DOI: 10.18413/2313-8912-2022-8-2-0-3

Extracts from the comparative description of linguistic images in the phraseological systems of Hebrew and Yiddish


This work is devoted to the study of the formation of the Hebrew phraseological system from the perspective of the supposed influence of the phraseological system of Yiddish on it. The choice of this Germanic language among the many Jewish languages as an object of research is explained by the fact that for the overwhelming majority of immigrants to their historical homeland, even Yiddish was the spoken language. On the basis of examples collected from Russian, Israeli, German and Polish sources, the article substantiates the theoretical prerequisites for the possible interaction of phraseological systems of both languages and notes cases of its absence. The study was carried out selectively in several thematic groups, a comparative analysis of which made it possible to establish significant interlingual inconsistencies, caused, in particular, by a change in the phraseological image of Hebrew. It was found that the process of independent development of the Hebrew phraseological system without a significant influence on it of the Yiddish system of stable expressions is naturally conditioned by the change of realities, which contributed to the formation of a new nationally mediated phraseological image. The own forces of the Hebrew language were able to give impetus to the formation of a phraseological system that was not subject to significant external linguistic influences. The article proposes further development of the Hebrew phraseological system, including through closer interaction with the Yiddish language.


The desire of Hebrew creators to innovate in the field of lexicology is well known. It is aimed at creating a lexicon while preserving linguistic identity (Zuckermann, 2003). This task was facilitated by a two-thousand-year gap in the history of the development of spoken Hebrew, which was not given, like other languages, to enrich itself with borrowings from ancient Greek and Latin (Druskinas, 2002: 89).

However, set expressions that have absorbed the folk wisdom of more than one generation of native speakers from the countries of origin should in this case represent an exception to the rules and enter the phraseological system of the updated biblical language. This does not mean biblicalisms present in many modern languages, and are not quoted from the Talmud or Tanakh, which were destined to become an invariable attribute of Hebrew, but precisely those juicy and apt expressions that are the spirit of the people and the adornment of their native, or rather, ethnic language. For the overwhelming majority of immigrants to their historical homeland this was Yiddish, not excluding, although not so significantly expressed, participation in this creative process of speakers of other Jewish languages.

In connection with this circumstance, the question arises regarding the possible interaction of the phraseological systems of the Yiddish language and the Hebrew that is being revived by the efforts of enthusiasts, as well as the degree of participation of Yiddish phraseological units (PU) in the formation of the phraseological corpus of Hebrew. This assumption is based on the well-known statement of W. von Humboldt regarding the impossibility of an individual to leave the limits of his native language when changing the language of communication (Humboldt, 1859: 56), as well as studies of domestic linguists E. Akhunzyanov (Akhunzyanov, 1978), E. Solodukho (Solodukho, 1982, 2008) V. Mokienko (Mokienko, 1989) and others and foreign scientists U. Weinreich (Weinreich, 1979), S. Thomason (Thomason, 2001), G. Zuckermann (Zuckermann, 2003) and others, devoted to the analysis of language contacts. However, there are no works that consider the problem of the possible influence of the Yiddish language on the formation of the phraseological system of Hebrew.

The purpose of this research is to examine the ways in which the Hebrew phraseological system was formed in the light of the possible influence of the Yiddish language on this process, which could ultimately reveal the continuity of the cultures assigned to the linguistic signs. In the studied works, the description of the phraseological units of Yiddish and Hebrew was carried out, as a rule, separately from each other (Derbaremdiker, 1999, Druskinas, 2002, Niran, 2011, Landsberger, 1912, Тrakhtman, 1996) or in parallel (Guri, 2012), but without an appropriate comparative analysis of phraseological systems and special attention to phraseological image[1], enclos7ed in phraseological elements, as an integral part of the national-linguistic picture of the world. The novelty of this research lies in the study of the interaction of individual segments of the phraseological systems of Hebrew and Yiddish in order to establish possible parallels and / or points of contact between the two systems.

