18 May 2007

On My Soapbox Again...

Question asked on WeirdJews (a LiveJournal group) hit on my Pet Peeve #143:
otherwise egalitarian Jews not using both parents' names in their Hebrew names for No Particular Reason. So here's what I wrote:

Why not both parents' names?

If I were calling you up as gabbai, I'd love to call you up as Chaya bat Yehudit v'Nachum -- or, for those times when you're in need of a mi-shebeirach, to wish you a speedy recovery as same.

In an egalitarian context, there is -- to my mind -- no compelling reason to be only your father's daughter in ritual contexts & only your mother's daughter when in need of healing/divine mercy. I understand that there are those who find it meaningful to perpetuate this distinction between using ben/bat father's name in pretty much all "official" Hebrew name contexts and ben/bat mother's name in prayers for healing... but to me, the latter is just a small sop offered in a context that otherwise was seldom giving women their due.

But, as said above, there's not necessarily any reason for anyone to be "weirded out" by your having previously given your name as Chaya bat Judit, because you could be giving it that way because:

1) your mother is Jewish, your father is not, and it's in a context where you find it appropriate to include the former and not the latter, as would be the traditional practice (unlike sirleebutler choosing to use both*)
--this is what I do in my usual Conservative shuls/minyanim, and the way my name appears on the ketubah, because my father is not Jewish -- Rivkah Leah bat Yehudit Sarah

2) you are a farbrente feminist and hoping to add a few specks of sand on one side of the balance, weighed against hundreds of years of men coming up for aliyot with dad's-names-only + plenty of men and women even in egal contexts continuing to only give dad pride of place in these Official Name non-mishebeirach contexts (not my reason for doing it, as said above -- but I wouldn't mind anyway if people thought it was my reason, b/c I'd be sympathetic to it on some level!)

3) it's not their business, but because of whatever set of circumstances you do not wish to use your father's name (absent; abusive; birth father not in your life ... I know of someone who uses his father & stepmother's names, rather than father + late mother's name: she died when he was tiny and his stepmother is, in his life & community, his mom).

*English names are fine. In some contexts where it seems not inappropriate to include the name of my father, who raised me as a Jew, I add "v'Danny" (that's his given name--not Daniel--so I have no intention of improving on what his parents gave him or trying to disguise the non-standard aspects by Judaising/Hebraicizing it for him). Another Rivkah Leah I know is "bat Charles v'Edith."

Jews for centuries--indeed, millenia!--have used names that come from the cultures & languages that surround them: female Jews particularly had these kinds of names. Think of all the women from the Old Country whose names are Yiddish and not Hebrew-derived: Shayna, Golda, Toybe, Glikl, Perl, Rayzl, Feyge, Yente/Yentl [actually cognate with "gentle"--in the sense of noble/highborn: one from the Romance-language rather than Germanic component of Yiddish])... and, among the Sefardim, names like Reyna/Reina...as well as men's names like Sender (from Alexander) and Hirsh/Hershl, Berl, etc....

Now, I'm not saying that there's no reason to have or create Jewish/Hebrew name for yourself if you don't have one and want one other than YourName ben/bat Dad'sName v'/[or] Mom'sName. But it infuriates me that some Hebrew-chauvinist rabbis & educators have told Jews with Perfectly Good Non-Hebrew Jewish (usually Yiddish) names that they should have a "real," i.e. Hebrew, name & give them one. Fer cry-yay, if yer great-grandma was named Golde, most of the time it wasn't the case that her "real"/Hebrew name was Zahava (which is really a Modern Hebrew creation rather than a traditional name, as far as I can tell--just from translating the Yiddish name). If you want to be Zahava, fine--but don't let anyone tell you these other names aren't Jewish.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: any name a Jew has is a Jewish name.

Think about some of the Hellenistic rabbinic/commentator names: Kalonymos ben Kalonymos? That's not Hebrew or Aramaic, that's Greek!


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