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Hebrew Proverbs: Right from the Source

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The word “proverb” is generally used to refer to a traditional saying that boils down a commonsense observation about life into a pithy adage, often through the use of a metaphor or some other rhetorical device. All languages, it would seem, express the wisdom of the ages using concise sayings that are easy to remember and recall to use for strategic effect. Indeed, the name of the game is knowing the right proverb for the right moment.

In the case of Hebrew proverbs, there’s an extensive arsenal to draw on. In fact, one of the oldest examples of a proverb folklore is the Book of Proverbs, which represents one of the Hebrew language’s greatest contributions to world literature. This book, of course, is part of a longstanding tradition of Hebrew proverbs, from Biblical times through the Rabbinic period, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and right into modern times. As the People of the Book, Jews have long considered a well-turned phrase burnished at just the right moment to be a mark of erudition and eloquence.

Man Reading Bible

Of course, the vast majority of these old Hebrew proverbs are religious in nature and emanate from religious sources, namely the Hebrew Bible and the vast library of exegetical works (works that interpret the Bible). Because modern Israel is a largely secular country, some portion of these proverbs have certainly been relegated to the demographically more limited sphere of Israel’s religious communities. However, there’s still a large number of Hebrew proverbs used by the general public.

In any event, nothing will add stripes to your rank as a speaker of the language like a few pithy proverbs in Hebrew to employ at a choice moment in your conversation with a native speaker. To that end, our lesson today will cover the top thirty Hebrew proverbs along with context examples to help you know when best to use them.

Friends Having a Conversation
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  1. The Top 30 Hebrew Proverbs
  2. HebrewPod101 is Your Proverbial Go-To for All Things Hebrew

1. The Top 30 Hebrew Proverbs

אכול ושתו כי מחר נמות .1

TransliterationAkhol ve-shato ki makhar namut.
Literal translation“Eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die.”
SourceIsaiah 22:13
Parallel English proverbLife is short.
Usage in contextYour friend is trying to convince you to go skydiving with him, but you’re on the fence due to safety concerns. To try to win you over, he uses this phrase.

2. אם אין אני לי מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי?

TransliterationIm eyn ani li mi li? U-kh’she-ani le-’atzmi, mah ani? Ve-im lo ‘akhshav, eymatay?
Literal translation“If I am not for myself, who will be? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, then when?”
SourcePirkei Avot 1:14
Parallel English proverbThere’s no time like the present. [last part]
Usage in contextThis proverb is often quoted in part, depending on the application. For example:

It’s Friday, and you’re considering going to visit the Dead Sea for the first time, but you know you have a work assignment to hand in on Monday. To give you a bit of a push, your friend (who wants you to go with him) says, ואם לא עכשיו אימתי? (Ve-im lo ‘akhshav eymatay?)

Man Looking at Watch

3. מצא מין את מינו.

TransliterationMatza min et mino.
Literal translation“He found his own type.”
SourcePopular
Parallel English proverbLike two peas in a pod.
Usage in contextYour brother, who is a classical pianist, tells you about a date he went on with a classical violinist, to which you reply with this proverb.

4. ואהבת לרעך כמוך.

TransliterationVe-ahavta le-re’akha kamokha.
Literal translation“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Source Leviticus 19:18
Parallel English proverbSame as in Hebrew
Usage in contextA taxi driver wants to nudge in ahead of you at a merge onto the road. He rolls down his window, signaling for you to let him in, and quotes this proverb.

5. כל אהבה שהיא תלויה בדבר בטל דבר בטלה אהבה. ושאינה תלויה בדבר אינה בטלה לעולם.

TransliterationKol ahavah she-hi tluyah be-davar batel davar batlah ahavah. Ve-she-eynah tluyah be-davar eynah betelah le’olam.
Literal translation“Any love that depends upon a thing is annulled if that thing is annulled. Love that does not depend upon a thing will never be annulled.”
SourcePirkei Avot 5:19
Parallel English proverbTrue love lasts forever.
Usage in contextYou tell your Israeli girlfriend you need to go on a business trip abroad for a couple of months, and ask if she’ll wait for you to return. She replies with this proverb.

Hands Forming Heart Shape

6. כל הפוסל במומו פוסל.

TransliterationKol ha-posel be-mumo posel.
Literal translation“He who invalidates another invalidates himself.”
SourceTalmud Bavli: Kidushin 70:2
Parallel English proverbWhat you spot is what you’ve got.
Usage in contextYou criticize your neighbor for leaving trash outside his front door, and he points to your mailbox full of old mail, quoting this proverb.

Woman Looking in Rearview Mirror

7. עבר יומו בטל קרבנו.

Transliteration‘Avar yomo batel korbano.
Literal translation“Its day passed, its sacrifice was annulled.”
SourceTosefet Masekhet Berakhot 4
Parallel English proverbYou missed the boat.
Usage in contextYou forget your friend’s birthday, but offer to take him out to eat a month later. She replies with this proverb.

8. לכל זמן, ועת לכל חפץ תחת השמים.

TransliterationLa-kol zman, ve-’et le-khol khefetz takhat ha-shamayim.
Literal translation“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.”
SourceEcclesiastes 3:1
Parallel English proverbEverything in its own time.
Usage in contextYou ask your father when he’s going to retire already, and he replies with this proverb.

9. תפשת מרובה לא תפשת.

TransliterationTafasta merubeh lo tafasta.
Literal translation“If you grab too much, you grab nothing.”
SourceTalmud Bavli: Sukkah 5:1
Parallel English proverbDon’t bite off more than you can chew.
Usage in contextYou tell your parents you’re going to double major in biochemistry and plasma physics, and your mother replies with this proverb.

10. חזית איש מהיר במלאכתו, לפני מלכים יתיצב.

TransliterationKhazita ish mahir bi-m’lakhto lifney melakhim yityatzev.
Literal translation“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings.”
SourceProverbs 22:29
Parallel English proverbPractice makes perfect.
Usage in contextYou observe a master falafel hawker flipping the balls high into the air so they land right in the pita, and you say this proverb to your friend in admiration.

11. לעולם יאכל אדם פחות מן הראוי לו לפי ממונו וילבש כראוי לו ויכבד אשתו ובניו יותר מן הראוי לו.

TransliterationLe-’olam yokhal adam pakhot min ha-ra’uy lo lefi mamono ve-yilbash ka-ra’uy lo vi-yekhabed ishto u-vanav yoter min ha-ra’uy lo.
Literal translation“A man should always eat less than is befitting him, dress as is befitting him, and provide for his wife and children more than is befitting him.”
SourceHilkhot De’ah 5:10
Parallel English proverbNone.
Usage in contextThis might be good advice to a friend trying to budget their expenses, as it relates to monetary priorities vis-à-vis one’s earnings.

12. על ראש הגנב בוער הכובע.

Transliteration‘Al rosh ha-ganav bo’er ha-kova’.
Literal translation“The hat burns atop the thief’s head.”
SourcePopular
Parallel English proverbLiar, liar, pants on fire.
Usage in contextYou see that the prime minister is nervous and fidgety in an interview about the criminal embezzlement leveled against him, and you say this proverb in response.

Burglar

13. אין דבר העומד בפני הרצון.

TransliterationEyn davar ha-’omed bifney ha-ratzon.
Literal translation“Nothing can stand before will.”
SourceThe Book of Zohar
Parallel English proverbWhere there’s a will, there’s a way.
Usage in contextYour sister asks you how you’re able to learn so much Hebrew on HebrewPod101.com, and you reply with this proverb.

14. קנה חכמה מה טוב מחרוץ וקנות בינה נבחר מכסף.

TransliterationKno khokhmah mah tov me-kharutz u-knot binah nivkhar mi-kasef.
Literal translation“How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver.”
SourceProverbs 16:16
Parallel English proverbThe greatest wealth is wisdom.
Usage in contextYour grandfather asks you why you’re studying philosophy at university instead of business management, and you reply with this proverb.

15. איזה הוא חכם? הלומד מכל אדם.

TransliterationEyzeh hu khakham? Ha-lomed mi-kol adam.
Literal translation“Who is the wise man? He who learns from all men.”
SourcePirkei Avot 4:1
Parallel English proverbYou can learn something from everyone.
Usage in contextYou complain to your friends about your new roommate, who is very different from you, and they reply with this proverb.

16. כי ברב חכמה רב כעס, ויוסיף דעת יוסיף מכאוב.

TransliterationKi be-rov khokhmah rov ka’as, ve-yosif da’at yosif makh’ov.
Literal translation“For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
SourceEcclesiastes 1:18
Parallel English proverbIgnorance is bliss.
Usage in contextYour boyfriend starts reading the nutritional values label on your favorite ice cream, and you tell him to stop, citing this proverb.

17. צרת רבים חצי נחמה.

TransliterationTzarat rabim khatzi nekhamah.
Literal translation“Suffering when shared is half a comfort.”
SourcePopular (based on Midrash Rabah)
Parallel English proverbMisery loves company.
Usage in contextA group of your employees all gather around to complain about the new strict boss, and you offer this proverb as a slight consolation.

18. איזהו גיבור? הכובש את יצרו.

TransliterationEyzehu gibor? Ha-kovesh et yitzro.
Literal translation“Who is the hero? He who conquers his urges.”
SourcePirkei Avot 4:1
Parallel English proverbDiscipline is wisdom and vice-versa.
Usage in contextYou are about to go for seconds at your favorite pizzeria, and your brother mentions this proverb while reminding you of your newly adopted diet.

