Uncovering the Jewish roots of Brie, Bradley and Max.

Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Cohen--

It's a Grandfather!   by David Holzel


After the Torah, I find birth announcements the most illuminating Jewish texts. What will future historians make of a generation that names Jewish children Paige Renae and Shane Wesley? Hardly the characters who populate Deuteronomy.

Seeking the secret Jewish content within trendy names, I approached Stephen Weiss, rabbi of Congregation Shaarey Tzedek in suburban Detroit, and noted kabbalist. Rabbi Weiss's advanced coursework at the prestigious Jewish Theological Seminary included an elective called "Baby Naming -- Good or Bad for the Jews?"

Welcoming me into his study, the rabbi began to elaborate on the Jewish nature of several names now in vogue:

Ashley -- literally "My Tamerisk Tree" in Hebrew. The word eshel -- tamerisk -- is also an acronym for achilah, shtiyah, linah -- food, drink, lodging -- suggesting that one so named could grow up to be a hospitable person.

Beau -- On an off day, Rashi, the noted medieval French scholar, suggested this name be given to boys born during the week of the Torah portion Bo, which is read in midwinter. The few who actually followed Rashi's dictum Frenchified the name in his honor. Today in Israel, children who don't mind their parents gradually become known in the neighborhood as Bo Henna -- "Come here."

Bradley -- A reference to the seventh plague upon Egypt, the name means "My hail" or "I have hail."

Brie -- In Judaism it's not just a cheese. Brie means "health."

Carly -- "I'm chilly."

Chad -- The "ch" is pronounced not as in "Chapter 11," but as in "Chanukah," and means "one." In mishnaic times, way before you were born, the name was given to sons by parents who believed they would never have another child. This practice is the basis of the famous Passover song "Chad Gadya" -- An Only Kid.

Courtney -- The source for this name is obscure, Rabbi Weiss explained. Depending on how it is spelled in Hebrew it could mean "a hick," "a small seed" or "I am excommunicated." Parents are advised to choose this name with caution.

Megan -- "From the Garden." The source of this name is Genesis 3:24: "So God sent [Adam and Eve] from the garden" of Eden as punishment for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

 
  Paige -- peh, yud, yud, gimel -- at this point in our conversation, Rabbi Weiss drew a dusty old book from a locked drawer in his desk.

"The roots of this name are esoteric," he whispered, "and can be understood only through the sacred kabbalistic technique of gematria [numerology]. Even so, it is a difficult name to interpret.

The numerical value of the Hebrew letters that spell Paige is 103, the same as the Hebrew word for "mockery."

Delving deeper, the rabbi began a mystical manipulation of the Hebrew alphabet, whereby alef is exchanged for tav, bet for shin, and so on. By this technique, the new spelling of the name is vav, mem, mem, resh.

Rearrange these letters and you get mumar -- apostate. Not a good sign at all.

Rabbi Weiss achieved happier results by removing a yud from the original spelling of Paige. That knocked out a mem from the manipulated spelling. Instead of apostate, the rabbi was able to spell rom (exalted) and mor (myrrh).

Sabrina -- is derived from savri na, "With your permission," which is said to announce to the congregation that kiddush is about to begin.

Veronica -- For the first time, Rabbi Weiss seemed nervous. "I don't know if this should be revealed to the world," he said. "Since there is free will, we are not permitted to foretell the future."

I looked at the page he was cradling and saw that it was thickly covered with tiny mathematical calculations.

It is a writer's duty to reveal the truth, and I feel bound to warn all parents once and future Veronicas of what I learned that day -- that there are two possible paths she may take.

Veronica's
 secret
is revealed
at last.
 
First the good news. The value of her name in Hebrew is 393. The difference between her name and 10-times-chai (180) is 213, the value of the name Reggie, Veronica's heartthrob in the Archie comics. This suggests that if she loves life and is charitable, Veronica could end up with what she desires.

But beware! Subtract from Veronica (393) her age at bat mitzvah (13) and 365, which is both the number of days in the year and the number of sinews in the body, and you end up with 15, the numerical value of Jughead.

Finally, Max.

Max is making a comeback to a popularity he hasn't seen since Hester Street. But for me there's more than a hair of congnitive dissonance involved in giving a child this name. I can't help conjuring up the image of a bald, stooped infant, an unlit cigar stub jammed in his mouth -- "I am the grandfather," to paraphrase Philip Roth.

But Rabbi Weiss assured me the name has an authentic Hebraic tradition.

Max is derived from meches, which today means "customs duty" or, traditionally, "taxes." It was a common name among East European Jews.

The most famous Max/Meches was the protagonist in "Wednesday the Rabbi Spilled Kneidlach in My Lap and other stories" by the famed Yiddish writer Kaddish Yohrtzeit.

Yohrtzeit's Max was the pious wagon driver Meches Mavis ("Taxes and Death"), at whose funeral it was said, "You could always count on him."


  Artwork by Tim Lee

Thanks (really) to Rabbi Steve Weiss for his enlightenment and friendship.

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