Wise and hilarious, this is a book about happiness, your own and that of others. The principles outlined here will work for anyone, Jewish or not, who makes the effort to put them into practice.
Drawing on the “wisdom of the ages,” bestselling author Michael Wex shows readers how to figure out the right thing to do in any situation. First he describes the two words “mentsh” and “shmuck.” The former refers most often to an adult who has learned to think of others first; the latter refers to someone who thinks he or she is someone special.
In this book, you will learn how to keep yourself from believing you are someone special. You will learn how not to be a shmuck.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the author
Michael Wex was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, the last brittle sprout of a Polish rabbinic tree. He spent his early orthodox Jewish childhood surrounded by a 40% Mormon population.
Excerpt: How to Be a Mentsh (And Not a Shmuck): Secrets of the Good Life from the Most Unpopular People on Earth (by (author) Michael Wex)
What's a Shmuck?
My mother never told me anything about shmek, as more than one shmuck is called in Yiddish. She never uttered the word in my presence, not in English and certainly not in Yiddish, and might never have said it in her life. It wouldn't have been ladylike; it wouldn't even have been polite. Although most people who speak English are now familiar with the word, those who don't know any Yiddish are often unaware of its literal meaning. English has borrowed shmuck's extended meanings of "jerk, fool, metaphorical asshole and inconsiderate idiot who has no idea of the effect that he has on others" directly from Yiddish, but has left the original meaning, the one that generated all these other associations, so far behind that English-speakers are often shocked to discover that shmuck is one of the "dirtiest" words in Yiddish, the sort of thing that could make your mother try to wash your mouth out with soap, even if you're fifty years old when you say it. If you think of the power that fuck used to have in polite conversation, how it could convey both emphasis and offense, you'll have some idea of the force that shmuck still retains in Yiddish.
Its primary meaning in Yiddish is "penis," but just as prick, dick, pecker, whang, and pork-sword frequently reach beyond simple anatomy and into the realm of character analysis, so does shmuck. Unlike any of these English terms, though, or even such straightforward designations as tallywhacker or man-meat, shmuck started out as something cute and funny rather than big and potentially bothersome. It has its roots in the nursery, in little boys' discovery of themselves and the world around them, and began not as shmuck, the dirty word, but as shmekele–"shmucklet"–something much smaller than a shmuck, not as fully developed, and much more socially acceptable; a peashooter instead of a pistol.
Shmekele itself seems to have started out as shtekele, "little stick," the euphemism used by toddlers and their baby-talking parents for a little boy's penis. Shtekele is a diminutive form of the now obsolete shtok, which means "stick" or "club," and must also have referred to a full-grown male member (compare the difference between a big, thick cigar and its diminutive, cigarette); if a shtok is a walking stick, the shtekl, in this usage, becomes something of a candy cane.
It isn't entirely a matter of size, though. Somebody must have noticed that the little stick wasn't always as rigid as a stick is supposed to be–technically speaking, only the infantile erection is a shtekele–so the well-known shm prefix was substituted for the first few consonants, as if to say, "Shtekele, shmekele! Just look at it now. We know it's not really a cute little stick, so why don't we call it a shmute little shmick."
The shm prefix is one of the great Yiddish contributions to the English language. It can take anything, no matter how frightening, and make it innocuous, unthreatening, unimportant–quite a significant trick for victims of constant persecution. If you can't defeat an enemy or deal with a threat, the least you can do is to turn it into a joke:
mr. cohen: Hello, Mr. Levy. How's your wife these days?
mr. levy: Freg nisht, don't ask. She was just diagnosed with cancer.
mr. cohen: Cancer, shmancer, abi gezunt, as long as she's healthy.
This surprisingly popular old joke is still circulating in many versions, all of which turn on the reaction of Cohen, a know-it-all who isn't really listening and doesn't really care about the welfare of Levy's wife. He is so quick to throw in a shm in order to cut Levy's troubles down to their proper size–smaller than Cohen's, no matter how big they might look to Levy–so quick to come out with the standard kvetch-squelcher abi gezunt, "as long as you're healthy," that he misses the all too painful fact that this time it's something serious.
