While most Jewish Week readers are probably familiar with the term minyen, the quorum of ten traditionally male Jews required for the recitation of certain prayers and the performance of certain rituals, I’m willing to bet that considerably fewer are acquainted with a fantastic but much rarer Yiddish term for a minyen and a half–of eggs rather than people, but a minyen and a half nonetheless.
In the old country, eggs were sold fifteen at a time, rather than by the dozen. In the area around Lodz in Poland, where my paternal grandfather grew up, a package of fifteen eggs was known as a mendl, just like the male personal name: “Gets mir a mendl eyer,” meant “Give me fifteen [i.e., a carton of] eggs.”
Mendel is a very common name, but a mendl of eggs will never be a Kyle in English. In other parts of the Yiddish-speaking world, a mendl was called a mandl, which can also mean “almond” or “tonsil,” but mendl is a lot more fun: it can also mean “sheaf,” and might well be the reason why the Salvation Army never quite took off in Yiddish. I can’t imagine anyone being converted by a hymn that speaks of “bringing in the mendls, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the mendls.” It sounds more like a threat than a prophecy.
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week. Below are some items for sale from eBay for those of you with an interest in Yiddish.
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