The objectives of this study included the analysis of phraseological units from sources published in countries with a compact residence of the Jewish population speaking Yiddish: Israel (Guri, 2012), Russia (in the certain period of the USSR and post-Soviet countries) (Debaremdiker, 1999), Poland (Adalberg, 2014), Germany (Landsberger, 1912), followed by thematic systematization of the material;

– selective thematic setting of groups of Hebrew and Yiddish fixed expressions;

– comparative study of selected thematic groups of phraseological units of both languages in order to identify the alleged influence of the Yiddish language or its absence on the formation of the phraseological system of Hebrew.

The study covered five groups of phraseological units:

– Confessional affiliation and interfaith relations;

– Peculiarities of national character;

– Self-irony as a way of survival;

– Nation-fighter/Nation-patient;

– Working days;

– Flora and fauna.


1.1 Confessional affiliation and interfaith relations

The analysis of the collected material showed that the acquisition of statehood by the Jewish people made many proverbs unclaimed due to the change in the way of life. The search for representatives of one's own nation or attempts to keep one's origins private, as we see in the following Yiddish proverbs, have lost their significance in the nation-state. Cf.:



Translation into English [2]

Brekht zikh aoyf a broyt un a id shpringt aroys. (es zeyen idn iber der velt.)[3]

Break the bread and a Jew will jump out of there (there are Jews all over the world).

aoyb ir aoykh aynviklen in a hazir hoyt, mi derkent syivie az ir zent a id.

Even if you put on the skin of a pig, you will still be recognized as a Jew.

The emotiveness of these phraseological units is enhanced by the choice of attributes that are especially significant for the representatives of the biblical people: daily bread, as the most frequently consumed product, and pigs, which are considered in Judaism unclean animals.

In the reconstituted Jewish state, the issue of a Jew's change of faith was unclaimed:



Translation into English

zol der tayvl nemen a getoiften id, a eydeler poyer un a getsamten volf.

Let the devil take a baptized Jew, a peasant in the nobility and a tamed wolf.


We should pay attention to the frequent use of proverbs in Yiddish as a formation of the negative phraseological image of the forest dweller, the wolf, which has been safely replaced in Hebrew parables by animals characteristic of the new habitat.

In Yiddish proverbs, a whole section is dedicated to the desire of representatives of Judaism to live among fellow believers, as demonstrated in the following phraseological unit. The component that enhances emphatic perception is the grotesque image of a person bound hand and foot. Сf.:


German version

Translation into English

Bind' mir Hände und Füße, aber wirf mich unter die Meinen.

Bind my hands and feet, but cast me among mine.


Continuing the previous phraseological unit, set expressions are cited indicating that a Jew, even living in a non-Jewish environment, for example, due to business necessity, must die among his fellow tribesmen. Сf.:



Translation into English

mi zol lebn tsvishn idn, handl tsvishn kristn.

One must live among the Jews, but engage in trade with Christians.

mi zol lebn tsvishn kristn, shtarbn tsvishn idn.

One should live among Christians and die among Jews.

For obvious reasons, this section disappeared from the collection of Hebrew proverbs after the people gained statehood. An exception is the phraseological unit, in which the modern interethnic confrontation between the Jewish population and the hostile environment is viewed through the prism of the misadventures of the Jews in ancient Persia, which almost ended tragically for the Jewish people. The vivid phraseological image is based on real historical characters, emphasizing the centuries-old confrontation between representatives of both great religions. Сf.:



Translation into English

לא מאהבת מרדכי אלא משנאת המן

Not out of love for Mordechai, but out of hatred for Haman. (In a broad sense, "Not out of love for the Jews, but out of hatred for their enemies").


Yiddish proverbs reflect the traditional national traits of native speakers of this language: efficiency, intelligence.


German version

Translation into English

Was man immer vom Juden sagen mag, ein Narr ist er nicht.

No matter what they say about Jews, the mind cannot be taken away from them.

Der Jude hat von allem zu wenig, nur Verstand hat er genug.