Saluting Silhouette

19. אילני סרק קולם הולך.

TransliterationIylaney srak kolam holekh.
Literal translation“Barren trees make much noise.”
SourceGenesis Rabba 16:3
Parallel English proverbAn empty barrel makes the most noise.
Usage in contextYou call out one of your colleagues (a notorious know-it-all who always has something nasty to say about everyone), using this proverb to put her in her place.

20. אין חכם כבעל ניסיון.

TransliterationEyn khakham ke-va’al nisayon.
Literal translation“There is none wiser than the experienced.”
SourcePopular
Parallel English proverbExperience makes the best teacher.
Usage in contextWhen you ask your teacher why she’s given you so much homework, she replies with this proverb.

21. לא הבישן למד ולא הקפדן מלמד.

TransliterationLo ha-bayshan lamed ve-lo ha-kapdan melamed.
Literal translation“Neither does the timid learn nor the strict teach.”
SourcePirkei Avot 2:5
Parallel English proverbNone
Usage in contextThis is something a student might say in criticism of a teacher who does not invite questions, or that a teacher might say of a student who’s too afraid to ask them.

22. דברי חכמים בנחת נשמעים. 

TransliterationDivrey khakhamim be-nakhat nishma’im.
Literal translation“Wise words should be spoken pleasantly.”
SourceEcclesiastes 9:17
Parallel English proverbYou can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Usage in contextYou ask your friend how best to talk to your neighbors about their loud parties, and he cites this proverb.

23. סייג לחכמה שתיקה.

TransliterationSyag le-khokhmah shtikah.
Literal translation“Silence is a fence around wisdom.”
SourcePirkei Avot 3:13
Parallel English proverbBetter to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
Usage in contextJust before you raise your hand at your first work meeting, your colleague whispers this proverb in your ear.

Man Zipping Lips

24. והוי זנב לאריות, ואל תהי ראש לשועלים.

TransliterationVe-hevi zanav la-arayot, ve-al tehi rosh la-shu’alim.
Literal translation“It is better to be the tail of the lion than the head of the fox.”
SourcePirkei Avot 4:15
Parallel English proverbBetter the head of a dog than the tail of a lion. (It’s humorous to note that the parallels are opposite!)
Usage in contextYou’re offered a position with a lower salary than your current job, but at a leading firm with lots of opportunity. Your friend offers you this proverb as advice.

25. בור ששתית ממנו אל תזרוק בו אבן.

TransliterationBor she-shatita mimenu al tizrok bo even.
Literal translation“Don’t throw stones into a well you’ve drunk from.”
SourceNumbers Rabba 22
Parallel English proverbDon’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Usage in contextYour father tells you not to criticize your mother’s coddling, mentioning this proverb.

26. אמור מעט ועשה הרבה.

TransliterationEmor me’at va-’aseh harbeh.
Literal translation“Speak little and do much.”
SourcePirkei Avot 1:14
Parallel English proverbActions speak louder than words.
Usage in contextAfter hearing about your plans to finally learn Hebrew, your brother offers you this proverb by way of advice.

Woman Rock Climbing

27. אל יתהלל חגר כמפתח.

TransliterationAl yithalel khoger ki-mefate’akh.
Literal translation“Let not him that girdeth on his armor boast himself as he that putteth it off.”
Source1 Kings 20:11
Parallel English proverbDon’t count your chickens before they hatch.
Usage in contextYou announce to your boyfriend that you’re sure you’ll get the scholarship you applied for, and he replies cautiously with this proverb.

28. חושך שבטו שונא בנו.

TransliterationKhosekh shivto sone beno.
Literal translation“He that spareth his rod hateth his son.”
SourceProverbs 13:24
Parallel English proverbSpare the rod and spoil the child.
Usage in contextYour friend admonishes you with this proverb for letting your grounded son go out to play with his friends after feeling bad for him.

29. שלח לחמך על פני המים כי ברב הימים תמצאנו.

TransliterationShlakh lakhmekha ‘al pney ha-mayim ki be-rov ha-yamim timtza’enu.
Literal translation“Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.”
SourceEcclesiastes 11:1
Parallel English proverbWhat goes around comes around.
Usage in contextYour grandmother encourages you to give to charity, mentioning this proverb.

30. טובים השנים מן האחד.

TransliterationTovim ha-shnayim min ha-ekhad.
Literal translation“Two are better than one.”
SourceEcclesiastes 4:9
Parallel English proverbTwo heads are better than one.
Usage in contextWhen you finally meet ‘the one’ and bring him home to meet the family, your father happily quotes this proverb.

Cutout of Two People

2. HebrewPod101 is Your Proverbial Go-To for All Things Hebrew

We hope you enjoyed today’s lesson on Hebrew proverbs, and that you found our selection of proverbs useful, interesting, and enlightening. Obviously, it would be a lot to expect anyone to memorize all thirty of these; we recommend working on just a couple at a time. You’ll be sure to get some pleasantly surprised reactions when you whip out a perfectly timed Hebrew proverb with your Israeli friends!

Was there anything related to Hebrew proverbs that we didn’t cover today, or anything we did cover that you’d like to know more about? We at HebrewPod101 are always happy to hear from you, so please feel free to get in touch with us. Until next time, Shalom!

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Jerusalem Travel Guide: The Top 10 Places in the Holy City

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Language, culture, and place are inseparably linked. Indeed, they have a dynamic relationship, with language shaping culture, and culture carving place into stone. In the case of a language as old as Hebrew, a nation as ancient as the Jewish people, and a city as old as Jerusalem, understanding the interplay between language, culture, and place is absolutely key to cracking Hebrew’s code.

In this Jerusalem travel guide, you’ll learn about the top attractions in Jerusalem for visitors as well as the culture and history of this magnificent city. It has been the center of Jewish culture for several millennia, and discovering everything it has to offer will give you a much deeper insight into how much the Hebrew language mirrors the story of the Jewish people.

Each has faced many perils as well as many triumphs, and each is woven from a dizzyingly diverse loom of threads that make up the tapestry of this city and its people. But perhaps most of all, Jerusalem is an incredible living analogy of the Jews’ ability to come out of each struggle, over more than two millennia, with a stronger and richer identity. Some of this story is set in stone (like at the Western Wall), and some of it is ever-changing (like the Jerusalem skyline of today).

Jerusalem Skyline

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Before You Go – לפני הנסיעה (Lifney ha-Nesi’ah)
  2. Must-See Places for Shorter Trips (1-3 Days)
  3. Highly Recommended Places for a Longer Trip (4-7 Days or Longer)
  4. Bonus: Survival Hebrew for Your Trip
  5. Make the Most of Your Trip and Prepare in Advance with HebrewPod101

Before You Go – לפני הנסיעה (Lifney ha-Nesi’ah

To get the most out of your trip to Jerusalem, it’s best to prepare yourself with a little background information about the city’s long history as well as some basic travel info. 

Obviously, you can enjoy Jerusalem even if you show up clueless. But considering the thousands of years of stories that the very stones seem to breathe, acquainting yourself even briefly with the city’s history will definitely make for a more meaningful visit. 

We’ll also look at the layout of Jerusalem’s Old City, discuss when the tourist season is, and cover a basic packing list to help you show up prepared for any eventuality.


Jerusalem at Dusk

A Short History of the Holy City

ירושלים (Yerushalayim), or Jerusalem, is located in the Judean Mountains, or הרי יהודה (Harey Yehudah), between the Mediterranean Sea (Ha-Yam ha-Tikhon) and the Dead Sea, or ים המלח (Yam ha-Melakh). 

Though there is evidence that Jerusalem may have been first inhabited by humans as early as the Early Bronze Age, some 5,500 years ago, the city is believed to have risen to prominence sometime between the eleventh and tenth centuries BCE. During this time, it was the capital of the Israelite United Monarchy as established under King David and consolidated under his son, King Solomon.

King Solomon is credited with building the Holy Temple, called בית המקדש (Beyt ha-Mikdash) in Hebrew. To this day, it remains the locus of Jewish prayer and the holiest place on Earth for Jews. Remnants of the Temple, most notably the Western Wall, or הכותל המערבי (Ha-Kotel ha-Ma’aravi), still draw in pilgrims from all over the world. It’s customary to place pieces of paper with prayers written on them between the cracks of the stones of this ancient wall.

The Babylonians occupied Jerusalem in 586 BCE, destroyed the Holy Temple, and exiled much of the Jewish population. Half a century later, King Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated the Babylonians and invited back the exiled Jews and allowed them to rebuild their Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This rebuilt Temple stood as the Jewish center of political and religious power until the Roman Exile in the year 70 CE, when the Temple was once again destroyed—this time without being rebuilt. In-between its two destructions, it’s worth mentioning that the Temple was sacked, looted, and defiled (though not destroyed) by the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire under Antiochus IV Epiphanes when he invaded and occupied Israel and Jerusalem in 168 BCE. The Temple was eventually won back and rededicated by the Maccabees.

Menorah

Following the Roman Exile, Jerusalem pertained to the Roman, Byzantine, and Sassanid Empires, then a myriad of Muslim Caliphates interspersed with brief periods of Christian Crusader rule, and followed by long periods under Mamluk (and later, Ottoman) rule. The latter ended in World War I, when the British defeated the Turks in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, the result of which saw British rule over the region—including Jerusalem—under the British Mandate. Jerusalem was finally returned to Jewish hands in 1948, with the British exit from then-Palestine following the U.N. vote to partition the region to an Arab and Jewish state.

