pashkevil
A pashkevil-ified street in Jerusalem. Photo by Gil Cohen Magen
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Wikimedia Commons
The 'pashkevil' got its name from the 'pasquino.' Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Take a walk through Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhood Mea Shearim and you'll notice that things look a lot different than on a typical Israeli street: women walking separately from men, advertising sans scantily clad women or any women at all, attire harking back to 18th-century Europe.

What you might not notice, unless you can read Hebrew and/or Yiddish are the pashkevilim.

A pashkevil is a poster hung in a public place meant to prescribe "appropriate behavior" for the (generally) ultra-Orthodox community it is addressing. Often a pashkevil will use fire-and-brimstone biblical passages to decry the evils of modern innovations (like the iPhone, Internet, e-mail) or to rouse political action meant to protect Haredi interests in Israel.

Pashkevilim (pl.) may come with the backing of a particular group or rabbi or be posted anonymously.

Pashkevilim don't mince words, as evidenced by these real examples:

"Remove this cursed man from your midst!"

"Do not soil your house with blood!"

"Shame covers the faces of the hypocritical criminals…"

"Help! Jerusalem is crying out!"

"The mercenary heads of the Naha"l, whose souls are full of sin, are hunting for innocent souls throughout the world and uprooting them from Judaism and all humanity!"

These posters are a quite the unique sociological phenomenon: In this era of high-speed high-def telecoms, they are a horse-and-buggy method of communication that attempts to influence the collective thought of an entire community. They colorfully draw on religious Jewish canon, literature, history and folk culture to evoke a response from readers.

In fact, they are so unique that Israel's National Library began collecting them, and has examples ranging from the 18th century until today.

The irony? The name of the inflammatory posters used to preserve ostensibly "pure" Judaism has gentile origins.

Hebrew borrowed it from Yiddish, which took it from the Polish "paszkwil," which took it from the French "pasquil" which took it from the Italian "pasquino" – which was the nickname for a statue in 16th-century Rome on which locals would post anti-church complaints and satirical poems. What would a rabbi say about that?

Shoshana Kordova is on leave. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.