There's nothing wrong with saying "cancer, shmancer," if what comes next is "I'm going to beat it" or "We just found a cure." Take away Cohen and his self-regard, and the shm helps to diminish the disease, rather than the sufferer, and show it who's boss: the comedienne Fran Drescher, a survivor of uterine cancer, has written a book called Cancer Schmancer (that's her spelling, not mine) and founded an organization with the same name dedicated to ensuring "that all women with cancer are diagnosed in stage 1, when it is most curable"; to turning cancer, in other words, into shmancer, something that might once have been important but isn't anymore. The most it can do is pretend to a status that we all know it doesn't have, in the same way as someone or something that you label as "fancy-shmancy" is not really so fancy after all: the shm explodes the pretensions of the thing, action, or quality that it modifies and then does its best to scorn these things into nothingness.
In its attempt to make such things disappear, shm can also let you know that only a fool, an out-and-out unreconstructed idiot, could really think that the thing in question is worth talking about. It's a distraction, a red herring– the only herring that Yiddish does not take seriously–something that has obtruded itself into a place where it shouldn't be:
mrs. cohen: So, tell me, Mrs. Levy, when' s your granddaughter getting married?
mrs. levy: Married, shmarried! She's nine months old.
"Don't," in other words, "be stupid. Where does marriage come to toilet training? If you can't be bothered to start making sense, the least you could do is make sure not to talk."
The path from shtekele to shmekele, from sht to shm, leads from childish whimsy to childish knowingness: regardless of what adults might think, kids can not only tell the difference between image and reality, they can also figure out which parts of their bodies will make grown-ups wrinkle their noses as much as the pee-pee and poo-poo that come out of those parts. They are learning to use these parts for comic effect, especially those of little boys, who have something that they can point and wave solely for the sake of fun.
Now, shmekele, the-little-stick-that-isn' t, is what linguists call a second-degree diminutive. If Mike is the first-degree diminutive of Michael, Mikey, the diminutive of Mike, is a second-degree diminutive. If shmekele is a second-degree diminutive, there should also be a first-degree form, maybe a bit more serious but no whit less cutesy. Shmekl, the first-degree diminutive, does in fact exist, and is nearly as common in Yiddish as its little brother, shmekele. What's unusual, though, is that there was no positive form, no base-word on which the diminutives depended. A shmekele was never really a diminutive shmok (the standard Yiddish form of shmuck); a shmok was an overgrown shmekele. Where the linguistic process of whittling a stick down to size begins with the full-sized shtok, which becomes a shtekl and then a shtekele, the more strictly penile progression, marked by the shm at the beginning, also works like the real thing: it starts off with something small, then teases it out to fullness.
Shmekl is not the only Yiddish word that contempt has made big. The word sheytl, which means the wig worn by Orthodox women to hide their own hair, looks and sounds like a diminutive, even though it really is not. Unable to find a full-sized form in the language as they knew it, though, Yiddish-speakers invented one: the shoyt is a larger, hairier, more mature version of the sheytl. Since anyone who's spent much time in the Orthodox world can spot even a good sheytl from a hundred yards off–they're not supposed to look too much like a woman's real hair–it isn't surprising that shoyt is used only to refer to a sheytl that's less fashionable, more obviously fake, much easier to spot at a distance than the average sheytl. When the diminutive is also the norm, the shoyt, which becomes monstrous by virtue of its size, is a sign of something gone grotesquely wrong.
If enlarging a diminutive can turn a ladies' toupee into a hunting trophy, imagine what it can do for something that can grow on its own. Shmok is to shmekl as shoyt is to sheytl–the only difference being that sheytl was always a "real" word, while shmekl was invented to make fun of shtekl and originally made no real sense without it, any more than a statement that we'd got just got back from Lost Wages would make sense to anyone who had never heard of Las Vegas. We're dealing with a mocking deformation of shtekele that grows into an equally sardonic takeoff of the full-sized shtok from which the shtekele grew.
Fabricating a positive form out of a humorous, baby-talk diminutive is no laughing matter; the full-sized shmok is to the child's shmekl as the giant ants that try to destroy Los Angeles in the 1954 classic Them are to the little fellows that King Solomon tells us to emulate. "Go to the ant, o slacker," he says in Proverbs 6:6, "behold her ways and wise up." Go to any ant in this movie, though, and it'll eat you alive while Edmund Gwenn (Santa Claus in the original Miracle on 34th Street) stands helplessly by and watches. What's cute and instructive and ecologically helpful when it's half an inch long is entirely different when it grows to nine feet.