Afterwards, Jerusalem was to be divided in the course of the imminent War of Independence, with east Jerusalem (including the Western Wall) falling outside Israeli control. Jerusalem was declared reunified by Israel in 1967 during the Six Day War and made its capital, with Israeli government organs moving there from the city of Tel Aviv.

Today, Jerusalem bears traces, architectural and otherwise, of all the different stages of its long history of conquests. Indeed, one can literally trace the timeline of history by visiting different places in the city that pertained to different empires over the course of time. 

And on top of all this history, of course, Jerusalem is home to a kaleidoscope culture forged by the fusion between old and new stories, local traditions, and the rainbow of influences from the ongoing influx of immigrants and tourists. It’s a unique case of the ancient and the modern in symbiosis.

The Weather in Jerusalem

Clouds

Jerusalem sees little to no precipitation between May and October. April, May, and October are the most pleasant of these months, with average temperatures between 20º Celsius (68° Fahrenheit) and 25º Celsius (77° Fahrenheit). July and August are the warmest months, with average temperatures of 28° Celsius (82° Fahrenheit), although it obviously can and does get hotter. June and September are also still quite warm, but the good news is that throughout this period without precipitation, Jerusalem, with an elevation of 785 meters (2,575 feet) above sea level, remains fairly dry. Obviously, the elevation also contributes to cooler evening temperatures than one might find along Israel’s coastal plain, for example.

The rainy season sets in toward the end of October and typically lasts into April. January is usually the coldest and wettest month, with an average high temperature of 11° Celsius (51° Fahrenheit). It can and does also snow in Jerusalem, thanks to the elevation, though most of the city’s precipitation comes in the form of cold rain.

When to Visit Jerusalem

Taking the climate into account, the best time to visit Jerusalem weather-wise is from April to May and from October to November, when the weather is usually mild and pleasant. However, major Jewish holidays may fall during these time frames—namely the High Holy Days, Sukkot, and Passover—and the city will inevitably be packed, regardless of the weather.

Old City vs. New City Jerusalem

Alleyways

A general fact about Jerusalem you should be aware of is that it’s divided into the Old City, or העיר העתיקה (Ha-’Ir ha-’Atikah), which is delineated by the old city walls, and the rest of Jerusalem, which is quite sprawling. 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Old City represented the extent of Jerusalem’s development until the first Jewish settlement outside the walls in the nineteenth century. Beyond, at the time, lay an expanse of wilderness, with the added deterrent of desert marauders plundering wayfarers. The Old City contains the lion’s share of historic sites tourists tend to visit, including the city’s walls and gates themselves. That said, there’s also plenty of history to be found outside the Old City limits.

Though today it’s a large and spread-out city, the New City was slow in coming at the start. Between 1859 and 1860, in light of overcrowding and generally poor conditions within the city walls, Jewish benefactors Moses Montefiori and Judah Touro built the first Jewish settlement outside of them. Mishkenot Sha’ananim (משכנות שאננים, literally: “Peaceful Habitations”) was a hard sell at first, despite the improved housing it offered. It was in territory subject to Bedoin attacks, lying as it did outside the protection of Jerusalem’s walls. However, Jews were ultimately incentivized to move there, and a protective wall and gate were constructed around the neighborhood for added protection. 

Two additional Jewish neighborhoods were built outside the city walls in 1869: Mahane Israel (מחנה ישראל, literally: “The Camp of Israel”) and Nahalat Shiv’a (נחלת שבעה, literally: “The Seven’s Estate,” in reference to the seven families who founded it). This marked a trend that slowly picked up momentum, and which has continued to boom ever since.

Language in Jerusalem

People with Speech Bubbles

Even if your Hebrew is basic or non-existent, you’ll be able to get by just fine in Jerusalem. Public officials, such as police, and most people under age fifty should speak some English—at least enough to direct a tourist. However, Hebrew will no doubt get you much further, so it’s wise to brush up before your visit. You’ll also find plenty of Arabic speakers, especially in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and in East Jerusalem. Thanks to more recent waves of immigration, you may also find speakers of just about any other language you can think of, most notably Russian, Amharic, and French.

Essential Packing List

Suitcase

While everyone’s packing list will be somewhat unique, the following is a list of essential items you would be wise to bring with you on your trip to Jerusalem.

  1. Clothes suitable for the time of year you’re traveling, plus something warmer or cooler for evenings, sudden changes of temperature, outings to the beach or desert, etc.
  2. A rain jacket or umbrella, if you’re traveling during the rainy season
  3. Gloves, a scarf, and warm outerwear for cold weather (You’d be surprised how cold Jerusalem can feel, even if the thermometer isn’t reading as low as you would think!)
  4. Sunglasses—a must!
  5. A brimmed hat or other head covering
  6. Sunscreen
  7. Comfortable shoes or sandals for walking
  8. A water bottle
  9. Maps to navigate
  10. A journal to record your experiences
  11. A camera or your cellphone for snapping selfies
  12. Modest clothing if you plan on entering any holy sites or neighborhoods
  13. Your best negotiation skills for haggling at the market!

Must-See Places for Shorter Trips (1-3 Days)

Girl with Camera

Now that we’ve covered Jerusalem’s history and have our suitcases packed, let’s take a look at the top five places you should put on your Jerusalem travel list.

1. The Old City – העיר העתיקה (Ha-’Ir ha-’Atikah)

As mentioned earlier, the Old City is the geographic and historical heart of Jerusalem—this makes it one of those places you must visit in Jerusalem to make your trip complete. There are four quarters of the Old City: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. Each quarter has its own attractions, so let’s have a brief look at each one.

Jewish Quarter – הרובע היהודי (Ha-Rova’ ha-Yehudi)

The Jewish Quarter centers around the Western Wall Plaza, with steps and alleys winding out of the broad open space into a tight labyrinth of a neighborhood. The main attraction is obviously the Western Wall itself. 

Note that there’s a men’s side and a women’s side, and that men should wear a head covering and women modest clothing if approaching the wall. 

While the Western Wall is the last exposed remnant of the ancient Holy Temple, you can also explore tunnels with access to additional excavated remnants. Apart from the Western Wall, the Cardo is another great spot. Dating from Byzantine times, these are remnants of the original colonnaded structures that lined what was the city’s main thoroughfare in Roman times.

Muslim Quarter – הרובע המוסלמי (Ha-Rova’ ha-Muslemi)

The Muslim Quarter is more crowded and active than the sleepier Jewish Quarter, and its main attraction is the market section where you can buy all sorts of goods—both cheap and luxury, genuine and imitation. Just be sure to pack your bartering skills, as price tags are definitely only a suggestion (if they can be found at all). It’s also a great place to grab some authentic חומוס (khummus), or “hummus,” and Arabic pastries, or to smoke a נרגילה (nargilah), or “hookah.”

Christian Quarter – הרובע הנוצרי (Ha-Rova’ ha-Notzri)

The Christian Quarter is home to about forty sites holy to Christians, and is therefore a destination for priests and pilgrims from across the globe. At its heart lies the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is believed to be buried according to some traditions. The Via Dolorosa passes through the Christian Quarter, as well as the Armenian Quarter.

Armenian Quarter – הרובע הארמני (Ha-Rova’ ha-Armeni)

The smallest quarter, the Armenian Quarter, is full of surprises. As Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion, the Armenion Church long held a place of importance in Christendom, though its influence has waned with the years. This quarter is a peaceful collection of ancient churches. Be sure to check out St. Mark’s Chapel, the St. James Cathedral, and the Armenian Compound and its Armenian museum.

2. Mahane Yehuda Market – שוק מחנה יהודה (Shuk Makhaneh Yehudah)

Simply put, this is one of the greatest open markets on Earth. Part open and part roofed, the market offers an endless array of colors, smells, sounds, and, of course, tastes. Peruse the stalls of vegetable and fruit vendors half-singing, half-shouting at each other across the alleyway as they compete over who has the best or cheapest produce. Or stop for some exquisite coffee or delicious food in one of the many hole-in-the-wall cafés and restaurants tucked between and behind the carts of wares.

The Shuk is a great place to buy anything from food to hardware to souvenirs. Just be sure to shop around and check out the prices before you commit. And definitely try some of the local specialties, such as:

  • זיתים (zeytim) – “olives,” of which you’ll see more varieties than you would have thought possible
  • חלווה (khalvah) – a pastry made from tahini paste
  • בורקס (burekas) – baked pastries made of a thin flaky dough and filled with cheese, spinach, etc.

3. City of David – עיר דוד (‘Ir David)

One of Jerusalem’s most active archaeological sites, this is a must for any lover of history. The oldest part of Jerusalem, it was settled during the Canaanite period. According to the Bible, King David captured the city and brought the Ark of the Covenant there some 3,000 years ago. 

There have been excavations since the 1850s, so there’s always something interesting to see, including new finds. The site’s highlights include the ancient waterways that fed the city in times of old, the first palace built in the city, and even an ancient necropolis. Be sure to wear clothes and footwear you don’t mind getting wet. 

You can explore the above-ground portion of this site for free, but it’s well worth paying for admission to the underground portion, and even hiring a licensed guide to give you a tour.

