Breaking news: a fragment from Tractate Pseudonymity
March 08, 2012
Fragments from genizah manuscripts, now at the University of Manchester.
How remarkable, that on this very day in which we celebrate how hidden identities can nonetheless reveal one's true essence1, this fragment of Masekhet שם בדוי -- Tractate Pseudonymity -- should be discovered! This fragment of parchment was found in a Mountain View genizah this very morning; I offer here the first-ever translation of this seminal text.
Rabbi Google asked: do we not have the right to demand a person's real name?2
Rabbi Montoya answered: As it is written: 'You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.'3
An anonymous baraita noted: Who are we to imagine that a name, whether given or chosen, tells us anything significant about a person? Is it not known that 'only God knows the hearts of men'?4
Rabba Hadassah added: The hearts of women being, of course, a different matter entirely. But if Matisyahu, Sting, and Bob Dylan had reason to choose new ways in which they wished to be known, how much more so might women, youths, victims of sexual assault, and others who are vulnerable desire to make the same choice?
Rabbi Shlimazl cited a teaching he heard from his grandfather, his teacher, may the memory of the righteous and the saintly be a blessing for the world to come: that until the age of majority a man may may be known by a nickname, but after he has accepted the yoke of the commandments he must be known as "son of his father" until he is famous enough to have written a book, whereupon he can be known by the name of his book.
Rabba Hadassah retorted: There are longstanding examples of online communities in which the use of persistent pseudonyms is the norm5; over the course of time minhag m'vutal halakha, custom trumps law. Also: if a man can become known by the name of his book, how much more so might someone from a small town, a refugee, or a member of a religious minority become known by the name of their choice?
Tanu rabanan / our sages have taught: Also remember the example of Esther, as it is written: 'And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther.'6 Our heroine Esther had two names, one to which she was born and one by which she was known once she became Queen of Persia. It is known also that the name 'Esther' relates to 'nistar,' hidden, and that even God is nistar in the megillah of Esther; therefore it must be permissible for us, following the example of the Holy Blessed One, to conceal ourselves beneath the veils of pseudonyms.
Rabbi Google objected: But how can we trust the voice of the anonymous baraita, or our unnamed sages, when we don't even know the legal names of the people who wrote this down? What if they're not who they're pretending to be?
Whereupon the chorus of anonymous baraitot shouted him down, and poured him another drink, as it is written, 'ad d'lo yada,'7 'until one cannot distinguish' between legal name and pseudonym. And the entire internet observed a day 'which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day.'8
'And there was much rejoicing.'9
- Yes, this is Purim Torah. Like the awesome mailing from Rabbits for Human Fights.
- Understanding the Nym Wars. See also My Name Is Me.
- You Keep Using That Word, YouTube (The Princess Bride).
- I Kings, 8:39
- Pseudonym entry, Fanlore
- Esther 2:7
- Ad d'lo yada / Until one cannot distinguish...
- Esther 9:22
- And there was much rejoicing, YouTube (Monty Python).