On 2006.12.09, Steven Lasky <steve725@...> wrote:
> In reviewing the translations of some family marriage documents from
> Poland (year 1890, so in Cyrillic), I noticed that the word
> "shkolnik" was used after the names of the two people who witnessed
> the wedding. One was age fifty-five, the other seventy-three, and
> they were said in the document to be illiterate. I understand that
> the word "shkolnik" can mean pupil or scholar in English. My
> question is, would this word be used in this way as a matter of
> respect to the two witnesses? I imagine that even though they might
> have been illiterate per se, they might still have been scholars or
> students of the Torah, even at their age. I wonder whether this was
> a common practice. Has anybody seen terminology like this before in
> such documents?
The translator made a mistake. S/He must have misassociated the
word illiterate, listed after one of the names at the foot of a
marriage registration (probably that of the mother of the bride or
the groom) with that of a witness.
A szkolnik was an observant person of unquestionable probity. He (it
was always a male) was a student or a teacher, shul attendant and/or
overseer, or he may have had some administrative duty in the
community. A witness would be a person who could certainly read a
prayerbook and study and who would definitely have signed his
Hebrew/Yiddish name on the marriage registration.
When you look at a town's marriage registrations, you see the same
witness names over and over. Rabbis used to pick witnesses who
would accompany them to every marriage in which they officiated. It
was important for them to be able to sign both the ketuba (religious
marriage contract), and, later, a civil registration in front of the
registrar, attesting that the event had indeed occurred.
Boston, Massachusetts, USA