Dana and Davenen?


Today I read this post http://www.jidaily.com/l8P2/e, which discusses the contested roots of the yiddish word “daven”, which means to pray. The author examines a few etymologies and suggests the one he finds the most compelling, an etymology linking “daven” to the Lithuanian word “dovana” (or davana in Latvian), which means “gift”. This is a very compelling etymology for two reasons: 1) The capital of the Yiddish speaking world was Lithuania; and 2) one of the prayer services, Mincha, literally means “gift”. Also the prayer services in general were meant to replace the sacrifical offerings in the Temple.

This reason seems as least as compelling as a relation to the word “divine” or the very unlikely explanation, popular in the last century and accepted by Artscroll, of the Aramaic word “d’avanun”, meaning “of our fathers” (see article above for more discussion).

All of which brings me to my main point: the word for gift in Sanskrit and Pali, the sacred languages of Buddhism and Hinduism, is “daana”. This seems at least possibly connected to the Lituanian/Latvian word “dovana/davana” (many European words are from the same etymological root as Sanskritic words). As a “Jubu” this connection tickles my heart and brain: the possibility that “daven”, the Yiddish word for prayer, is from the same root as “daana”, the Sanskritic word for “gift”. Anyone know anything about the roots of Lithuanian/Latvian?

Author: Matthew Zachary Gindin

Freelance journalist and teacher. I write regularly for the Forward, All That In Interesting, and the Jewish Independent, and have been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Elephant Journal, and elsewhere.

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