4. Mt. of Olives – הר הזיתים (Har haZeitim)

This site is famous among both Jews and Christians for religious reasons; even the non-religious love this site for its stunning vistas of Jerusalem’s landscape. From the top, you can see the Old City and Temple Mount, as well as the surrounding Hinom Valley, or גיא בן הינום (Gai ben Hinom), and Judean Desert, or מדבר יהודה (Midbar Yehudah). 

Landmarks along the Mt. of Olives include several churches (such as the Lutheran Church of the Ascension and the Russian Orthodox church of the same name), as well as the Seven Arches Hotel. In addition, the Jewish Cemetery on the Mt. of Olives is the oldest and most important cemetery for Jews. Religious Jews believe that their bodies will be resurrected when the Messiah comes to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, it’s considered an honor to be buried close to where it’s believed this will take place.

5. Haram Al-Sharif – הר הבית (Har ha-Bayit), “Temple Mount”

Holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, this is the site where Abraham is said to have been ordered to offer his son up as a sacrifice to God. It’s also the spot where Solomon founded the Holy Temple, and the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to Heaven from here. 

The plaza, which many Jews consider taboo to enter, hovers above the Old City and is centered around the Dome of the Rock. It’s perhaps Jerusalem’s most iconic landmark. The southern side of the mount is home to one of the oldest mosques in the world: the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Note that while the plaza is open to people of all religious denominations, non-Muslim visitors are prohibited from entering the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as from praying anywhere on the site.

Highly Recommended Places for a Longer Trip (4-7 Days or Longer)

Dead Sea

If you have a bit more time to spend here, we would like to recommend a few additional things to visit in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Let’s have a look.

6. Israel Museum – מוזיאון ישראל (Muze’on Yisra’el)

This museum covers nearly 50,000 square meters and has a six-acre sculpture garden. It features all manner of collections, from prehistoric archaeology to contemporary art. There’s also a phenomenal variety of Judaica and Jewish arts from different Jewish communities across the world, and from different time periods. The museum’s children’s wing is its most interactive section, and there are special events and activities available for kids during Jewish holidays and school vacations.

7. Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem – גן החיות התנ”כי בירושלים על שם משפחת טיש (Gan ha-Khayot ha-Tanakhi be-Yerushalayim ‘al Shem Mishpakhat Tish)

Popularly known as the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, this zoo is located in Jerusalem’s Malha neighborhood. Its most notorious feature is its Afro-Asiatic wildlife collection, which showcases many animals that were described in the Hebrew Bible. It has also had much success breeding endangered species. 

The zoo, much of which is designed in an open format, features animals and birds kept in their natural habitats, ranging from an African savannah to a tropical rainforest, and even to an underground world of mice and cockroaches. Each animal or bird mentioned in the Bible has a display showing the relevant Biblical verse in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.

8. Yad Vashem – יד ושם, literally: “Hand and Name”

This museum is dedicated to the Holocaust, its victims, and its survivors; although visiting is definitely an intense experience, it commemorates an integral part of Israel’s story and the story of the Jewish people in general. 

Located on Mount Herzl, or הר הרצל (Har Hertzel), the memorial consists of a research institute in addition to other centers of education. You’ll also find the International School/Institute for Holocaust Studies as well as the widely visited Holocaust History Museum. The latter includes the Children’s Memorial, the Hall of Remembrance, and the Museum of Holocaust Art.

9. Dead Sea – ים המלח (Yam ha-Melkah), “Salt Sea”

If you have the time, this is one of the best places to visit near Jerusalem for a fun day trip. The lowest point on Earth, the main attraction of the Dead Sea is its salty waters, whose salt concentration is 34%, ten times more than seawater. Typically, visitors enjoy floating effortlessly in the water, which is impossible to really swim in due to the salinity. Additionally, the mud from the bed and shore of the Dead Sea is considered the world over to do dermatological wonders. For this reason, mud baths, rubs, and massages are quite popular here.

10. Ein Gedi (עין גדי)

Another fantastic day trip is Ein Gedi, a reserve on the same route as that to the Dead Sea. This desert oasis features two parallel canyons, known as Wadi David (נחל דוד) and Wadi Arugot (נחל ערוגות), each one boasting stunning sights and hiking trails. These short walks go along streams that lead to year-round waterfalls and freshwater pools to take a dip in; you’ll also find yourself surrounded by surprisingly lush vegetation in the heart of the desert. The reserve is also populated by Nubian ibex and boulder-dwelling hyraxes, and it features the ruins of an ancient synagogue with a stunning fifth-century mosaic floor.

Bonus: Survival Hebrew for Your Trip

Swiss Army Knife

Finally, let’s take a look at some of the most useful words and phrases to practice before your trip to Jerusalem (or even during your flight there!). Just like in any other country, knowing a few words—and even just the fact that you’ve made the effort—can go a long way with the locals, even if they speak English.

  1. שלום
    Shalom.
    “Hello.” / “Goodbye.” (literally: “Peace.”)
  1. תודה
    Todah.
    “Thanks.”
  1. להתראות
    Lehitra’ot.
    “See you later.”
  1. סליחה
    Slikha.
    “Sorry.”
  1. יופי
    Yofi.
    “Nice.” / “Great.”
  1. אני לא מבין/מבינה
    Ani lo mevin/mevinah.
    “I don’t understand.”
  1. איפה השירותים?
    Eyfoh ha-sherutim?
    “Where is the bathroom?”
  1. כמה זה עולה?
    Kamah zeh oleh?
    “How much does this cost?”
  1. אקח אותו!
    Ekakh oto!
    “I’ll take it!”
  1. הצילו!
    Hatzilu!
    “Help!”

Make the Most of Your Trip and Prepare in Advance with HebrewPod101

As I’m sure you can see, Jerusalem and Israel in general are fascinating places to explore, full of culture, history, and more. For such a small country, Israel contains quite a variety of sights, experiences, and even micro-climates. 

But why not make your trip even more meaningful by learning something about where you’re going and the people who live there? After all, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as traveling abroad and being able to communicate with the locals in their own language, especially if you also know something about their country and culture.

We at HebrewPod101 are dedicated to providing you with enriching materials that will not only help you learn Hebrew, but also get you acquainted with Israel, Israeli and Jewish culture, and anything else that can make your experience with the language and country more meaningful and interesting.

We hope you have a wonderful trip to Jerusalem! But before you book your flight, is there anything we missed? Feel free to get in touch and let us know if there’s anything else you’d like to know about Jerusalem, Israel as a whole, or the Hebrew language in general. Shalom!

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English Words in the Hebrew Language: Do You Speak Hebrish?

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Did you know that modern Hebrew is literally riddled with words borrowed from or inspired by English? While the modern age, globally interconnected as it is, has seen many languages absorb some words from English, the prevalence of English words in the Hebrew language may be considered a unique phenomenon. 

This is because Hebrew remained completely unspoken for almost two millennia, and thus did not evolve its lexicon naturally as other, continuously used languages did. When Jews finally did begin reviving Hebrew in the late nineteenth century, there was a vast void of missing vocabulary needed to describe all the trappings of modernity. Moreover, from 1917 until 1948, then-Palestine (what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories) was under British rule, making English a natural source to draw on in cases where Hebrew lacked a certain word or phrase.

In fact, there are numerous cases of Hebrew speakers opting for an English word even when there is a good Hebrew word for something!

The revival of Hebrew was initially a very conscious effort, led chiefly by master linguist and mad idealist Eliezer ben Yehuda. However, as Hebrew caught hold of more and more Zionist Jews as a spoken language, it inevitably began to take on a life of its own—especially following the births of the first generations of Jews to speak Hebrew as a first language. Naturally, as time progressed, modern Hebrew shifted away from the academic sphere to become the home turf of those who spoke it natively.

Ben Yehuda, as head of the academic camp reviving the language, founded ועד הלשון העברית (Va’ad ha-Lashon ha-’Ivrit), or “The Hebrew Language Committee” in 1890. He also started the first Hebrew dictionary to include both classical and modern Hebrew words. In coining new words, he would generally first attempt to draw on Hebrew roots, or שורשים (shorashim). However, where he failed to find a relevant root or where the result was awkward, he would turn to Aramaic or Arabic in search of a source word, due to their proximity to Hebrew—both are members of the Semitic language family. However, polyglot that he was, he also drew on various other languages, as well. This was despite fierce resistance from others involved in reviving the language, who vocally rejected any foreign influence on the language. Ben Yehuda was among a minority who seemed to recognize that linguistic interchange was not only a matter of course, but also nothing to be ashamed of in a place as linguistically diverse as Israel and for a people as culturally diverse as the Jews.

Regardless of academic attempts to keep Hebrew “pure,” once Hebrew sprouted its own wings as a spoken language, speakers naturally began importing loanwords into Hebrew from the other languages they spoke or read, as well as applying linguistic features from other languages to modify proper Hebrew words. Even the academics themselves seemingly could not resist this organic change toward expanding and refining the language with some help from abroad. In 1953, The Hebrew Language Committee changed its name to האקדמיה ללשון העברית (Ha-Akademiyah la-Lashon ha-’Ivrit), or “The Academy of the Hebrew Language.” This change swapped out the Hebrew ועד (va’ad), or “committee,” for אקדמיה (akademiyah), meaning “academy.” This word derives from the Greek Akadēmos, probably reaching Hebrew by way of English’s “academy” or perhaps French’s académie.

