Foreign year

By Anna Linda Callow*

There are many ways to say in Ivrit (Hebrew) the non-Jewish year that just ended. I knew shanà misharit, commercial year, and shanà ezrahit, calendar year, but today I came upon the expression shanà lo’azit, that might translate as “foreign year”, non-Jewish year. However, the term is richer than it seems and has a long history. It starts with a root that appears only once in the Bible (Psalms 114, 1) meaning “speaking in incomprehensible way”, that is speaking a foreign language, specifically that of ancient Egyptians.
In rabbinical Hebrew we also find the noun la’az, “foreign language”, mostly to indicate Greek. In a later historical phase, dominated by Roma’s language, the same term indicates the variants of spoken Latin, progenitors of the Romance languages used in Italy and France. The Jews that from those areas moved to Germany before the year 1000 also spoke la’az, the sources inform us. So, la’az is the dominant language of the moment, and in the secular Jewish history it changes its skin more than once.
Not only, the eclectic la’az also means “backbiting”. Maybe because of the common practice of insulting the others in a language they do not understand, so to vent one’s disappointment without unpleasant consequences? Anyways, shanà lo’azit tovà!

*University of Milan