A Jew is lacking in everything, except for the mind.

Ein Jud' und ein Wolf gehen nie müßig herum.


A Jew and a wolf do not stagger idly.


1.2 Self-irony as a way of survival

As we know, the peculiarity of Jewish humor lies in the ability to laugh at oneself, which greatly facilitated the difficulties of life in the Diaspora and could not fail to be reflected in the PU. For example, the following Yiddish proverbs are not devoid of sarcasm and self-criticism. Сf.:



Translation into English

גאָט זאָל דיר באַשיצן פֿון קריסטלעכע הענט און פֿון ייִדישע קעפּ - got zol dir bashitsn fun kristlekhe hent aun fun eydishe kep

May G-d save you from Christian hands and Jewish heads.

אויב איר ווילט אָפּנאַרן אַ איד, מוזט איר אויפשטיין פרי- aoyb ir vilt opnarn a id, muzt ir aoyfshteyn fri

If you want to deceive a Jew, you have to get up early.

עס איז נאָר גוט צו גיין אין שול מיט אַ איד- es iz nor gut tsu geyn in shul mit a id  

It's only good to walk with a Jew to a prayer house.


Cf. also:


German version

Translation into English

Einem Juden soll man nie so viel geben, wie er verlangt. Er würde sich ärgern, daß er nicht mehr verlangt hat.

A Jew cannot be given at once as much as he asks, so that he does not show dissatisfaction, that he has asked little.


These phraseological units demonstrate a clear difference from the Hebrew phraseological units, which are alien to a person's view of himself from the outside, suggesting an involuntary comparison of himself with the people among whom Yiddish speakers once had to live in the diaspora.

It is not without humor that the proverb speaks of the unwillingness or inability of some co-religionists to work with their hands. The phraseological image is distinguished in this case by the completeness of the use of confessional marked realities. Сf.:



German version

Translation into English

Ein Jude versteht sich auf jedes Handwerk. Ostern bäckt er Mazeß (Osterbrot). Zu Pfingsten ist er ein Gärtner (er schmückt das Bethaus und sein Heim mit grünem Laub). Tischubow ist er ein Soldat (die Kinder fertigen sich aus Dachschindeln Gewehre und Säbel an, um gegen die Feinde Israels Krieg zu führen), und Rosz-hazkunu bläst er Schofar.

The Jew knows all crafts. On Easter he bakes matzoth, on Sukkot he works as a gardener, decorating the synagogue and his house with green branches, on the Tisha B'Av holiday he is a soldier (his children make rifles and sabers from tiles to fight the enemies of Israel), and on New Year he blows the shofar (horn).


Attention is drawn to the absence in the Hebrew phraseological units of indications of the national-religious affiliation of the native speakers with certain individual qualities, as is observed in a number of Yiddish set expressions. Сf.:



Translation into English

אין חכם כבעל ניסיון

Wise is the one who is experienced.

אל תהיה צודק – תהיה חכם; בכביש אל תהיה צודק – תהיה חכם

Don't be right, be wise! On the road don’t be right, be smart!


1.3 People-fighter/people-sufferer

Yiddish proverbs of an anti-war and conciliatory nature turned out to be unacceptable for a new life, and, consequently, for a new language. Сf.:


German version

Translation into English

Wer die Gefahr liebt, der geht darin unter.

He who loves danger will perish from it.

Wenn du den Pulverrauch nicht vertragen kannst, so ziehe nicht in den Krieg.

If you can't stand the smell of gunpowder, don't go to war.

And the next proverb “’N Patsch steck’ dir in de Tasch’ und hol’n raus, wenn er sich passt.“- “Put the slap in your pocket and take it out by opportunity” is accompanied by a commentary about the presence in this expression of the "morality of the oppressed". In this row proverbs of fatal content should be mentioned:


German version

Translation into English

Kämpfst du gegen das Schicksal an, so unterliegst du ihm. Fügst du dich aber, so bleibst du deines Schicksals Herr.

