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The Assassins: Part II

By Philologos

Where were we? Ah, yes: With the ninth-century Qarmatians in southern Iraq. In 899 they actually founded an independent state on the Persian Gulf under the leadership of Hamdan Qarmat’s disciple Sa’id al-Hasan al-Jannabi.Read More


Hash Heads

By Philologos

Aaron Demsky writes from Ramat Gan, Israel: Apropos of your [April 11] piece entitled “Thugs and Bandits,” perhaps you might want to discuss the word “assassin,” too.Read More


The First and Last Drops

By Philologos

A soft rain is falling outside my window. Possibly, it is the last, since this is the time of year when the rains in Israel stop and do not resume until the following autumn. This is why, in the Shemoneh Esreh or “Eighteen Benedictions” prayer recited three times daily, there is a difference of wording starting with the first day…Read More


A Sudden Revelation

By Philologos

Michael Brown sends an interesting query from Toronto. “Can someone,” he asks, “have an epiphany in Yiddish? I have asked around, and no one has been able to provide a Yiddish word or even an expression that incorporates ‘epiphany’ and its social, spiritual and intellectual connotations.”I should begin my answer to Brown’s question…Read More


No Simple Answer

By Philologos

‘The best kashe is kasha with gravy,” goes an old pun about the Passover Seder’s Four Questions, which are known in Yiddish as the fier kashes — a pun based on the word kashe in Yiddish meaning both buckwheat grits and a question.And yet a kashe is not an ordinary question. If you ask someone, “What time is it?” or “Are you…Read More


Of Thugs and Bandits

By Philologos

‘A bunch of thugs,” General Tommy Franks has called the irregular forces fighting against the coalition army in Iraq. The Iraqi regime and much of the Muslim world, on the other hand, calls them shuhada, “martyrs,” and feda’in, “redeemers” or “self-sacrificers,” i.e., Islamic commandos.Read More


Fifty Days and Fifty Nights

By Philologos

‘Fierce desert weather, even more than the stubborn pockets of [Iraqi] resistance, conspired to slow the allied advance,” wrote John Kifner, reporting from southern Iraq, in last week’s International Herald Tribune. “The sandstorm, reaching the level of a hamsin, the brown dust that blots out all vision in the desert, began…Read More


The Politics of Repair

By Philologos

When a Hebrew expression that was unknown in the English language 20 years ago appears not once but twice in a column by Thomas Friedman about the war on Iraq, on the editorial page of The New York Times, that’s a linguistic success story. The expression is tikkun olam (pronounced “tee-KOON oh-LAHM”), and I don’t have to define it for you…Read More


The Jews of Old-Time Medina

By Philologos

Nathan P. Baker of Walnut Creek, Calif., has a query about the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia, the second-holiest site of Islam after Mecca. “I was quite surprised,” he writes, “to learn that it was a Jewish city, called Yathrib, long before the time of Muhammad. Could you furnish me, please, with the dates, the number of Jews in…Read More


Gallantly Grammatical

By Philologos

A promise is a promise. I ended last week’s column with the pledge to tell you why the Hebrew phrase ma’asei merkavah, “the doings of the chariot,” is sometimes humorously applied by political commentators in Israel to the process of forming coalition governments, such as the one just put together by Prime Minister Sharon, and I’ll stick…Read More





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