The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil's Arithmetic Glossary

Az m'fraygt a shyle iz trayf

A Yiddish phrase that translates to, "If you ask permission, the answer is no." Gitl utters these words after giving Chaya a blue scarf she stole for her birthday.


A jester or comedian who entertains guests at weddings.

Bar Mitzvah

A coming of age ritual for a Jewish boy. A Bat Mitzvah is the equivalent ritual for a girl.


A Yiddish term for a little bit or small amount of something.


A prisoner in charge at concentration camps during the Holocaust. These individuals were generally non-Jews.


A Jewish circumcision ritual performed on 8-day-old infants by a Mohel, a designated circumcision performer.


To polish by rubbing.


A large pot, usually metal, used for cooking.


A Yiddish term for a kidnapper.

Four Questions

The Four Questions are a central part of the Passover Seder and are designed to engage the children of the community or family. Children recite four questions and the answers then provide historical context about the importance of the Seder ritual. Traditionally children ask, "How is this night different from all other nights?". They are then asked what they have noticed that is different about this particular night. This is meant to engage the children in the customs of the ritual and provides an opportunity to explain the significance of the holiday.


Tastelessly decorated, generally extravagant in design or ornamentation.


A Yiddish expression translating as "Dear God" or "Oh God".


A non-Jewish person.


Translating from Hebrew as "the telling", the Haggadah is a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder. Reading the Haggadah at the Seder complies with the Scriptural commandment to each Jew to "tell your son" of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus in the Torah.


Usually in reference to The Mourner's Kaddish, a mourning prayer in Judaism.


A musical tradition of the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe. The term refers both to the type of music as well as to the musicians who play it.


A small city in Poland where Chaya is from.

Malach Ha-mavis

A Yiddish term which translates most literally as "Angel of Death".


A Yiddish word for a ritual bath.


A Yiddish term for "madness" or "craziness".


A derogatory term used by death camp prisoners when referring to other inmates suffering from severe emaciation or starvation. The term itself is a German expression for Muslims. It is unclear why the term became used in this manner, but it has been proposed that such individuals lacked the strength to stand and were always on the ground in a prostrate position, much like a Muslim in prayer.


Foreboding or foreshadowing evil.


The prisoners use this term instead of saying they stole something. For example, "I organized these shoes for you."

Passover Seder

A Jewish ritual feast that coincides with the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. The ritual is performed by a community or by multiple generations of a family and generally includes a retelling of a story from the Book of Exodus about the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.


Existing in or spreading through every part of something.


A Yiddish term meaning "beggar" or "sponger".

Shabbos goy

A Yiddish term for a non-Jew who performs work for Jews on the Biblical Sabbath, a day on which devout Jews are not allowed to perform any work.


A marriage broker or matchmaker.


A rag or anything that is shabby.


A Yiddish term for a town. The arrival of the Holocaust saw the end of many of these towns.


A term used by Jews of Ashkenazi descent to refer to a synagogue.


Work units of Nazi death camp prisoners, composed generally of Jews, who were forced to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims.


Producing sound, usually rich or loud in nature.


A memorial candle lit in memory of the dead.


A skullcap worn by Orthodox and Conservative Jewish males in the synagogue and at home.


A Yiddish term for a school focusing on Jewish religious texts.


A Yiddish term that was sometimes appropriated by Nazi officers when referring to the latest newcomers to arrive at a concentration camp.