A shmekele is small and cute and can sometimes be very funny. Its owner might wave it around once in a while, and the absolute worst it can do is to give the owner himself and anyone in the line of fire a good soaking. With respect to Jewish life, it's the only visible sign that a child too young to wear a yarmulke or ritual fringes is in fact a Jew. "Small is beautiful" comes to an end at roughly the same time as the shmekele, grown considerably larger, becomes capable of more than what Chaucer called "purgacioun of uryne." By the time we get to shmok, the shm is simply the first part of the word, as it is in such other well-known Yiddish terms as shmatte or shmooz, in which the shm has no connection with the pejorative prefix. Shmok becomes a word like any other, only dirtier. Technically speaking, shmok masquerades as the full-sized, positive form from which the diminutives shmekl and shmekele are derived: compare a boy four or five years old who goes up to the lady next door and announces proudly, "I have a penis," to a man of thirty who does the same thing. That's the difference between a shmekl and a shmok.
As the ant and the penis both teach us, enlarging a diminutive, blowing it up as if life and speech were photo labs, can turn something that used to be cute into something unpleasant and often frightening. Growth alone, though, doesn't account for the aura of really distasteful obscenity that still clings to shmuck in Yiddish. Where such English terms as prick and dick can hardly be called sophisticated, using them in polite company to refer to either a penis or a person will cause real offense only if the person, his penis, or some of his friends and family are present. The speaker' s breeding, education, and social skills might be called into question; his choice of words might be labelled inappropriate, but not as overtly offensive as asshole or worse, cunt, would have been in the same conversation. Shmuck's power to offend derives from its deeper cultural context, from a couple of unusual features of Jewish religious and cultural life.
The most significant of these is the central importance of circumcision in Jewish life. As the only ritual that the religion itself considers indispensable–the word orel, "man with a foreskin," is a synonym for gentile in both Hebrew and Yiddish–circumcision was until recently considered the infallible sign of the Jew throughout Europe and the Americas. This identification of circumcision with Judaism, the idea that a man's penis can determine the nature of his relationship with God, invests the child's shmekl with a significance and allure that might not be immediately apparent to adherents of other faiths. It's not unusual for a Yiddish-speaking mother to lift up the baby boy whom she's diapering and, while cataloging the rest of his body parts and their beauty, wax just as dithyrambic over what she will inevitably call his kosher shmekele, his kosher little shmekl, the one body part that, even for the baby's mother, has more to do with Mount Sinai than with cocktail weenies, no matter how strictly kosher the latter.
An equally powerful tradition, the role of which is slightly less easy to discern at first glance, is the Jewish refusal– strictly speaking, the Jewish inability–to utter the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God that is said to be His only real name. It's what God calls Himself when He's at home. So powerful is the prohibition against saying it–when the Temple was still standing, no one but the High Priest was allowed to utter it, and even he could do so only on Yom Kippur–that the secret of its pronunciation was lost after the Temple was destroyed: you couldn't say it if you wanted to. Another, less sacred name is used in its place, one that everybody knows is a less powerful substitute. God's real name can be seen in any Torah, but it is never heard; anything you can call Him involves some kind of diminution. The prohibition against using God's name has expanded to the point where the stand-ins have acquired a taboo quality of their own, as have even some of the substitutes for the substitutes. You'll say adonai when praying, but adoshem or Ha-Shem (literally, The Name) when merely making reference to God. You'll say elohim in prayer, but otherwise it's elokim: what would look like blasphemy anywhere else–imagine calling Jesus, Mesus–is a sign of respect among Jews.
Although Yiddish has more than its share of euphemism and antiphrasis–calling a fat person Tiny or an evil eye a good eye–the only things or beings whose names are programmatically excluded from a child's universe are God and the kid's own penis. No living being, young or old, knows what God is really called, and no little boy knows the real name of his shtekl or shmekl. All he knows about it is that his penis is no shtekele, no candy cane, and that it is the only part of his body that doesn' t seem to have a name of its own. Shmekl thus expresses an attitude to shtekl, a name that the child quickly learns has nothing to do with the part of him to which it's supposed to refer. An arm is an arm; a leg, a leg; even his tukhes or rear end has a name that it doesn't have to share. Only his penis is referred to obliquely, metaphorically, by a name that really belongs to something else. Any pre—Hebrew school pisher already knows that his member is a "shtekele," not a shtekele, and he therefore uses the term only in its irreverent, slightly contemptuous shm-form–shmekele–lest anyone think that he can't tell metaphor from reality. The parallel to the Tetragrammaton turns on his using a deformed version of a name that has been substituted for the real name that he doesn't know–and knows that he doesn't know.
