To the Editor:
In regard to George Jochnowitz’s article, “. . . Who Made Me a Woman” [April], I would suggest that the reading of the Roth Manuscript No. 32 offers nothing more consequential than a scribe’s error, where the word “non” was omitted from a sentence that should have read “. . . ke non fis me fena.” To build an extensive hypothesis on the absence of the word “non” is as sensible as to build an analogous hypothesis on the absence of the word “not” in the “Wicked Bible.” As the author himself avers, we are dealing with a slavishly literal translation of Hebrew into the vernacular at a time when the modern version of the form of this blessing for women was by the author’s own words just coming into acceptance. Since translations of this nature were admittedly widely used by males also, a scribe’s mistake is much more likely than a speculative innovation which cannot be documented from any other source.
I would also like to suggest that the transliteration “Shuadit” should perhaps more properly start with the letter “J” to give a more valid rendition of both the putative pronunciation of this term and of its origin.
A. Joseph Berlau
Hartsdale, New York
George Jochnowitz writes:
Whether or not males used Roth Manuscript 32 as a prayerbook, it was unambiguously written to be used by a woman. All the adjectives and nouns that refer to the person praying are in the feminine gender. The blessing “ . . . ke fis mi fena” is preceded by “. . . ke non fis mi serventa [feminine]” and “. . . ke non fis mi goya [feminine].” A. Joseph Berlau’s reading could work only if it were grammatically possible for the blessing in question to be said by a man.
The spellings “Shuadit” and “Chuadit” are standard for the name of this language. Max Weinreich and other scholars of Jewish interlinguistics have consistently used them. The Hebrew letter yod in initial position was always pronounced sh in Shuadit. Thus the word for “wine” was shayin rather than yayin. I discuss this curious sound change at some length in an article, “Shuadit: la langue juive de Provence,” which appeared in Archives juives (1978).
I am grateful, though, to Mr. Berlau for raising these questions, which may have troubled other readers as well.