What Do You Mean Bentshing Is from the Latin? Originally Published September 6-7, 2019.

In Latin class, Publius, Fabius, and Octavia did a lot of Latin verbs – they ate, they read, they travelled, they gave.  And the verb was always at the end of the sentence, so we were always on tenterhooks for what one was doing with or to the road, the chariot, the plate, the hat, the bread.  But never once did one of them bentsh – not even after eating the bread.

And yet “bentsh” is of Latin derivation!  And it appears in Yiddish.  There are a few words and names that have come to Yiddish from Romance languages.  (Ladino, another Jewish language, is itself a Romance language – from the Latin – and may have been involved in the evolution of such words.  Yinz know how verbiage goes, ’n’at!)

 “Bentsh” comes from Latin “benedicere,” to bless, to give a berakhah, which in turn comes from bene, well, and dicere, to say, to declare, to plead.  In English we have the derivative “benediction,” one of which Rabbi Adelson will be delivering on Sunday morning, September 8th, at the brunch honoring our colleague Michelle Vines.

The name Shprintze comes from the name Esperanza, in the medieval Spanish form of the Latin “sperare,” to hope (transitive or intransitive – to hope for, to anticipate, or just to hope).  Esperanza Malchi, e.g., in 16th century Turkey worked as a financial agent for the Sultan’s harem women, and was accused of being involved in a currency devaluation and was ultimately executed.  The name migrated to Europe and was assumed into Yiddish.

Similarly, but in the other direction, the name Bunim likely came from the French “bon homme,” good man, though it might have come from “bon nom,” good name, as in Shemtov.  And as reported in Haaretz, April 22, 2012,  

“[I]f Bunim comes from bon nom, it is actually a translation of a translation, since Shemtov is a Hebraization of the Greek name Kalonymos, which appears in the Talmud, surfaces again in eighth-century Italy, belonged to a renowned Jewish family in the medieval Rhineland and eventually became the Eastern European Kalman.”

And to come full circle, Haaretz also reports that the name Fayvush or Feivel has no apparent Hebrew, Germanic, or Slavic source, so scholars have two explanations.  One source may be the Greek Phoebus (“bright”) based on the 17th century rabbi Shmuel ben Uri Shraga Fayvush writing his name “Phoebus” in Latin letters (“shraga” means “light” in the Aramaic of the Talmud, and “uri” may come from “or,” light, or “ur,” fire, in Hebrew).  Yet the name(s) may also come from the Latin vivus, living, which has been translated as Hayyim.   The author also posits that it also may have come from the Latin Fabius.  But again there are other sources which say it may come from the Slavic Pavel, or Paul.

Meanwhile, Yentl may come from gentille, French for aristocratic, or from Italian gentile, kind or polite.  Remember – yes I promised to write more about this – that Ashkenaz was actually in France, thus the Ashkenazic roots remain there.

Your correspondent’s mother and great-grandmother were named Reyza Beyla, beautiful rose, clearly of Spanish origin.