As we have said many times, you just can't make this stuff up.
A shortage of Yiddish translators has resulted in a New York judge declaring a mistrial in a bribery and wire fraud case involving Democratic State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, who is alleged to have offered cash to Republican leaders to allow him to run for mayor on the Republican ticket.
So how does Yiddish get farmished (mixed up) in all this? It seems that the defense claims there is evidence contained in 28 hours of wiretapped Yiddish recordings that would prove the innocence of the defendant.
But according to a report in yesterday's Wall Street Journal by Hilary Potkewitz, even the few available Yiddish translators are not able to translate the Hasidic Yiddish dialect spoken by the Satmar Chasidim who figure in this case.
The New York State Unified Court System has one full-time interpreter who speaks Yiddish and Hebrew, and four on-call Yiddish interpreters. The court used a Yiddish translator 37 times in the first half of this year and 83 times in all of 2013, according to David Bookstaver, the system's director of communications.The video below gives a brief summary of the case as jury selection began for the trial.
Rockland County family court had the greatest need for the interpreters, he said, followed by Brooklyn family and supreme courts.
In Mr. Smith's case, "a number of translators we reached out to said the speech wasn't comprehensible to them," said Agata Baczyk, founder of Legal Interpreters LLC.
The recordings involve members of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect, a group that tends to speak a form of Yiddish often referred to as "Hasidic Yiddish." It is a speech pattern laced with religious references and Aramaic phrases, explained Prof. Joel Berkowitz, director of the Sam & Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
An interpreter who was an Orthodox Jew might have had a better chance understanding the recordings, Mr. Berkowitz said. But the bulk of the translation happened over the weekend, and Orthodox Jews observe the Sabbath.
In Mr. Smith's case, defense attorneys said they needed weeks to analyze the transcripts of the recordings, and too many jurors said they couldn't serve through the delay in the trial. On June 17, the judge declared a mistrial. Mr. Smith, a Democrat, will have another trial beginning in January.
As the New York Times headlined on June 12, Oy Gevalt!
(A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS: THE VIDEO IS NOT VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY. YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.)