Resisting fate, you bow down to it; submitting to fate, you remain its master.

Hat der Jude recht, dann bekommt er erst recht Schläge.

If the Jew is right, he gets beaten.


On the contrary, there is a Yiddish proverb imbued with optimism, which speaks of the hope of the Jewish people for the future struggle: Es wird kommen e Jüdche[4] un wird sich auskriegen mei Kriegche.“- “A Jew will come (in this case, a collective phraseological image) and continue my struggle”. It should be noted that the need to observe one's honor and dignity is noted in both Hebrew and Yiddish proverbs. The only difference is that Hebrew speaks of a willingness to die in defense of one's honor, while Yiddish sees a more benign option – an alternative between obvious shame and heartache. Сf.:



German version

אלף מיתות ולא בושה אחת

– Better to die a thousand times than to live through shame once.

Besser der Schmerz im Herzen als die Schande im Gesicht. – Better pain in the heart than shame on the face.


It is logical to consider the Yiddish proverb, in which the phraseological image contains a clear indication of firmness of character. Сf.:

Der Mensch ist stärker als Eisen. – A man is stronger than iron.

The idea of obedience and non-resistance to violence sounds most clearly in the well-known postulate of Judaism during the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah, rejected by the founders of the State of Israel. The phraseological image is made up of the names of the forefathers, being a collective designation of the Jewish tribe. Сf.:



Translation into English

אין הוא בן אברהם יצחק ויעקב מי שנוטר כלי זין ביד

He is not the son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who takes up arms. In other words, the one who takes up arms is not a Jew.


In Hebrew, on the other hand, we meet a proverb indicating the need to resist violence. Сf.:



Translation into English

ככול שדוחקים אותו הוא מתפרץ

The more he is pressed, the more he resists.

The call for open confrontation sounds even more frankly in the next PU, significant, among other things, also with a local flavor, reflecting the realities of a new life. Сf.:



Translation into English

טוב שבנחשים רצוץ את מוחו

Smash the head of even the nicest snake!


Here it is appropriate to quote a proverb reflecting the historical fact of the fall of the fortress city of Gamla, thousands of whose inhabitants died trying to repel the onslaught of the Romans, as well as the events that preceded the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Сf.:



Translation into English

גמלא לא תיפול שנית

Gamla will not fall twice.

עברנו את פרעה, נעבור גם את זה

We have survived the Pharaoh, we will survive that (misfortune) too.


In these phraseological units, the phraseological image is based on historical realities that mark the milestones in the formation of the Israeli nation.

This topic also includes a proverb, the content of which testifies to the participation of the people of Israel in hostilities. The English equivalent indicates rather the inappropriate behavior of the character.



Translation into English

כבש קריה קבושה

Force an open door. Literal translation (Lit.): Capture a captured city.


And in conclusion of the military theme, two more phraseological units from Hebrew, in which the phraseological image contains a clear enumeration of the realities of a new life in an independent state of the people standing guard over their borders ("guns, recruit, veteran, trigger"). Сf.:



Translation into English

כשהתותחים רועמים, המוזות שותקות

When the cannons roar, the muses are silent.

אל יתהלל חוגר כמפתח

A rookie shouldn't be boasting like a veteran.

אצבע קלה על ההדק

Make a rash decision (Lit.).: The finger falls easily on the trigger (shoot unnecessarily).


1.4 Working days

Many set expressions in Hebrew reflect elements of a new way of life, until now alien to the people who lived in urban ghettos or the Pale of Settlement: maritime business, winemaking, attributes of peasant labor. Сf.:



Translation into English

מרוב מלחים טבעה הספינה

Too many cooks spoil the broth=Many commanders sink the ship. Lit.: Due to the multitude of sailors, the ship sank.

חומץ בן ייו

Blessing in disguise. Lit.: Vinegar is obtained from wine.

הסוסים כבר ברחו מהאורווה

Losers weepers, finders keepers. Lit.: The horses have already escaped from the stable.

