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Jewish Word | Shamash

n the 1946 film The Big Sleep, based on the Raymond Chandler mystery of the same name, Carmen—the promiscuous, drug-addicted younger sister of Lauren Bacall’s character—sizes up Philip Marlowe, played by Humphrey Bogart, and asks him, “What are you, a prizefighter?” Bogart responds, “No, I’m a shamus.” “What’s a shamus?” she inquires. “It’s a private detective,” he answers. Yes, Bogart is using the Yiddish version—more popularly spelled “shammes”—of the Hebrew word, “shamash.”

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A Short History of Little Words

It’s hard to escape the OMGs and LOLs  of today, but don’t blame millennials—acronyms actually originated thousands of years ago with the development of the ancient Hebrew alphabet. Around the 10th century BCE, Hebrew letters emerged out of ideographic pictures and, soon after, groups of letters started to be used in place of frequently recurring words.

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Jewish Word | Golem

Although such comparisons remain rare, for Jews and non-Jews the golem serves as a concept uniquely suited to expressing the fears and insecurities of the modern era. As Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote in 1984, “The golem story appears less obsolete today than it seemed one hundred years ago. After all, what are the computers and robots of our times if not golems?”­

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The Semantics of Anti-Semitism

The term “anti-Semitism” has evolved. As scholarship on the subject grew, the available vocabulary expanded. Today, its definition—and its boundaries—are uncertain. “Anti-Semitism” is but one of a convoluted, interconnected web of similar words—including “anti-Judaism,” “anti-Zionism,” “Judeophobia” and “Zionophobia.”

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