Because of the difficulty of invoking the deity in such cultural circumstances, Yiddish cursing tends to shy away from blasphemy; it isn't easy to say "God damn" when saying "God" is so hard, and Yiddish–although it might occasionally call on God–has virtually no casually blasphemous expressions of the "Jesus Christ!" type that are so common in English. What makes shmuck so powerful and dirty and offensive is the fact that its role as the sine qua non of the ritual that defines the whole religion, as virtually the only aspect of creation that the language treats in the same way as it treats the Creator, allows it to stand in for all those blasphemies that are literally unspeakable in traditional Jewish life. The surface vulgarity is recognized, even if only subconsciously, as a mask for something much more serious.
Shmuck, the form under which shmok has come into English, is a dialect pronunciation of the Yiddish. It has nothing to do with the German Schmuck, "jewellery," which is often erroneously thought of as the source of the Yiddish term. The shmuck that we're talking about can be found in shmok form as early as 1697, when it appears in the manuscript of a satirical Purim play from Altendorf, Germany. In a double-entendre-filled passage that begins, "I'd really like to have a lick [instead of "a look"] at that," and ends with "lek mikh in arsh lokh, lick my asshole," Mordechai says, "I think that my wife's hole– I meant to say the door's hole–is too narrow" and then goes on to say that his sash or belt is "too shmok, shmok, I mean shmol"; shmol is Yiddish for narrow or tight-fitting. The proximity of the hole to the shmuck leaves no doubt as to the meaning of the word, and lets us know how well established the usage must have been: dirty jokes that need footnotes tend not to get told.
The leap from shmok-as-penis to shmok-as-fool in Yiddish is no greater than that from tool-as-penis to tool-as-fool in English. It's the idea of thinking with your dick, letting your hormones drive your hippocampus, not when you're looking for sex, but when you're doing your taxes or driving a car; your behavior is brainless, inappropriate, and sometimes offensive. As Max Weinreich says in his History of the Yiddish Language, the two-legged shmok is a "combination of fool, gullible person, and nudnik," a person of no intelligence and no discernment who behaves in a bothersome and annoying fashion.
But Weinreich, still the doyen of the academic study of Yiddish nearly forty years after his death, mentions shmok only in passing (while pointing out that none of the common Middle High German terms for penis ever made its way into Yiddish), and stops short of the whole ugly truth. Like real-life shmek that come both with and without a foreskin, the metaphorical ones can also be divided into two broad categories, only the first of which can include oneself or one's friends. It's the kind of shmuck that anybody who isn't always a shmuck has probably been at one time or another: "So there I am in my wedding gown, standing there like a shmuck at the top of the Empire State Building, when his lawyer gets out of the elevator and tells me that the wedding is off."
This is the passive shmuck, the shmuck as fool or dupe: harmless but hapless, eternal victim of petty circumstance and the wiles of others, to whom shit never ceases to happen. It's the shmuck that is, rather than the shmuck that does; no matter what he might think he' s doing, the truth is that it's being done to him. It's the kind of shmuck who buys stock from a cold call or signs up for seminar after boot camp after workshop about how to realize your inner potential; it's the smart woman who makes stupid choices, thinking that this year's bad boy or married man is going to be different from last year's. It's everyone who took out a mortgage that they knew they couldn't afford, everybody who didn't do enough figuring to find out what all that free money could end up costing. It's all of us at that critical second when hope or desire so overrides the most basic common sense, when something–money, reputation, peace of mind–seems so close to being attainable that we ignore anything that we have learned from experience and open ourselves up to a good plucking–physical, financial, or emotional. And always for the sake of the last thing we really need.
It isn't always our fault. Anyone with emotions is vulnerable to this kind of shmuckery, and there are times when it can't be avoided. When somebody has lied about honouring a contract or not committing adultery or meeting you at the top of the Empire State Building to get married, you' ve simply been taken advantage of by a shmuck who isn't playing by the rules. Being duped or deceived in this way doesn't necessarily refl ect on you, unless you already know how the person in question has treated others in the past and think that this time is going to be different.