יותר משעגל רוצה לינוק הפרה רוצה להניק

The cow wants to feed more than the calf to drink.

אם אין צאן אין רועה

There is no shepherd without sheep.

בזמן שהרועה תועה הצאן תועות אחריו.

A lost shepherd's flock wanders with him.

באין הרועה ובאין הזאב נפקע השה

Quarrels ruin the business. Lit.: The shepherd and the wolf did not share the lamb.

צאן איןרועה למה

In the absence of a herd, a shepherd is not needed.

לטובתי נשברה רגל פרתי

Blessing in disguise. Lit.: Luckily for me, my cow broke her leg.

אליה וקוץ בה

A fly in the ointment. Lit.: A sheep's tail is fat, but a thorn is on it.

קצור שחת בעוד השמש זורחת

Mow the grass before dark!


In the phraseological unit of Hebrew it is noted a conscientious attitude towards the work of people who set about improving the land of their ancestors. Сf.:



Translation into English

אינו טומן ידו בצלחת

Doesn't sit on one's hands. Lit .: Doesn't sit, hiding his hands in a plate.


The following proverbs call on not to postpone what you have begun and to bring it to completion. Сf.:



Translation into English

רואה בעבים לא יקצור

Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

המתחיל במצווה, אומרים לו גמור

If you pledge, don't hedge. Lit.: A good deed is brought to an end.

כל ההתחלות קשות

The beginnings are always hard. Lit.: All beginnings are difficult.

יגעת ומצאת תאמין

A seeker will always find. Lit.: Made an effort and found it!


In both Yiddish and Hebrew phraseological units, conditions are noted that allow a Jew to violate the strict rules of rest on Shabbat, in particular, in case of extreme need or when a person's life is threatened. Сf.:



German version

שה שבתך חול ואל תצטרך

– Better to break the commandment and work on Saturdays than to depend on people.

Eher mache deinen Sabbath zu einem Werktage, als daß du von den Menschen etwas verlangst. – Make Saturday a working day, but don't ask people for anything.


Wer am Sabbath nicht hungern will, darf am Wochentag nicht müßig gehen.- If you don't want to starve on Shabbat, don't quit your job.

פיקוח נפש דוחה שבת     

– Danger to life cancels Shabbat.



There is also a set expression in Hebrew, which speaks of a useless occupation. Сf.:

שלח לחמו על פני המים  – To carry water in a sieve. Lit.: Raft bread on water.

Phraseological units are also found in Yiddish that support persistent and conscientious work and condemn laziness. Сf.:


German version

Translation into English

Gesegnet sind die Hände, die alles allein tun.

Blessed are the hands that can do everything by themselves.

Müßige Hände verderben die Wände.

Idle hands ruin the walls.


Finally, the one who does nothing is not mistaken. This is precisely what states the following proverb. Сf.:


German version

Translation into English

Nimm dir nicht’s vor, schlägst du nicht fehl.


Don't start anything, you won't miss.


However, in a person who makes mistakes, is also noted the opposite effect – the ability to notice shortcomings. Сf.:


German version

Translation into English

Wer Fehler schreibt, kann auch Fehler lesen.

Whoever writes with errors can read them.


To an even greater extent, the right to error is allowed in the Hebrew phraseological units. An emotive amplifier in this statement is a phraseological image, which consists in a reference to the biblical authority, which received the stone tablets with the covenants from the hands of the Almighty. Сf.:



Translation into English

אפילו מושה רבנו טעה

Even Moses, our teacher, was once wrong.


However, if in some cases indulgence is shown to mistakes, then in general ignorance is at best ridiculed, as evidenced by the following phraseological units. Сf.:



Translation into English

הוא כותב נח בשבע שגיאות

He writes “Noah” with seven errors.

אינו יודע באין ימינו לשמאלו

He cannot distinguish the left hand from the right.