With the passage of time, a second wave of English influence swept over the Hebrew language, thanks to immigration, tourism, and business ties to Israel on the part of English speakers. In addition, English-language media such as movies, TV shows, music, and later the Internet, have all made their mark on the language, endowing it with a trove of lexical contributions in every sphere.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some examples of how English words have made their way into Hebrew and how they are used. And as a bonus, we’ll wrap up by taking a look at some English words whose Hebrew provenance may well surprise you. 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. As-Is Loanwords
  2. Gendered Loanwords
  3. Hebrew Verbs Formed From English Words
  4. Some English-to-Hebrew Fails
  5. English Words Originating in Hebrew
  6. Let HebrewPod101 Help You Make the Link Between Hebrew and English

As-Is Loanwords

The first category of common English words in Hebrew we’ll cover are the English loanwords you’re most likely to hear Hebrew speakers use in a similar fashion to their original English counterparts. Keep in mind that their application may not always be exactly the same in Hebrew as in English.

Handing Out Loan
  1. היי
    hay
    “hi”

This one is used just the same as it is in English. This is notwithstanding the fact that שלום (shalom) is the proper Hebrew greeting, and, in fact, can also be used as a farewell.

היי! מה שלומך?
Hay! Mah shlomekh?
Hi! How are you?”

  1. ביי
    bay
    “bye”

Once again, this is used the same in Hebrew as it is in English.

היה כיף לראות אותך. ביי!
Hayah keyf lir’ot otkha. Bay!
“It was good to see you. Bye!”

  1. קול
    kul
    “cool”

This one is pretty straightforward. Israelis often use this English word in the same slang sense as English speakers do. Here’s an example:

אתה טס לניו יורק? איזה קול!
Atah tas le-Nyu York? Eyzeh kul!
“You’re flying to New York? How cool!”

  1. פליז
    pliz
    please

This is an example of an English word that has an exact Hebrew semantic parallel but is used alternatively for emphasis.

אמא, בבקשה תני לי גלידה. פליז!
Imma, bevakashah tni li glidah. Pliz!
“Mom, please give me ice cream. Please!”

Please Sign with Hands
  1. סורי
    sori
    “sorry”

This is another case where a word that exists in Hebrew—סליחה (slikhah), meaning “sorry“—may be substituted by its English equivalent for emphasis.

שכחתי להביא לך את הכסף. סורי!
Shakhakhti lehavi lekha et ha-kesef. Sori!
“I forgot to bring you the money. Sorry!”

  1. טלפון
    telefon
    telephone

האם יש לך את מספר הטלפון של רם?
Ha’im yesh lekha et mispar ha-telefon shel Ram?
“Do you have Ram’s telephone number?”

Interestingly, it was Eliezer ben Yehuda who tried to introduce an alternative word for this device: שח-רחוק (sakh-rakhok), which is derived from the following words: 

  • שיחה (sikhah) – “conversation”
  • רחוק (rakhok) – “distant”

However, this coinage was ultimately rejected by the Hebrew Language Committee, and the more universal טלפון (telefon) is still in use today.

  1. אוטו
    oto
    automobile

While the truncated form of this word (combined with its Hebrew pronunciation) may throw you off, this everyday Hebrew word simply means “automobile.” It is used synonymously with the proper Hebrew word, מכונית (mekhonit).

איפה חנינו את האוטו?
Eyfoh khaninu et ha-oto?
“Where did we park the car?”

Car
  1. אינטרנט
    internet
    internet

Though the Academy of the Hebrew Language tried to get Israelis to use the Hebrew neologism מרשתת (mirshetet), formed from the word רשת (reshet), meaning “net,” Israelis still universally use this loanword from English.

האינטרנט כאן ממש איטי.
Ha-Internet kan mamash iti.
“The Internet here is really slow.”

  1. רדיו
    radyo
    “radio”

This one is the same in Hebrew as in English.

הגבר את הרדיו. אני רוצה לשמוע את החדשות.
Hagber et ha-radyo. Ani rotzah lishmo’a et ha-khadashot.
“Turn up the radio. I want to listen to the news.”

Radio
  1. ג’ינס
    jins
    “jeans”

Ever since James Dean and Marilyn Monroe made them hip, bluejeans have seemingly been in style the world over, and Israel is no exception.

קניתי ג’ינס חדש בקניון.
Kaniti jins khadash ba-kanyon.
“I bought new jeans at the mall.”

  1. פול
    ful
    “full” / “a lot of”

This one can have either the same meaning as in English or be used slightly differently to mean a lot of something. Again, this idea can be expressed in proper Hebrew, but English is often used instead, just to be קול (kul).

יש לי פול זמן מחר. בואו ניפגש.
Yesh li ful zman makhar. Bo’u nipagesh.
“I have a lot of time tomorrow. Let’s get together.”

  1. ווליום
    volyum
    “volume”

This one is another case of an English word that has a perfectly serviceable Hebrew equivalent (עוצמה [otzmah]), but is nevertheless often preferred by Israelis, often in conjunction with our previous example.

אני אוהב לשמוע מוסיקה בפול ווליום כשאני רץ.
Ani ohev lishmo’a musikah be-ful volyum ke-she-ani ratz.
“I like to listen to music at full volume when I run.”

  1. ספיישל
    speshel
    “special”

This word is used in a way that linguists called “narrowing.” That is to say, Hebrew does not employ it to describe just anything special—the word for which is מיוחד (meyukhad)—but is rather used in specific cases, particularly in reference to a special media event or to describe taxis pre-hired to go from a given point of departure to a given destination (as opposed to a taxi flagged down as it circulates).

אנחנו נוסעים לשדה התעופה הלילה במונית ספיישל.
Anakhnu nos’im li-sdeh ha-te’ufah halaylah be-monit speshel.
“We’re headed to the airport tonight in a special taxi.”

Taxi
  1. פופקורן
    popkoren
    “popcorn”

This one is a bit funny-sounding to the English ear in its Hebrew iteration. Perhaps due to the relatively common Hebrew last name Koren, Israelis have inserted an extra vowel between the final R and N.

בא לכם פופקורן עם הסרט?
Ba lakhem popkoren ‘im ha-seret?
“Do you want popcorn with the movie?”

  1. קורס
    kurs
    “course”

This one is pretty straightforward. As in English, this is used to refer to any sort of training or shorter educational undertaking.

אני רוצה לעשות קורס צניחה חופשית בסוף השבוע.
Ani rotzeh la’asot kurs tznikhah khofshit be-sof ha-shavu’ah.
“I want to take a skydiving course this weekend.”

  1. פרויקט
    proyect
    “project”

This one is almost as-is, but it does have a modified pronunciation in Hebrew.

פרויקט העירייה החדש עלה פי שלוש מהמתכונן.
Proyekt ha-’iriyah he-khadash ‘alah pi shalosh me-ha-metukhnan.
“The municipality’s new project cost three times as much as planned.”

  1. פינישים
    finishim
    “finishing/fine touches”

This is another case of narrowing. This word is not used to say “finish”—the Hebrew word for which is either לגמור (ligmor) or לסיים (lesayem)—but specifically to refer to the fine last details in a task, work of art, etc. It’s most often used in modified form to bear the Hebrew masculine plural form (ending in -ים [-im]).

חסרים רק כמה פינישים אחרונים ואני כבר מסיים את הפרויקט.
Khaserim rak kamah finishim akharonim va-ani kvar mesayem et ha-proyect.
“I have a few finishing touches left before I can complete the project.”

  1. טנק
    tank
    “tank”

This one is an important importation from English, as Israel’s armored corps is world-famous for its military prowess. 

בצבא הייתי מפקד טנק.
Ba-tzavah hayiti mefaked tank.
“In the military, I was a tank commander.”

Tank

Gendered Loanwords

Unlike English, Hebrew is a gendered language. This means that all nouns and adjectives are either masculine or feminine. Let’s look at some cases where English words in the Hebrew language get hebracized when describing the feminine versus the masculine.

  1. ברמן
    barmen
    “bartender”

This one is taken from British English, in which barmen tend bar at pubs (versus North American English, in which bartenders tend bar at bars). Aside from the fact that this gets gendered to describe a female bartender, note that Israelis also pronounce the male singular form as if it were the plural in English.

דן הוא ברמן. גם דנה היא ברמנית.
Dan hu barmen. Gam Danah hi barmenit.
“Dan is a bartender. Dana is a bartender too.”

Bartender
  1. סנוב
    snob
    “snob”

This is another English loanword that gets gendered when describing a female.

שלמה הוא ממש סנוב. חברה שלו, יונית, היא סנובית אפילו יותר גרועה.
Shlomoh hu mamash snob. Khaverah shelo, Yonit, hi snobit afilu yoter geru’ah.
“Shlomo is a real snob. His girlfriend, Yonit, is an even worse snob.”

  1. מניאק
    maniyak
    “maniac”

This one means much the same thing in Hebrew as it does in English.

אל תהיה מניאק כמו אחותך המניאקית.
Al tihiyeh maniyak k’mo akhotkha ha-maniyakit.
“Don’t be a maniac like your maniac sister.”

Crazy Looking Man
  1. די-ג’יי
    di-jay
    “DJ”

This term, as well, means precisely the same thing in Hebrew as it does in English.

רון הוא די-ג’יי מצויין ואשתו, שרה, היא די-ג’ייאית אפילו יותר טובה.
Ron hu di-jey metzuyan ve-’ishto, Sarah, hi di-jayit afilu yoter tovah.
“Ron is a great DJ, and his wife, Sarah, is an even better DJ.

