The secret language of the Jews of southern Germany

Though spoken by few today, a movement exists to keep Lachoudesh alive.

Schopfloch, located in southern Germany, has some 3,000 inhabitants. (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Schopfloch, located in southern Germany, has some 3,000 inhabitants.
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
If you ever find yourself in southern Germany, make a point of visiting Schopfloch. Although it is located on a quiet romantic road just south of Rothenburg and between Feuchtwangen and Dinkelbuel in Bavaria, Shopfloch does not attract much of a tourist trade. With neither walls nor cobbled market squares, it is a fairly quiet village. In many ways typical of the villages to which Jews retreated in the Middle Ages when they were expelled from nearby main cities.
Jews lived in the village for many centuries. In the 18th century Schopfloch had a Jewish major and until the 1830s the population was one-third Jewish. A decade later the Jewish community began to decline due to migration back to the cities like Nuremberg and Stuttgart and emigration to the new world. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, there were only 37 Jews in the village.
In the early 1930s there was harmony between Jews and Gentiles.  One resident remembers that as a boy he opened letters for the pious Jews who were forbidden that activity on the Sabbath. He got five Pfennig per letter. Good money in those days. Many of the Jews didn’t seem to grasp that the atmosphere was changing. Like most synagogues in Germany, Schopfloch’s Jewish house of prayer was torched during the infamous Kristallnacht in November 1938 and Jews were paraded through the village carrying signs such as “I am a Jewish pig.”
Homes built by Jews can be recognized because of their roofs bevelled at the tops. The Jewish cemetery has also remained in tact.
But Schopfloch has something more, and that is why most of the visitors are Jewish. They do not come to see the Jewish sights, but rather to hear the Jewish sounds.
It was in 1978 when then-mayor of the village Hans Rainer Hofmann was sitting in a tavern where he overheard some elderly people whispering something unintelligible: “Not being a native of Schopfloch, he correctly suspected that they whispered about him. In the village they had a secret language and what they said was, ‘The mayor is sitting in the bar filling his belly with booze.’’’
The Jewish residents of Schopfloch developed a local patois based largely on Hebrew. In those days, many of the Jews were cattle dealers. Traveling to Bavarian villages and towns, they found it convenient to keep trade secrets in a language of their own and speaking it between partners, so that their clients couldn’t understand them. Over the years, as Christians worked in Jewish homes and the community integrated, everyone in Shopfloch learned the dialect known as Lachoudesh, a contraction of Lashon Hakodesh, Hebrew for “holy tongue.”
The dialect contains some 2,000 words. Water is majem, a house is bajess, and the village itself is called medine. Instead of a Burhermeister, Schopfloch is presided over by a shofet, Hebrew for judge.
Only a very few old Shopflocher speak Lachoudesh, but there is a movement to retain this history. So today’s mayor, Oswald Czech, is interested to teach it to the children.
At carnival time in Schopfloch, children sing a ditty called “Lachoudesh Is Really Not So Hard’’ in which the Hebrew and Yiddish words are momentarily revived.
Here are a few more examples of Lachoudesh: Door is Deled, doubtful is uuser, large is godel, enough is dajene, red is adom, work is meloche, rest is Menuche, Heaven is Shomajem and the numbers are olf, bejs, gimmel, dollet, hej, fouf, soyn, kess, tess, jus, jus olf and so on. Schocha majim lou kuhlef is black coffee (literally black water, no milk), kassirrosch is pig-head and alle gimmel dof means all three are good.
There is even a book about the language, titled Lachoudisch Sprechen, by Hans Rainer Hofmann, which includes a list of Lachoudisch words and their German meanings.
Lachoudesh was spoken in Schopfloch throughout the Hitler era. That’s particularly interesting because the Nazis replaced all words of foreign origin with German words. This is what Schopfloch’s Czech told me:
How many people live in Schopfloch?
Today the village has nearly 3,000 inhabitants.
Is Lachoudesh still spoken?
Yes, about 80 to 100 words are known and used.
Within the context of normal conversation?
Yes, for instance I am known as “shofet,” not as mayor. The children are the kone or yeled and a dog is kelev.
What are you doing to keep the language alive? Are there courses where people can learn it?  Is the younger generation interested in Lachoudesh?
Yes, there are some lessons in the school and the kindergarten that the children like.
Do you speak any Lachoudesh, which you call a secret language?
All I know is a lot of words.
When the older generation dies out, do you think that part of Schopfloch’s history will only be read in books?
I hope not. We try to keep it alive by using Lachoudesh words in the programs for our events.
Because it is a Jewish-based language and because there is quite a lot of antisemitism in Germany, does an attitude against Jews exist in any form in Schopfloch?
No, the Jewish people lived here for 500 years. In the early 19th century, 25% of the inhabitants were Jewish people. There was always a friendly relationship between Christians and Jews.
Not so many years ago you used to get Jewish tourists, even tour groups, to hear Lachoudesh spoken. Do they still come today?
We have Jewish visitors from all over the world because we also have a great Jewish cemetery and they look for the graves of their ancestors.
So that’s another reason for Jews to come to Schopfloch.
We have almost completed a big project to document all the information and the artistic style on the tombstones and have created a databank on the internet in German translation. All that is funded with money from the European Union. To do research, find it in English on Next to the word “website” click on the German title.
Does the village have tourist accommodation and facilities for kosher food?
Yes, we have bed-and-breakfast inns and there are hotels in the next small town. Our restaurant has kosher facilities. During the production of the film “Mayem is water and Yayen is wine,” the director ate kosher.
I know that there used to be a Jewish school and a synagogue in Schopfloch. What happened to those buildings?
The Jewish school-house is now under private ownership and is closed. The synagogue and the chapel, the Tahara building in the cemetery, were destroyed during Kristallnacht in November 1938.
The entrance to the Jewish cemetery in Schopfloch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)The entrance to the Jewish cemetery in Schopfloch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Are the gates of the cemetery locked to prevent vandalism by Neo-Nazis or other Jew-haters?
The gates are locked but the key is available for visitors.  We have no problems with neo-Nazis and I am very proud of that.
How can one get in touch to inquire about the cemetery?
Email me at
Thank you, Shofet Czech!■
The writer is a senior journalist and host of ‘Walter’s World’ on Israel National Radio and ‘The Walter Bingham File’ on Israel Newstalk Radio (both in English)