The expectation of precipitation, rare for the Israeli climate, gave rise to a proverb that is radically different in content from the Yiddish PU, which is equivalent to the proverb of many other languages. Сf.:




נשיאים ורוח וגשם אין-

Much ado about nothing. Lit .: There are clouds and wind, but no rain.

פיל תומולת וועגן גאָרנישט-

fil tumult vun gornisht.

Much ado about nothing.


1.5 Flora and fauna

Former residents of urban ghettos, deprived of green spaces, in their historical homeland had the opportunity to find a home with a lawn (a kind of personification in a phraseological image of a symbol of a new life), as evidenced by the phraseological unit of Hebrew. Cf.:



Translation into English

הדשא של השכן ירוק יותר

It is always better there where we are not. Lit.: The neighbor's lawn is greener.

However, in Hebrew we also note phraseological units, not without sarcasm, depicting the cases of banal incompetence of a person. The expressiveness of the following statement develops due to the creation of a phraseological image of a dense ignoramus, bypassed by elementary knowledge of biblical foundations. Сf.:



Translation into English

כרחוק מזרח ממערב

As far apart as the West is from the East.

מה הם רבים זרמו מאז בירדן

Much water has flowed since then in the Jordan.


Many phraseological units arose under the influence of the unknown animal and plant world that opened up to the settlers. Сf.:



Translation into English

שם כספו על כרן הצבי

Throw money down the drain. Lit.: Hang your money on the gazelle horns.

הוי זנב לאריות ואל תהיה ראש לשועלים

It is better to be the tail of a lion than the head of a fox.

הקש ששבר את גב הגמל

A drop that overflowed the bowl. Lit.: A straw that broke the back of a camel.


In some cases, an equivalent phraseological unit, possibly borrowed from German, is found in Yiddish using European realities, whereas in Hebrew the PU refers to a representative of the animal world of Asia.



German version

אין הקומץ משביע את הארי

You can't feed a lion from the hand.

Ein Adler fängt keine Fliegen. – An eagle does not catch flies.


Сf. also:


Polish version

Translation into English

Owies nie jest kupowany dla gęsi.

Oats are not bought for geese.



The study showed that withinthe analyzed thematic groupsof set expressions, the phraseological system of Yiddish, unfortunately, was not destined to pass the cultural and linguistic baton to Hebrew, thus enriching it with a centuries-old collection of a storehouse of wisdom, inescapable sadness, sparkling humor of the people who created masterpieces of folk art and world literature in this language. With the revival of Hebrew, the Yiddish phraseological system slowed down its forward movement, and Hebrew, as the study shows, continued its independent movement towards the formation of a unique system of phraseological units with its own phraseological images incompatible with the Yiddish phraseological units symbolism. This process is natural for many reasons:

- a substantial layer of set expressions accumulated by Yiddish speakers in the diaspora turned out to be unacceptable in the life of the people building their own independent state;

- some of the Yiddish phraseological units have outlived their days with a change in the social order;

- the transition to a new phraseological system was inevitable due to the change in realities that contributed to the formation of a new phraseological image.

- the own powers of the Hebrew language were able to give impetus to the formation of an independent phraseological system, independent of external linguistic influence.

Nevertheless, as some examples testify, it can be assumed that in the future the development of the phraseological system of Hebrew will occur, among other things, due to closer interaction with the system of the Yiddish language as this language becomes more popular.


[1] The phraseological image is understood in this work as "A holistic, direct representation, revealing in a visual form the relation to the depicted reality" (Zherebilo, 2011). More about the phraseological image (Filonenko, 2004).

[2] Hereinafter, translation into English is carried out by the author of the article.

[3] The examples are given in the unchanged language format in which they were gleaned from the corresponding source (German, Transliterated Yiddish, Polish, Hebrew).

[4] Jüdche, also Jüd) are used in the Cologne dialect rather in a positive sense to denote a representative of Judaism.

 According to the authors of “Essential Papers on Jews and the Left”, Jüdche means “little Jew” (EPJ 1997: 389).

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