DJ at Club

Hebrew Verbs Formed From English Words

Because of its root system, Hebrew has great flexibility in the formation of new words. In some cases, Hebrew takes English words and turns them into fully functional, conjugatable Hebrew verbs. Because of the rules of ניקוד (nikkud), or “diacritical marks,” this often produces some funny-sounding results to the English ear. Here are some examples.

  1. לבלף
    lebalef
    “to bluff”

אני כבר רואה שאתה מבלף. שכחת את יום ההולדת שלי לגמרי!
Ani kvar ro’ah she-atah mevalef. Shakhakta et yom ha-huledet sheli legamrey!
“I can already see that you’re bluffing. You completely forgot my birthday!”

Poker Game
  1. למקסם
    lemaksem
    “to maximize”

כל הכבוד! מיקסמנו את המכירות שלנו ברבעון האחרון!
Kol ha-kavod! Miksamnu et ha-mekhirot shelanu ba-riv’on ha-akharon!
“Way to go! We maximized our sales in the last quarter!”

  1. לפמפם
    lepampem
    “to pump”

זה אוטו ישן. פימפמת את הבלמים?
Zeh oto yashan. Pimpamta et ha-b’lamim?
“This is an old car. Did you pump the brakes?”

  1. לדסקס
    ledaskes
    “to discuss”

בוא נדסקס את זה ביום ראשון אצלי במשרד.
Bo nedaskes et zeh be-Yom Rishon etzli ba-misrad.
“Let’s discuss it Sunday in my office.”

Women Having Discussion at Work
  1. לדקלם
    ledaklem
    “to declaim” / “to recite”

בני בן השנתיים כבר יודע לדקלם את אותיות האל”ף-בי”ת.
B’ni ben ha-shnatayim kvar yode’a ledaklem et otiyot ha-alef-beyt.
“My two-year-old son can already recite the letters of the alphabet.”

Some English-to-Hebrew Fails

A final category of loanwords that will hopefully bring a smile to your lips (as you practice pronouncing them) are Hebrew words that originated in English but went through some distortion, or even corruption, during their entry into Hebrew. 

  1. פנצ’ר
    pancher
    “puncture” / “flat tire”

This one would make sense to the English ear if the pronunciation weren’t so different from the original. Note that ‘puncture’ is the more common British way of referring to what North Americans usually call a ‘flat tire.’

אני חייב למצוא מוסך תיכף מיד. יש לי פנצ’ר.
Ani khayav limtzo musakh tekhef u-miyad. Yesh li pancher.
“I need to find a garage right away. I have a flat tire.”

Flat Tire
  1. אינסטלטור
    instelator
    “plumber”

One can only assume that whoever coined this word had the English verb “install” in mind, and figured that an ‘instelator would be the person installing a sink or toilet tank. Though a proper Hebrew word for “plumber” does exist—שרברב (shravrav)—this Hebrish word is far more common in Israel today.

יש לך מספר של איזה אינסטלטור? כל הבית שלי מוצף!
Yesh lekha mispar shel eyzeh ‘instelator? Kol ha-bayit sheli mutzaf!
“Do you have the number of a plumber? My whole house is flooded!”

Plumber
  1. סנפלינג
    snepling
    “rappelling”

This is the product of another linguistic mixup. Someone must have heard the term “snap link” while rock climbing, and, confusing the “ink” for an “-ing” suffix, coined this word. Today, Israelis (including in the military!) use this word to refer to rappelling.

למדתי לעשות סנפלינג כחלק מקורס מצילים בצבא.
Lamadti la’asot snepling ke-khelek mi-kurs metzilim ba-tzava.
“I learned rappelling as part of a rescuers course in the army.”

  1. טוקבקים
    tokbekim
    “feedback”

This one comes from the TalkBack Reader Response System, one of the first online systems to allow users to post feedback on a website. Between the linguistic “widening” (the opposite of narrowing) of TalkBack and its funny pronunciation, this one is likely to baffle the uninitiated English speaker.

ראית את מה שהוא כתב בטוקבקים על המאמר על הנשיא?
Ra’it et mah she-hu katav ba-tokbekim ‘al ha-ma’amar ‘al ha-nasi?
“Did you see what he wrote in the feedback on that article on the president?”

  1. לעשות פן
    la’asot fen
    “to blow-dry”

This one presumably derives from the English word “fan,” which a hairdryer certainly contains. By the logic of this phrase, blow-drying or straightening one’s hair is literally “to do the fan.”

עשיתי פן לפני המסיבה כי היו לי קרזולים.
Asiti fen lifney ha-mesibah ki hayu li kirzulim.
“I blow-dried my hair before the party because I had frizz.”

Blow Drying Hair
  1. מסטינג
    mesting
    “mess kit”

This one is a distortion of the English word “mess tin,” which traditionally was a standard-issue set of utensils for soldiers to carry in their kit, which was originally made of tin. As in the case of סנפלינג (snepling), it’s likely that the Hebrew ear misheard the final “in” as an “-ing” suffix.

אכלנו מאותו המסטינג.
Akhalnu me-oto ha-mesting.
“We ate from the same mess kit.”

(This is a common way of saying that people were brothers in arms during their military service, or that they grew up together.)

  1. סוודר
    sveder
    “sweater”

This is another commonly used Hebrish word that, due to the pronunciation, might give English speakers pause.

קר בחוץ. אשים לי סוודר.
Kar ba-khutz. Asim li sveder.
“It’s cold outside. I’m going to put on a sweater.”

Sweatshirt
  1. פאקים
    fakim
    “mistakes” / “problems” / “kinks”

If you listen carefully enough and scratch your head a bit, you may be surprised at the English word this one is based on, particularly as it’s used commonly enough in Hebrew without being considered offensive!

יש לנו עוד כמה פאקים לסדר בתוכנית השנתית.
Yesh lanu ‘od kamah fakim lesader ba-tokhnit ha-shnatit.
“We have a few more kinks to iron out in the annual plan.”

English Words Originating in Hebrew

Did you know there are also a few English words with Hebrew roots? While Hebrew pales in its contribution to the English language when compared to Latin, Greek, or French, it has nevertheless registered a few key entries—some of which you may never have imagined were based in Hebrew. The vast majority of these words, it should be noted, come from Biblical rather than modern Hebrew

  1. behemoth

This word comes from the Hebrew word בהמות (behemot), meaning “beasts.” In English, the word is typically used to describe something of large proportions, if not necessarily a living creature.

  1. Sabbath

This word comes from the Hebrew word שבת (Shabbat), which originally referred to the seventh day of creation in the Genesis story. God is described as having rested from his work of creating the Universe on this day. לשבות (lishbot), the verb related to this word, means “to rest” or “to desist.”

Sabbath Challah Bread
  1. Sabbatical

This word also comes from לשבות (lishbot). In English, it refers to a professional leave of absence, typically every few years.

  1. amen

From אמן (amen), meaning “verily,” this is used in Hebrew the same way as it is in English, as an affirmation of beliefs or hopes.

People Praying at Church
  1. hallelujah

In a similar vein, this comes from the Hebrew הללויה (haleluyah), meaning “praise the Lord.”

  1. cider

This word derives from the Biblical word שכר (shekhar), which referred to some type of fermented alcoholic drink, although scholars are unsure precisely how it was prepared. It’s ironic to note that Israelis today call the beverage cider, or סיידר (sayder)!

  1. jubilee

Jubilee is based on the word יובל (Yovel), referring to the Biblical practice according to which slaves were freed and lands returned to their original owners every fifty years. As this was a time of great celebration, the loanword in English came to mean “celebration.”

  1. Leviathan

The לביתן (Livyatan) is described in Genesis as one of the great sea creatures God made during the creation of the Universe. In English, it can refer to this same creature, to a large sea vessel, or to anything immense.

  1. messiah

This word comes from the Hebrew word משיח (mashi’akh), meaning “anointed.” In Biblical times, it was common practice to anoint kings with oil upon their coronation.

  1. rabbi

This word comes from the Hebrew word רב (rav), meaning “great” as well as “master.” It refers to Jewish religious leaders and teachers.

  1. macabre

This is derived from the Hebrew word מכבים (Makabim), or “Maccabees,” the heroes of the Hanukkah story. In the Middle Ages, morality plays typically featured a Chorea Maccabaeorum, or Dance of the Maccabees, probably representing the slaughter of the Maccabees. In French, this was known as the danse macabre, which evolved in English into the Dance Macabre or “Dance of Death,” eventually giving us the word ‘macabre.’

  1. schwa

This word is more likely to be familiar to linguists and language teachers. Used to refer to an unstressed vowel, it originates from the Hebrew diacritical mark שווא (shva), which denotes the same phoneme in Hebrew.

  1. seraph

This is an angelic being the Bible refers to as שרף (saraf). The English adjective “seraphic” can be used to describe great beauty.

  1. cherub

This is another angelic being referred to in the Bible, called כרוב (kruv) in Hebrew. The adjective “cherubic” is used in English to describe childlike or pristine beauty.

Scene with Angels
  1. shibboleth

This English term refers to a word, saying, practice, custom, or any other shared feature that distinguishes one group from another. It comes from the Hebrew word שיבולת (shibolet), meaning “ear of corn,” which was used by the Gileadites in the Bible as a password to identify one another. This worked because their enemy, the Ephraimites, apparently pronounced the phoneme ש (/ʃ/) as ס (/s/).

