29 Jul Yikhes
Also yichus. A word with a Hebrew root that means a lineage or pedigree, not in the generic biological meaning of lineage but an ancestral line of proven purity. It was a line defined by esteemed Torah scholarship that gave one a claim to superior birth and, thus, an incalculable advantage in marriage arrangements. A bloodline like that was to be safeguarded and propagated through generations.
Originally, yikhes was tied to scholarship and status, both concentrated in distinguished rabbinical dynasties, the blue blood. Since most documented pedigrees of these aristocrats were irrevocably lost in the all too common wanderings, epidemics, persecution, and fires, written proof of impeccable lineage was replaced by word-of-mouth transmission.
The old Jewish cemeteries of the shtetls vandalized in pogroms and razed in the Holocaust deprived families of access to the original tombstone inscriptions containing familial names.
In the context of the Pale of Settlement’s isolation and poverty where uncertainty or memory lapses could not be rectified, or even discerned, alterations and tenuous deductions entered the cracks. In short order, historically speaking, the splintered Jewish society had no choice but to accept the resulting combination of fact and embellishment as unadulterated yikhes.
For status and marital purposes, scholarly achievement or potential for it took the place of proven pedigree – why lose Torah knowledge only because it came through a humble vessel.
Neither was yikhes able to ignore human weaknesses like material wealth and social status. The definition of yikhes may have evolved but Torah scholarship remained at its core, causing many an important non-yikhesed family to seek prestige by acquiring a learned son-in-law (if he would have them.)
With the secularization of the Jewish society, the concept of yikhes shelved the religious genealogical aspect. The main component endured: learning, albeit secular learning. Intellectual ambitions, non-manual professions, high ethical standards, and the expectation of all of the above in a marriage partner completed the modern blue blood definition.