Some time ago, I had a friendly discussion with Rabbi Yisrael Goldberg, a young Chabadnik who lives in Israel. In the course of our talk, he mentioned that in California, the late Rabbi Avraymo Levitanski (a former teacher of mine) had recently died. Avraymo was a great man; he was a brilliant scholar as well and an exceptional human being. He was definitely one of the finest Chabadniks I have ever known. On a light note, Yisrael told me how Avraymo always referred to Santa Monica as “Simcha Monica,” and San Diego, or, San Francisco as “S. Diego and S. Fransisco.” The name, “Simcha Monica” was a new designation I hadn’t heard before; Avraymo’s designation actually made me chuckle. Where did these ideas originate in the first place? If my memory serves me well, I believe the late Rebbe was fond of using these unusual designations.
By the way, “Simcha Monica” roughly means, “Monica is happy.” I am not sure whether this name was given during the time of the Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal, I suspect Monica Lewinsky is not too happy about that chapter of her life. Actually, the real reason Monica is happy has nothing to do with Bill Clinton. Historically, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the ORIGINAL Monica (331 – 387 CE ), Monica was both the Algerian Christian saint and mother of Augustine of Hippo, the greatest Christian theologian of Late Antiquity. Augustine, ex-lover and whore-monger extraordinaire, loved extolling his mother’s virtues in his Confessions.
No, I don’t think the Chabad rabbis are referring to St. Monica either.
If my sense of humor seems off-colored, it’s because God speaks to me in the language of humor and irony. Let us return to our topic at hand. At first blush, it seemed there might be some scriptural support for this unusual practice among the Chabad rabbis. Consider two verses: “Give heed to all that I have told you. Never mention the name of any other god; it shall not be heard from your lips” (Exod. 23:13) and “There must be no foreign god among you; you must not worship an alien god” (Psa. 81:10).
Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
But then I started thinking; it seems that the Chabad rabbis are rather inconsistent because the names found in the Gregorian calendar are actually based on the names of pagan deities of antiquity. If no other gods or goddesses are to be mentioned, how can Chabad rabbis refer to the name of actual deities whenever they use a secular calendar or at least refer to it in their daily conversation? The inconsistencies ought to create some cognitive dissonance among the steadfast among the Chabad rabbis; maybe they will say in the privacy of their homes: Could it be that we are wrong?
Here are some examples:
May derives from the Roman fertility goddess named Maia.
April is traditionally identified with Venus. April may possibly derive from Aprilis, the Etruscan Apru, which is also a diminutive of Aphrodite–the Greek goddess of beauty and fertility. The Latin verb aperire, “to open,” and is related to the Greek name for spring ἁνοιξις (opening), the time of the year when spring begins bloom with flowers and trees.
June alludes to Juno, the Roman goddess who served as protector and special counselor of the state.
Indeed, several other examples can be mentioned, but I believe we have made our point perfectly clear. If the Chabad rabbis used Hebrew names for the months, that would make a lot more sense. Then again, even the Hebrew calendar refers to the Sumerian and Babylonian deity known as Tammuz, who is mentioned in biblical times (cf. Eze. 8:14).
Who exactly was Tammuz? He was the chief Sumerian deity, also known as Dumazi–the god of fertility, of vegetation and agriculture, of death and resurrection, and the patron of shepherds. Dumzai was both the son and consort of Ashtar (Inanna). In the Sumerian mythic pantheon, Tammuz represented the annual vegetation cycle of death during the heat of summer and the rebirth of life with the coming of the fall and spring rains, as mythically recounted in the Akkadian poem, “Inanna’s Descent into the Netherworld.”
When our ancestors went to Babylon, they adopted the Babylonian names of the months during the 70 year exile in Babylon, which also included Tammuz! The 17th of Tammuz is a special fast day in Jewish tradition. I suspect that the ancient Jews either viewed Tammuz much like we now view the days of the week. If it didn’t historically bother our people in times of antiquity, then why should it bother us whether S. Monica is Santa Monica?
Then again, we have the days of the week. Each day is dedicated to the pagan goddesses and gods of antiquity. For example:
- Sunday. Latin: dies solis – “Sun Day.” Sunday celebrates the sun god, Ra, Helios, Apollo, Ogmios, Mithrias, or the sun goddess, Phoebe. In the year 321 CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine ruled that the first day of the week, ‘the venerable day of the sun’, should be a day of rest. The name was later changed to dies Dominica, “Lord’s Day” in ecclesiastical tradition.
- Monday. Latin: lunae dies – “Moon Day.” Monday was named in honor of the Assyrian goddess, Selene, Luna and Mani. In old English, mon(an)daeg meant “day of the moon.”
- Tuesday. Latin: dies Martis – “Day of Mars.” In Greek mythology Ares was the god of war (renamed “Mars” by the Romans). In English, “Tuesday” comes from Tiu (Twia), the English/Germanic god of war and the sky (identified with the Nordic god called Tyr).
- Wednesday. Latin: dies Mercurii – “Day of Mercury.” In Greek mythology Hermes was the god of trade and commerce (renamed “Mercury” by the Romans). In English, the name “Wednesday” derives from the Scandinavian god Odin, the chief god of Norse mythology. Woden is the chief Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic god, the leader of the Wild Hunt.
- Thursday. Latin: dies Iovis – “Day of Jupiter.” In Greek mythology Zeus was the god of the sky (renamed “Jupiter” by the Romans). The English word “Thursday” comes from the Middle English Thorsday, refering to “Thor” (the Nordic counterpart to Jupiter).
- Friday. Latin: dies Veneris – “Day of Venus.” In Greek mythology Aphrodite was the goddess of love/fertility (renamed “Venus” by the Romans). The name “Friday” comes from Freya (Fria), the name of the Norse god Odin’s wife and Teutonic goddess of love, beauty, and fertility.
- Saturday. Latin: dies Saturni – “Day of Saturn.” In Greek mythology Cronus was the god of the harvest (renamed “Saturn” by the Romans) who ruled until he was dethroned by his son Zeus.
So, I wonder: If the Chabad rabbis want to pick on just the Christian saints that they don’t recognize, I am OK with their choice. However, for consistency, I think they should make it a conscious point to use the Hebrew designations of the months, with the notable exception of Tammuz. By the same token, they shouldn’t use the weekday names either for the reasons mentioned above. Instead, they should refer to the Sunday as Yom Rishon (“the first day of the week”) and the other Hebrew names for the other various days of the week. I suspect their followers might get confused. Oh well, that’s price one must pay for religious consistency, no? Aside from the Hebrew designations for the days and months of the year, there’s always Hebonics . . .
On a more serious note, I suspect the Chabad movement feels disdain toward Christianity in general and toward Catholic saints in particular. For the greater part of its history, the Catholic Church has not been friendly toward the Jews. In some respects, Chabad rabbis are like many atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers who refuse to say “Christmas,” because they do not believe in Christ. Instead, they refer to Christmas as, “Xmas.”
On a more serious note, I believe referring to San Diego as S. Diego is offensive to Jews and gentiles alike, who take great civic pride in the designated name of their city. You see, in the final analysis–it’s all about respect. Treating our neighbors with respect ought to be as important as keeping kosher.
And now you know, the rest of the story . . .
Inquiring minds await for an answer from our Chabad friends. Please, feel free to reply.