Let HebrewPod101 Help You Make the Link Between Hebrew and English

We hope you found today’s lesson interesting and informative. As you can see, Hebrew and English may not be quite as distant from one another as they first seem. In any event, we at HebrewPod101.com strive to bridge the gap so that you can learn Hebrew with clear Hebrew-language examples alongside helpful and interesting English-language explanations.

Are there any Hebrish words you’ve encountered that we didn’t cover? Any English words borrowed from Hebrew that we forgot to mention? We’re always happy to hear from our readers and students, so please get in touch with your feedback!

Until next time, bye…I mean, shalom!

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An Overview of Jewish and Israeli Culture

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Jewish culture is among the oldest in the world. Whether you’re learning Hebrew for business, planning to visit Israel for pleasure, or just want to gain a better understanding of a culture that has been around for millennia, HebrewPod101 has you covered.

To begin, let’s clarify some confusion between terms. “Hebrew,” “Israeli,” and “Jewish” are sometimes used synonymously, but they do, in fact, have distinct meanings. 

Hebrew culture refers to the culture pertaining to speakers of the Hebrew language, which is documented as having been in use by the Israelite tribes who settled in Israel—Canaan at the time—from between at least the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BCE. The terms Jew and Jewish, on the other hand, originate with the split of the United Monarchy of Israel into the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel. This split is dated to have occurred between the eleventh and tenth centuries BCE. To make things even more complicated, the term Israelite refers to a Biblical descendant of Israel (the name given to Jacob later in his life), whereas Israeli is the demonym of citizens of the modern State of Israel. 

For the purposes of this article, we will use “Jewish” to refer to the culture of all modern descendants of the Biblical Israelites, and “Israeli” to refer specifically to those living in (or originally from) the State of Israel.

Much of Israeli culture is Jewish, but not all Jewish culture is Israeli. Because of the history of the Jewish people, marked as it is by some two millennia of Diaspora (or Jewish communities living outside of Israel) and the many migrations Jews have made from one place to another over the years, Jewish culture is an amalgam of unique customs, traditions, and values. Many of these have been influenced by the numerous host cultures among which Jews have lived (and still live). To put it simply, while a Jew from one part of the world will always find much in common with a Jew from any other part of the world, they are just as likely to find significant cultural differences as well.

For example, a Jew from France and a Jew from Hungary may both pray in Hebrew, but the French Jew would most likely speak French as his native language and the Hungarian Jew would speak Hungarian. And though they would both celebrate the same Jewish holidays, they would almost certainly set the table with different traditional dishes, at least in part. Similarly, while their family and community values would have much in common, their musical and artistic traditions and tastes would probably be distinct. If the two were then to get together with an Israeli friend, they would note yet further distinctions among themselves. For example, while they all might identify as members of the Hebrew race, the Israeli would probably be the only one of them fluent, or at least native, in the Hebrew language.

To better understand the richness and complexity of Jewish and Israeli culture, let’s take a look at some of the different aspects of Jewish culture among both Diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Values and Beliefs
  2. Religious and Philosophical Views
  3. Family and Work
  4. Judaism and the Arts
  5. Food Traditions
  6. Jewish Holidays
  7. Continue Exploring the Hebrew Language and Culture with HebrewPod101!

1. Values and Beliefs

Three People with Though Bubble

Jewish values are fundamental to Jewish culture. Indeed, Judaism is very much centered around values-based education and has been concerned with such issues as honesty, honor, and social justice ever since its inception as documented by the Bible. It is important to note here that Judaism is both a religion and a culture. At least in modern times, not all people who identify as Jewish are necessarily religious. For instance, a 2015 Gallup poll found that only 30% of Israeli Jews considered themselves religious, while a full 65% identified as either “not religious” or “convinced atheists.” Nevertheless, just as the Golden Rule is part of many people’s culture the world over, even if they are not affiliated religiously, many Jewish values find expression even among secular Jews. This topic could take up volumes—indeed, it has—but for today, we will focus on the more general aspects of Jewish values and beliefs.

Judaism, for one thing, features an interesting mix of individualism and collectivism. The Hebrew Bible, for instance, begins with the Creation story, according to which all of humanity originated with the first man, Adam. This is often understood as emphasizing that every human life is worth an entire world. On the other hand, Jewish values are greatly centered on the importance of family and community, stressing not only one’s obligations toward the collective but also the happiness and health one derives through connectedness to others.

Looking specifically at Israeli culture and customs, we can see the added elements of solidarity and teamwork that result from obligatory military service, for both men and women, in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This experience—לעלות על מדים (la’alot ‘al madim), meaning “to put on a uniform”—has a huge impact on Israelis’ sense of self within the community. Imagine: Just at your prime, right after you’ve finished high school and should be ready to make your own way in the world, you’re placed into service of the collective. This experience can lend a feeling of greater investment in your country, since you have served it and thus feel it is truly your home. (Although in some cases, it can also make people feel they have had enough of the political issues behind the military reality.)

Now let us talk about another key topic here: the relationship between Jewish culture and education. Elementary school education in Jewish culture dates all the way back to the year 75 BCE, and was very possibly in existence prior to that year. This is really no surprise, as in order to be a practicing religious Jew, one must be educated in various subjects, including literacy. The Talmud, the main corpus of Jewish law, mentions, for instance, that children should begin school at age six and specifies the ages at which they should be ready to learn different elements of Jewish law. Additionally, Judaism has long viewed the תלמיד חכם (talmid khakham), or “wise student,” as the model member of society, and the list of Jewish heroes is replete with scholars and sages. In continuation of this heritage, it is interesting to note that Israel is tied with Japan as the country with the second highest percentage of 25- to 64-year-olds with college education.

The immigrant experience is another element at the crux of Jewish cultural identity. Some scholars argue that the very name “Hebrew,” or עברי (‘Ivri), related to the verb לעבור (la’avor), meaning “to cross,” refers to being other or coming from elsewhere. Abraham, the first עברי, is described in the Bible as having crossed into Canaan from the other side of the Jordan River. Even today, Jews do not have to trace their lineage very far back to reach a generation of immigrants. Israel itself is a country of mass immigration, as Jews only began returning to what was then Palestine (now the State of Israel) in any significant numbers in the late nineteenth century. Interestingly, the מצוה (mitzvah), or “commandment,” most often mentioned in the Bible is the injunction to treat the stranger or foreigner with kindness. Moreover, the most important story in terms of Jewish nationhood is probably that of the Exodus, which describes the foreign Israelites’ bondage in Egypt as well as their salvation and subsequent migration to Canaan (later to become Israel), becoming a people united in the Torah on the way.


2. Religious and Philosophical Views

Western Wall in Jerusalem

Jewish culture is, of course, largely based on Jewish religious precepts. That said, there are many secular influences to be found within it as well. 

The basis of Judaism as a religion are the commandments and traditions found in the Hebrew Bible, which is called תנ”ך (Tana”kh) in Hebrew. This is an acronym for תורה, נביאים וכתובים (Torah, Nevi’im u-K’tuvim), meaning “Torah, Prophets, and Writings.” The written law and traditions found in the Bible are accompanied by oral traditions believed to date back to Moses at Sinai. These oral traditions were eventually codified and interpreted in written form, beginning around the year 200 CE, being compiled into what is now the Talmud. For religious Jews, there are a full 613 commandments, in addition to many other customs that can vary from community to community.

The basic tenets of the Jewish religious faith attest that there is one God (monotheism) and that God formed a covenant with Abraham long ago, promising him he would be the founding father of a blessed nation if he and his descendants stayed faithful to God. This promise was later repeated and refined with the covenant at Mt. Sinai, in which God, having freed the Israelites (Abraham’s descendants) from slavery in Egypt, presented them the Torah and invoked them to follow its commandments. In reward, God would grant them divine blessings and protection.

Some of the unifying principles that thread through the commandments include: 

  • The Golden Rule 
    • Love one’s neighbor as oneself.
  • תיקון עולם (Tikkun ‘Olam) “Repairing the World” 
    • Jews must work as God’s agents to improve a broken world through justice and good deeds.
  • קדושה (K’dushah) “Sanctification” 
    • This is the notion of elevating certain acts, items, relationships, and moments to holiness through conscious intent and ceremony. One such example is keeping the שבת (Shabbat), or “Sabbath,” holy and separate from the work week.

The last one is a well-known part of the עשרת הדברות (‘Aseret ha-Dibrot), or Ten Commandments, which also include injunctions to honor one’s parents and prohibitions against murder, adultery, and theft. It is also a commandment to strive to be happy always—one we should probably all try to follow!

Jewish culture, until relatively recently, was essentially religious in nature. It was not until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that Jews could comfortably explore a Jewish identity or philosophy not rooted in religion. Thanks to the influence of Enlightenment and Modernist thinking, Jews slowly but surely crystallized various forms of cultural and secular—as opposed to religious—Judaism. Many great thinkers, works of literature, and even entire artistic, political, and social movements stemmed from the secularization of Judaism. One of the most noteworthy cases is Theodore Herzl’s founding of Zionism. A secular Jew from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he essentially gave rise to a secular Jewish nationalism rooted in the notion of Jewish self-determination and national independence, involving their at least partial return to their historic national home in Israel.