It's like Charlie Brown letting Lucy hold the football for a placekick. Even after she's given him a written guarantee promising not to do so, Lucy inevitably pulls the ball away at the last second and poor Charlie Brown ends up fl at on his back. Yiddish-speaking readers give out with a mental sigh and a pitying murmur: "The poor little shmuck."
We're close to the origins of comedy here, maybe even the origins of humour itself. We already know what Charlie Brown can't bring himself to admit, and can laugh about it only because the emotions invested in trying to kick that ball are his, not ours: if he didn't really care about kicking the ball, none of this would be happening. Once it comes to our own lives, though, we are all the dupes of desire, and the idea that people and circumstances that are similar or even identical to those that we have experienced before are going to be different this time is a testament to the human capacity for self-delusion, a deliberate, active naïveté that is just another form of folly.
The Talmud talks about such feelings in a context that might seem a bit unusual:
Whoever has money and lends it without witnesses violates the prohibition against placing a stumbling block before the blind [see Lev. 19:14]. Resh Lakish says: He brings a curse upon himself.
(bovo metsiyo 75b)
"The blind" here means you, the lender. In its immediate Talmudic environment it means that you're so carried away by the thought of all the interest that you' re going to earn that you neglect to take the basic precautions to make sure that you get paid. In a larger sense, you're so blinded by the thought of getting what you want–generally for very little effort–that you ignore everything else and "just do it," and end up with egg all over your face.
Resh Lakish's statement about the curse refers to the inevitable lawsuit and the fact that the person to whom you've lent the money will deny ever having borrowed it. In the absence of properly witnessed documentation, you'll be able to kiss the money you loaned, along with the money that you spend on legal fees and any reputation for competence that you might have had, goodbye.
Note that self-shmuckification of this kind is described as a violation of divine law. We're dealing with a system in which stupidity has become a sin, and like all sins it can be avoided. All we have to do in the case just outlined is to follow the advice that we'd give anyone else by trying to run our lives on the basis of a little seykhl, a little rational thought, rather than pure emotion. This might not be easy, but it's nothing–a moral and emotional picnic–compared with the kind of shmuckish passivity that so robs its victims of any insight or willpower that they can no longer recognize their own situation, let alone do anything to improve it.
The prototype, the classic example, is found in a Yiddish short story written in 1894 by Y. L. Peretz, one of the central figures in the creation of modern Yiddish literature. Bontshe Shvayg–Silent Bontshe–the character for whom the story is named, lives a life more humble than anything that Uriah Heep (not to mention Mott the Hoople) would ever have pretended to. A porter by profession, he was mistreated as a child, abused as an adult: cheated, robbed, cuckolded, and mocked, yet Bontshe, alone of all his tribe, never once complained, never once cried out, not even, the story tells us, when the knife slipped at his circumcision.
After his death, the heavenly powers decide to reward him for his years of patient suffering. He's admitted straightaway into Paradise and told that he can have whatever he wants, anything at all; if he really wants, he can have everything. It's the least they can give him for a lifetime of nothing.
Bontshe can hardly believe his good luck. Although Peretz never describes what goes on in his head, readers for over a century have been seduced by their own visions of gold, silver, dancing girls, and tables laden with the most exquisite food and the rarest of wines. It's unlikely that Bontshe shares their vision; he thinks for a minute, then turns to the judge of the heavenly court and confidently reels off the whole of his wish list: a hot roll with butter for breakfast every morning.
Peretz's story was hugely controversial in its day, primarily because Bontshe was seen as a symbol of the Jewish people and Bontshe, it should be clear, is a shmuck. Suffering has made him stupid; he has internalized his tormentors' image of him so completely that he is literally incapable of imagining any other kind of life (or afterlife) for himself. Henoch of Alexander, a mid-nineteenth-century Polish Hasidic leader, once said, "The real exile of Israel in Egypt was that they had learned to endure it," that is, they started to think like slaves, to look at themselves in the same way as their Egyptian owners did; they lost sight of what they could be and were happy to struggle to remain the slaves that they already were.
Henoch's teacher, Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the last and most imposing of the classical Hasidic leaders, illustrated this kind of shmuckery in a parable:
There was once a prince who behaved so badly that his father, the king, drove him from the palace and had him exiled to the farthest reaches of the kingdom. With no other means of earning a living, the prince hired himself out to a craftsman as an apprentice, for which he was given his food but nothing else. He went around barefoot and in tatters.
