5: Inscription, Moses Altshuler/sam sax, 1596/ 21st century.
Inside the cover of each book sax has published is an inscription in Yiddish:
.פֿאַר װײַבער און פֿאַר מאַנסבילן װאָס זײַנען אַזוי װי װײַבער, דאָס הײסט זײ קענען ניט לערנען
The transliteration is: "Far vayber un far mansbiln vos zaynen azoy vi vayber, dos heyst zey kenen nit lernen."
In English, this translates to: “For women and men who are like women in that they cannot learn.”
Though this phrase has been used many times over, it’s thought to have originated in Moses Altshuler's introduction to his 1596 book, Brantshpigl (Burning Mirror), one of the first Yiddish texts concerned with musar (Jewish ethics). At the time when Brantshpigl was written, Yiddish was the vernacular language of Ashkenazi Jews, but Hebrew was the language of scholarship. Altshuler explained that he wrote the book in Yiddish so that the material would be accessible not only to highly educated men, but to women and to men who did not study Torah. Thus, this epigraph references a history of Jewish patriarchy in which women were barred from certain kinds of education, men who deviated from gender norms were considered to be “like women,” and both were considered inferior to the class of learned men.
Suggested Activity: After sharing some of the history of the phrase, have students answer the following questions:
- How do you interpret sax’s decision to include this line in each of his books? Why would he include the text in the original Yiddish, without English translation? For whom might the inscription be intended?
- Do you think it was an insult, when this line originated, for men to be seen as “like women”? Would it be considered an insult today? Why or why not? What new meanings does sax bring to the line by including it in his poetry collections?
Sources: Moses Altshuler, Brantshpigl (Burning Mirror) (Krakow, 1596).
sam sax, bury it (Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2018).