shamas from 1843

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Fri Jul 11 18:17:12 UTC 2008

The OED has Shamas or Shamash, "A beadle or sexton in a Jewish synagogue" from 1650 and 1675, and then not again until 1862 and 1892.

I quote the following rather more fully than necessary to make the philological point, but what the hell.

GREAT EXCITEMENT AMONGST THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL -- ALTERATION IN THE LAW OF MOSES. [a suit in the Court of Common Pleas; the court is crowded]  Some wore long, flowing beards, reaching down to their lower stomachs, while others were shaven up to their temples, and appeared as if they had that moment come from the hands of Jem Grant, in Ann street, or some eminent barber in Wall street.  ***
HENRY L. GOLDBERG VS. SHARI SADECK.  ["the plaintiff was elected a "Shaumus" at a salary of $100 per annum" on April 12, 1840; in September, 1840, the defendant, "during the performance of the religious services forced the plaintiff from the reading desk into the street"]
Now it will be borne in mind that the question turned upon the meaning of the word Shaumus when rendered into English.  [the Plaintiff says it's Hebrew and means "reader, Rabbi, learned and reverend"; the Defendant calls "Rabbi Sylvester Benhamid Maccabee Jackson"; his dress described in detail; he testifies the word is Chaldaic and means "a menial, a servant"; an unnamed Irishman testifies that Shaumus "had its root in the Irish language -- an English gentleman" ran from the Battle of the Boyne "and was ever after called "Shaumus a-Choacas""; the Defendant calls a Scotch gentleman, who argues that "Shaumus was pure Erse -- an Egyptian word, . . . transferred into the Scottish language"; he and the Irishman quarrel loudly, until the Judge sends them both to the Tombs; the jury finds breach of contract, and awards Goldberg $140]
New York Herald, May 19, 1843, p. 2, col. 4

The Herald was founded in 1835, and in its earliest years was not above publishing fiction as if factual.  From at least the late 1829s, some NYC newspapers had seen court proceedings as a opportunity to show the lower orders, or/and foreigners, at their most comical.  These stories weren't usually set in civil court; usually they featured layabouts, drunks and wife-beaters in criminal court.
In this case I don't doubt that there was a trial of Goldberg vs. Sadeck, but I do doubt some of the details, as for instance that the learned rabbi's last name was Jackson.  The Irishman quoted was perhaps an ancestor (or, in modern terminology, a descendant) to the learned Professor Dan.  Or, he and the Scotsman may not have existed; their testimony doesn't seen entirely pertinent.  The Shaumus the Irishman is talking about seems to be King James II, who ran from the battlefield at the Boyne during the campaign to restore him to the throne of England.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

The American Dialect Society -

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