Greek. It is interesting that one of the inscriptions in Latin is
followed by an inscription in Hebrew. All the
inscriptions are decorated with the menorah. The etrog as well as the Holy Ark
decorate two of the inscriptions. In 536,
according to the Byzantine historian Procopius
Jewish population helped the Goths, although
unsuccessfully, to defend the city when it was besieged by the Byzantines.
- Eleventh- and
twelfth-century documents show that the Naples
community had a synagogue and a school. Jews enjoyed
right to own real estate and to dispose of it as
they wished. Benjamin of Tudela, who visited the
town in c. 1159, found 500 Jews living there.
From 1288, under Charles II, anti-Jewish
disorders incited by Dominican preachers occurred; they reached their height in
1290 when serious outrages were committed
and a synagogue was converted into a church. However, in 1330,
Robert of Anjou invited Jews from the Balearic
Islands to settle in Naples and in the rest of his kingdom, promising them
protection against annoyance and the same taxation
rights as those enjoyed by Christians. From 1442, under the rule
of Aragon, conditions for the Jews in Naples and its
surroundings were favorable, and attracted Jews from various parts of
- At the end of 1492,
and the beginning of 1493, a large influx of
refugees from Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain found temporary asylum in Naples.
The Spanish refugees, undernourished and sick,
probably introduced the pestilence in 1492 that struck down 20,000
persons in Naples alone.
- Among the Spanish
refugees who landed in Naples in 1492 was
Don Isaac Abrabanel, who became fiscal adviser to
Ferdinand I and Alfonso II. In 1495, the
Kingdom of Naples was conquered by the Spanish and,
in 1496, a decree for the expulsion of the Jews was
issued, although it was not implemented. The
expulsion of the Jews was definitively ordered in 1510 and finally
carried out: exception was made for 200 wealthy
Jewish families who undertook to pay an annual tax of 300 ducats to the crown.
- In 1515, the
New Christians were also expelled from the kingdom.
The 200 wealthy families, who had been joined by others in 1520, had
increased to 600 within the following decade.
Although a new decree of expulsion was issued in 1533,
was granted to the Jews in November 1535 to
reside in Naples for a further ten years against the
payment of 10,000 ducats. However, the
agreement was not respected by Emperor Charles V
and, in 1541, he ordered the total expulsion of the Jews; this coincided
with the establishment of a Christian loan bank
(Monte di Pietá) in Naples.
- It was not until 1735,
when the kingdom passed to the Bourbons, that Jews
were readmitted into Naples and the vicinity by an edict signed by
Charles IV on February 3, 1740. However,
following pressure by Jesuits and the Church, the
who had accepted the invitation were again expelled
(September 18, 1746).
- In 1822, at the
suggestion of Metternich, the Austrian premier,
Solomon de Rothschild had his brother, Karl Mayer
of Frankfurt on the Main, settled in Naples as court
banker of the Bourbons. There Rothschild did much to
the ruling dynasty economically, and he pushed for a
liberalization of the government. Rothschild resided
in Villa Acton-Pignatelli
in Via Chiaia. Rothschild’s task came to an end in 1860
when Garibaldi conquered Naples. By then a small Jewish community had
developed around Rothschild. Religious services
began to be held in Naples in 1831, but a synagogue
not opened until June 1864. The synagogue
located in the Palazzo Sessa was inaugurated in 1864
thanks to the influence of Baron
Rothschild. In the entrance there are two marble
statues; one in honor of the community president Dario Ascarelli who bought
the premises for the synagogue in 1910 and
the other which marks the deportation of Neapolitan Jews during World
War II. Restoration was carried out in 1992.
Samuele Rocca (2nd ed.)
- In 1931, there
were 998 Jews in the community of Naples, whose
authority extended to all southern Italy.
Persecutions during World War II had
minor consequences as the Allied landing led to a
speedy liberation of southern Italy. Nevertheless, 11 Jews were
taken to extermination camps from Naples and others
were killed elsewhere.
- From 1943 to 1945,
Naples was the biggest harbor that served the Allies
in the Mediterranean. Thus various Jewish units from Palestine served in the
area as well as Jewish chaplains from the U.S. Army.
Both assisted the local Jewish community. After the war, the
U.S. Navy held regular services for American Jewish
sailors in Naples.
Rocca (2nd ed.)
- At war’s end (1945)
534 Jews remained in the community. In 1969,
there were 450 Jews in Naples. In the early 21st
century the community
numbered approximately 200.
- A Hebrew press was
established in Naples not later than 1485 and,
in the next decade nearly 20 books were published, making the city
one of the most important cradles of Hebrew
incunabula. Naples was then a center of general book printing and the book
trade, and wealthy members of the Jewish community
including immigrants from Spain and Portugal, financed the
publishing of Hebrew books.
- The first Jewish
printer there was the German Joseph b. Jacob
Gunzenhausen, followed in 1490 by
Joshua Solomon Soncino. A third printer was
Isaac b. Judah ibn Katorzo (of Calatayud in Spain).
The first book published (in 1487) was Psalms with David Kim?i’s
commentary, followed by Proverbs with a commentary
by Immanuel of Rome (n.d.), and the rest of the Hagiographa in 1488. A
Pentateuch (with Rashi), the Five Scrolls, and the
Antiochus Scroll appeared in 1491.
- The first printed
edition of Abraham ibn Ezra’s Pentateuch commentary
came out in 1488; Na?manides’ Pentateuch commentary was printed in 1490
by Katorzo; and that of Ba?ya b. Asher in 1492.
The grand first edition of the entire Mishnah (with
Maimonides’ commentary) was published in 1492.
Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008
- Halakhic works included
Jacob Landau's Agur, the first Hebrew work with
approbations (Haskamot) and the second printed in the lifetime of
the author (who was one of Gunzenhausen’s
typesetters); the first edition of the Kol Bo and Kim?i’s Sefer
ha-Shorashim was published by Gunzenhausen in 1490,
and by Soncino (and Katorzo?) in 1491. Ba?ya b.
Joseph ibn Paquda’s "Duties of the Heart" (?ovot
ha-Levavot) appeared in 1489, and Na?manides’ Sha’ar ha-Gemul
in 1490. Of particular interest are Pere?
Trabot’s Makre Dardekei (1488), a 14th-century
glossary with Italian, Arabic, and also French,
Provençal, and German translations; Kalonymus b.
Kalonymus’ satirical Even Bo?an (1489);
a Hebrew grammar, Peta? Devarai (1492); a
five-volume Hebrew translation of Avicenna’s medical canon Ha-Kanon
ha-Gadol printed for the first and only time. The
fourth edition of Dante’s Divina Commedia
by an anonymous Jewish printer in Naples in 1477.
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