One day, the king was thinking about his son. He summoned a friend and said, "Go, find out where the prince is." Once the friend had found the prince, he asked, "What would you like me to ask your father, the king, on your behalf?"
The prince replied, "He sent me into exile. The least he could do is send me something to wear and a pair of shoes."
The king's friend said, "Idiot! You were supposed to say, 'Ask my father to take me back.' Then you would have had everything."
The prince and Charlie Brown, Bontshe and someone who lends money without witnesses, are the type of minor-league shmuck known in Yiddish by the name of shmendrik. In a language known for its versatility in insult, shmendrik is among the most versatile of insults. The shmendrik embodies the kind of metaphysical cluelessness about one's own nature and that of the surrounding world that leads the British to describe the same sort of person as "a tit in a trance." Yiddish rarely mentions the titmouse, which often hangs upside down in order to feed, but the idea of going about something in the completely wrong manner without any apparent consciousness of the fact that the rest of the world–those who succeed at whatever activity the shmendrik is failing at–does things differently, lends an aptness to the comparison.
A shmendrik is anybody from Bob Dylan's Mr. Jones in "Ballad of a Thin Man," who knows that something is happening here, but "don't know what it is," to Rupert Pupkin, the hapless asshole played by Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy. At the end of the movie, Pupkin, a thirty-one-year-old messenger and completely talentless aspiring comic who lives with his mother, explains why he has kidnapped talkshow host Jerry Langford and demanded a spot on Langford's show as ransom for Langford's safe return. In the movie's best-known line, Pupkin gives such perfect voice to the painful mixture of impotence and delusion that characterizes the shmendrik that you almost feel sorry for him: "Better to be king for a night," he says, "than shmuck for a lifetime." If only it were really possible.
The shmendrik has a bumbling quality, an incompetence that is almost endearing, as long as it isn' t directed at you. He or she differs from the nebbish, a seeming milquetoast of a person for whom you feel immediately sorry, not only in that being a nebbish is more a matter of appearance than actual attainment or ability (think of nebbish as the specifically Jewish forerunner of the more pluralistic nerd), but also, and more importantly, because the shmendrik, like the paranoiac, bases his or her life on a delusion, generally one of ability. Where the nebbish might do something very well, but wear a misbuttoned shirt while doing it, the shmendrik can be immaculately tailored, but never stops walking into walls. It is significant that shmendrik is also used by women to refer to a penis (I mean the real thing) for which they feel no warmth and by which they are not impressed. "A whole night of Viagra and he still couldn' t get the shmendrik to stand up long enough to do it," or, "Go ahead. If that's all you want, put the shmendrik in and get it over with."
A shmendrik is a certain breed of shmuck, limply ineffectual and unconscious of this limitation. Like Charlie Brown, the shmendrik considers himself on top of things, and just knows that this time, things are going to be different. He suffers from delusions of understanding, illusions that things are now under control. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's response to Hurricane Katrina and the Buffalo snowstorm of 2006, along with its faked California press conference in 2007, are textbook examples of what it means to be a shmendrik.
The shmendrik is as harmless a shmuck as you're ever going to find, and we can class all sorts of day-to-day nudniks–tedious pests–under its rubric. If you're not dressed as a pirate or B-movie hooker right now, while reading this sentence; if you mention your tedious personal hobbyhorse–whether it's the Kennedy assassination, brewed condiments, or Engelbert Humperdinck's superiority to Tom Jones–only on your blog and not in live conversation; if you've refused to allow someone who has cheated you once an opportunity to do so again, then you probably aren't a shmendrik. Or not much of one, at least.
Before we go on to describe the more active kinds of shmuck, though, it is probably a good idea to take a more detailed look at what a shmuck is not.
From the Hardcover edition.
"An author of several books, including the New York Times bestseller Born to Kvetch, Mr. Wex has made a career out of his esoteric interest in the tonic intricacies and meanings of Yiddish."
— The Globe and Mail
"How to be a Mentsh (and Not a Shmuck) is a user-friendly guide to making yourself a better person."
— The Gazette
"A consistent pleasure: entertaining, educational and only minimally pedantic, with more than a few thought-provoking suggestions for achieving mentsh-hood (or at least avoiding shmuck-itude)."
— Publishers Weekly
"Heir to Lenny Bruce, Leo Rosten and your favourite Yiddish teacher, all rolled into one."
— Jewish Chronicle
From the Hardcover edition.