JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen A beadle is a "SHAMMAS" #general


Judith Romney Wegner
 

Subject: beadle
From: gayle riley <key2pst@pacbell.net>
>Does anyone know what a "beadle" did?
"Beadle" is an old-fashioned English word originally denoting a minor
official -- often a/k/a "sexton" -- who kept order in a church. He was
roughly the equivalent of the synagogue's so-called "SHAMMAS" (more
correctly, SHAMMASH).

So what's a Shammas? My Webster gives (as meaning #2 for "sexton"): "an
official in a synagogue who manages its day-to-day affairs" (like keeping
the place tidy, and seeing that prayerbooks and prayershawls etc. are set
out conveniently for the use of congregants. In the old days, in the
shtetl (as attested by writers like Sholem Aleikhem and Shai Agnon), he
was also a general handyman and gopher, responsible for tapping on
people's windows at the crack of dawn to wake them up for the weekday early
morning minyan -- and even for lighting the stove to heat the shul before
the worshippers arrived. (On Shabbat, they would resort to the services
of a "shabbas-goy" for this job.)

A principal function of today's "beadle" or Shammas is to act as usher,
especially on the High Holy Days. Remember the old joke? A man arrives
at the Shul door on Yom Kippur without a seat ticket, begging to be let in
to deliver a very urgent business message for a Mr. Cohen somewhere
inside. The Shammas refuses to let him in for free with no ticket. But
the man keeps insisting that it will be a total disaster if Mr. Cohen
doesn't get the message at once. Eventually the Shammas gives in to his
pleas, saying: "O.K., O.K., I'll let you in, but only to deliver the
business message. So help me, if I catch you praying even for a minute,
I'll kick you out right away!"

Judith Romney Wegner
jrw@brown.edu

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