Friday, December 20, 2013

Parashath Sh'moth: What's In A Name? (Part 1: People)

ערב שבת קודש פר' שמות תשע"ד

וְאֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַבָּאִים, מִצְרָיְמָה: אֵת יַעֲקֹב, אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּאוּ. שמות א,א

Now these are the names of the sons of Israel, who came into Egypt with Jacob; every man came with his household: (Exodus 1:1)

Once upon a time, there was a class of boys in a religious school in New York. The class had three Ephraim's in it. To differentiate among these boys, the teacher came up with a clever idea. He would call one of these boys Ephraim, one of them Effie, and one of them Jeff, his English name.

This was a religious school? This was Jewish school?

I suppose the thought never occurred to this teacher to call each of these boys "Ephraim ben...[father's name]."

Another man I know made aliyah when he was a teenager. His name was "Joshua," and that is exactly what he had been called all of his life. Yet, he looked forward to changing his name on his freshly issued Israeli ID Card to Yehoshu'a. When the time came, when his turn at the Ministry of the Interior came up, he submitted his name-change request. The clerk actually discouraged him, saying, "You're in luck! Foreign (non-Hebrew) names are very popular. Keep yours!"

This was in Israel at a government agency, in a country where the official language is Hebrew? And this is a supposed to be a Jewish State?

So, why are there still rabbis, not just outside of Israel, but IN Israel going by goyshe names? What kind of example does that set?

Sorry, but there is NO excuse for "rabbis" in Israel to be called by their slave names such as "Jeff," "Steve," or "Richard." Even "Mark" is considered by some in Israel as a nickname for "Meir" (Merik/Mark).

Ephraim and Joshua at least made some effort to go by their Hebrew names. When Ephraim came to Israel, he was called Effie in the army [IDF]. But, after that, try as he may, everyone continued to call him Jeff. Kol HaKavod to the IDF. Go figure.

Years ago, I was teaching Hebrew at a "Reformist" institution,...fourth grade boys. It was not the kind of place which would have even heard of thing such as gender segregation. I was simply given the small group of students with so-called "attention difficulties," which happened to have been made up of only boys.

I started the year with an announcement to my students that during class, as this was a Hebrew [and Judaism] class, we would be using our Hebrew names.

So as not to embarrass anyone, I immediately qualified this by saying that one or more of them might not yet know his Hebrew name or even have one, and that this was [unfortunately] not uncommon. The boys were to go home, and ask their parents about this, and if they did not already have a Hebrew name that, with the help of their parents, they could pick their own.

I actually adapted this use of Hebrew names in Hebrew class from my own junior high school Spanish experience, in which we had to pick Spanish names to use during class.

One boy Craig came to the next class, quite pleased with himself that he had a Hebrew name that he could present to me and to the class.

He said that his parents told him that his Hebrew name was Hanan. Like with all of the students, I explained what I knew about their names, in order that their names would have even more meaning to them. Of coruse, some of them were named for deceased relatives. For that aspect of their names, they would have to ask their parents, or in some cases their grandparents, about those relatives for whom they were named. In addition to providing them with meaning to their own names, they would be engaged in keeping the memories of those relatives alive, which is the point of naming children after them. But, this assignment was also designed to get their parents more involved with their Jewish education,...hopefully in a painless manner.

I explained to Hanan a little bit about his name.
Hen = charm (He really liked this one! ie. charming)
Honen HaDa'ath = implanter/endower of wisdom

Hananiah (AKA "Shadrach," Daniel 1:1-3:33)
He insisted that I only call him Hanan, even outside of class. Uh-oh, I thought. Did I create a monster? Would I receive a phone call from parents complaining that I was brainwashing their son?

That's OK. I was willing to take that risk. And, as it happened, I did not receive any phone calls from irate parents. Parental trust in their Jewish institution? Parental apathy? I would never know.

רב הונא אמר בשם בר קפרא בשביל ד' דברים נגאלו ישראל ממצרים שלא שנו את שמם ואת לשונם ולא אמרו לשון הרע ולא נמצא ביניהן אחד מהן פרוץ בערוה לא שנו את שמן ראובן ושמעון נחתין ראובן ושמעון סלקין לא היו קורין ליהודה רופא ולא לראובן לוליאני ולא ליוסף לסטיס ולא לבנימין אלכסנדרי. -ויקרא רבה לב,ה

...Rav Huna said in the name of Bar-Qafra for the sake of four things, Israel was redeemed from Egypt, they did not change their names, nor their spoken tongue, and they did not say lashon hara', and there was not one found among them who acted lewdly. They did not change their names: Reuven and Shimon when they entered; Reuven and Shimon when they left. They did not call Yehudah Rofe, and not Reuven Luliani, and not Yosef Listim, and Binyanin Alexandrei.... (Wayiqra Rabba 32:5)

I am willing to bet that wherever Craig is, and whatever Craig is doing with his life, he will at least always have a positive, Jewish identity. Who knows? Maybe it will lead him to more.

Maybe it already has, due to the power of having an authentically Jewish name.


Craig/Hanan is his real name. He would be about 30 years old by now. The Reform schul above is on the East Coast of the U. S. I mention this on the unlikely chance that he, or someone he knows, will read this, and I could perhaps find out what really happened to student who made my day.

Who knows what kind of Jewish identity he was being raised with, but it seemed that his Jewish name was what clicked for him.

Ephraim and Joshua were not really named these names. However, those stories did occur, as they were related to me.

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