shamash (shah-MAHSH) listen
shames (SHAH-miss) listen


  • n. The caretaker of a synagogue.

  • n. A personal assistant, especially to a rabbi or in the Hollywood entertainment industry.

  • n. The candle lit first and then used to light other Hannukah candles.

  • n. (American slang) A policeman, detective, guard.

  • n. A low-level functionary.

Example Sentences

  • "The shamash is going to order new siddurim."

  • "For the first night, we will need one candle and a shamash."

  • “Every movie producer has to have a shammes.” (NJY)

  • "You don't have a prayer book, Nancy? So ask the shames for one." (Glinert)

  • "Light the shames first, Judah." (Glinert)

Languages of Origin

  • Textual Hebrew
  • Yiddish


  • TH שמש shamásh > Y שמשׂ shámes

    • Who Uses This

      • Religious: Jews who are engaged in religious observance and have some Jewish education
      • Jews: Jews of diverse religious backgrounds and organizational involvements


      • North America
      • Great Britain
      • South Africa
      • Australia / New Zealand


      • The New Joys of Yiddish, by Leo Rosten and Lawrence Bush (New York, 2003[1968]).
      • The JPS Dictionary of Jewish Words, by Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic, (Philadelphia, 2001).
      • The Joys of Hebrew, by Lewis Glinert (New York, 1992).
      • Dictionary of Jewish Usage: A Popular Guide to the Use of Jewish Terms, by Sol Steinmetz (Lanham, MD, 2005).

      Alternative Spellings

      shammos, schammos, shames, shamas, shammas, shammash, shammes


  • This Yiddish word may have influenced the English word shamus, meaning private detective.

    plural: 'shamosim'

    See also gabai.

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