Another way in which non-religious (and even anti-religious) ideologies influenced Jewish culture, Zionism in time became increasingly more socialist in nature. In fact, many of the early Zionists who immigrated to Israel established collective settlements or communes known as מושבים (moshavim) and קיבוצים (kibbutzim), a testament to the influence of socialism in Zionist ideology. In addition, from the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 all the way through 1977, all of the country’s prime ministers were affiliated with the leftist Labor Party (in Hebrew, מפלגת העבודה [Mifleget ha-’Avodah]).

In sum, there is no one Jewish philosophy or ideology. In 2020, Jews in both Israel and elsewhere in the world represent quite an impressive gallimaufry of views and philosophies: religious and secular, left- and right-leaning, pro-Israel, and even anti-Zionist. 

3. Family and Work

Family in Bed

Family is definitely the social nucleus of Jewish culture. In fact, even in religious circles where synagogue attendance is part of daily life, many of the most important parts of Jewish life occur at home rather than in public. This is true to some extent with secular but traditional Jews, as well.

Depending on the particular Jewish community, families can be more patriarchal or egalitarian, but in either case, both paternal and maternal roles are given great importance. Children are also extremely important in Jewish culture, viewed as the assurance of Judaism’s future and thus greatly valued and invested in. For example, Judaism celebrates a child’s coming of age through the celebration of a בר מצוה (Bar Mitzvah) for boys and a בת מצוה (Bat Mitzvah) for girls. Children, conversely, are expected to honor their parents as instructed in the Ten Commandments.

One of the main ways that families spend time together and get to know one another is through sharing meals on Sabbath and Jewish holidays. The Sabbath is a day of rest for religious families, so no work is done. This leaves a lot of quality time to spend together talking, singing, playing games, or going for walks. In secular families, the Sabbath may be a day for bike rides in the park or seeing a movie with family and friends. The same is generally true for Jewish holidays.

Man Looking at Work Schedule

You can also find reflections of Jewish culture in business spheres and work environments. Jewish culture fosters a very strong work ethic, perhaps due in large part to the millennia of immigration that required Jews to be hard-working and flexible in order to survive—and certainly to thrive as they have. In the case of Israel, as the country was quite literally built up from swamps in modern times by חלוצים (khalutzim), or “pioneers,” there are some big shoes to fill in doing justice for their hard labor. 

In any case, Israel follows a six-day work week and is characterized by a highly productive and competitive workforce, especially in light of the high percentage of well-educated and qualified workers. In general, Jews have been found to be the best-educated religious group the world over, most receiving around 13.4 years of formal schooling and a majority pursuing university degrees. Israel, in particular, has been dubbed the Startup Nation due to its staggering number of entrepreneurs.

4. Judaism and the Arts

Judaism’s relationship with art is twofold. On the one hand, Judaism has maintained its own artistic aesthetics for millennia (generally referred to as Judaica in the visual arts), and has produced its own distinct musical culture mainly for prayer and other religious applications. On the other hand, a highly disproportionate number of Jews have participated and continue to participate in the arts.

Library

First of all, Jews have always been known as a literary people. In fact, they have been known from Biblical times onward as עם הספר (‘Am ha-Sefer), or “People of the Book.” Apart from the huge contribution to Western culture that the Hebrew Scriptures represent, Jews have also given the world many other important works. Examples of such Jewish literature include the corpus of mystical-philosophic texts referred to as קבלה (Kabbalah) and Maimonides’ humanistic Guide to the Perplexed in centuries past. More modern Jewish authors include Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, Ayn Rand, Allen Ginsburg, and Philip Roth. Modern Israel has also made its own unique contribution to world literature through luminaries such as Chaim Nahman Bialik and S. Y. Agnon.

Art Objects

In terms of Jewish art, Judaica typically serves a double function, being both aesthetic and functional in the performance of various Jewish rituals. For instance, it is common to find silver candlesticks on daily display in Jewish homes, though they are used for lighting the candles on Friday eve or on the eve of holidays. Another example is the ornate מזוזה (mezuzah), a cylinder containing scroll with a portion of the Torah. This is typically found mounted on the door frame in the entrance to Jewish homes. Other common Judaica items are: 

  • חנוכיות (khanukiyot) – “Hanukkah menorahs” 
  • Decorative plates for the symbolic items that get served during the Passover Seder
  • Illustrated marriage contracts known as כתובות (ketubot)

Apart from Judaica, Jews have made an immense contribution to the visual arts in modern times. Some of the more famous examples of this include Camille Pissarro, Amedeo Modigliani, and Marc Chagall. There have also been a number of noteworthy Jewish photographers, such as André Kértesz, Annie Leibovitz, and Alfred Eisenstaedt. And, of course, in the genre of filmmaking, the list of prominent Jewish cinema stars is virtually endless. Some of the more famous names include directors Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski, and Steven Spielberg, and actors Dustin Hoffman, Richard Dreyfuss, James Caan, Lauren Bacall, Natalie Portman, and Gal Gadot.

Harp

Music is another art of great importance to Jewish ritual, such as in sung prayers and in the cantillation system for chanting the Torah. There is also a great deal of traditional Jewish music that revolves around weddings and other celebrations, such as the klezmer music of Eastern Europe and the Ladino music of the Iberian Peninsula, Northern Africa, and the Mediterranean Basin. 

Jews have also contributed immensely to many different music genres outside of the strictly Jewish aesthetic. In classical music, names such as Felix Mendelssohn, Joseph Joachim, Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz, and Leonard Bernstein are but a few on the seemingly infinite list of famous Jewish classical musicians. In the world of popular music, George Gershwin, Bette Midler, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, Benny Goodman, and David Lee Roth are but a handful of famous and influential Jewish figures.

Modern Israel has its own vibrant and diverse music scene, taking elements from both traditional Jewish music from the many countries of its immigrants, as well as from Arabic, Western, and other non-Jewish sources. For instance, there is a strong industry of מוזיקה מזרחית (muzikah mizrakhit), or “Eastern music,” based on the quarter-tone-infused strains of musical cultures from countries like Yemen, Morocco, and Iraq. 

There is likewise an ever-growing Hebrew-language mainstream music industry. Its music sounds similar to rock, pop, and other international musical styles, but in Hebrew and tinged with the Mediterranean sun. Israeli artists have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest 42 times (winning four times), and a number of Israeli artists—such as David Broza, Yael Naim, and Balkan Beat Box—have done crossover work in English (and to a lesser extent, in other languages).

5. Food Traditions

Challah Bread

There is a Yiddish saying according to which the home is like a body, and the kitchen is its heart. 

In Jewish culture, food is an absolutely vital part of both daily life and special occasions, with its unique ability to both nourish and signify. Typical Jewish foods include braided loaves of חלה (khallah), or “challah bread,” served at Shabbat and matzah ball soup. The latter is famous for using the unleavened Passover bread, מצה (matzah), to make dumplings that can either sink or float depending on the chef. There is also babka, a yeasted sweet bread.

Culinary traditions are one aspect in which Jewish communities differ from one another. This is largely because local dishes traditionally depended on the availability of ingredients, though influences from local non-Jewish cuisine have also played a role. For example, Hungarian Jews are likely to have a grandmother famous for making csirke paprikas, or chicken with paprika (holding back the sour cream, which non-Jewish Hungarians would almost invariably add, so as to keep it kosher), whereas a French Jewish cook might serve chopped liver or papeton d’aubergines, an eggplant gratin.

Shakshukah

In Israel, all of these different culinary cultures meet and mix. This means there are both remnants of (more or less) authentic regional traditions from the many mother countries from whence Jews immigrated to Israel, as well as fusion cuisine influenced by places as distant from each other as Bulgaria, Morocco, and Poland. One thing you can be sure of is that if you visit a Jewish home, no matter the geographical origins of its inhabitants, someone should be asking you pretty soon if you’re hungry!

6. Jewish Holidays

Jewish Holiday Items

There are many Jewish holidays throughout the year, each with its own distinct flavor. Apart from the Sabbath, which is observed every week from Friday night to Saturday night, there are major and minor חגים (khagim), or “holidays.” There are also several fast days and numerous modern Israeli holidays instituted since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

Note that Judaism uses a lunar calendar, so the Gregorian dates of Jewish holidays will vary from year to year. The main Jewish holidays are as follows:

  1. ראש השנה
    Rosh ha-Shanah
    “New Year” (literally: “Head of the Year”)

This is the Jewish New Year, which falls somewhere between September and October. It celebrates the creation of the universe as recounted in Genesis.

  1. יום כיפור
    Yom Kippur
    “Day of Atonement”

This is the holiest day of the year, coming nine days after the New Year. It commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It is a fast day and, at least for religious Jews, a day of solemn prayer and reflection on which they ask God for forgiveness for their sins of the previous year.

  1. סוכות
    Sukkot
    “Feast of Booths”

This holiday falls around September-October and lasts a week. It commemorates the Israelites’ forty-year voyage from Egypt to Canaan as recounted in Exodus, as well as their itinerant lifestyle during this time. The holiday is celebrated by building a makeshift outdoor home similar to a shack, though they can get pretty fancy. Religious Jews live in these shacks for the entire week, eating, talking, and even sleeping in them. Sukkot ends with שמחת תורה (Simkhat Torah), or “Rejoicing with the Torah,” which is a joyous celebration marking the end of the Torah’s annual reading cycle and the beginning of a new one.

  1. חנוכה
    Khanukkah
    “Hanukkah”

This is the Festival of Lights, celebrating the victory of the Jewish Maccabees against the Seleucid Empire in the second century BCE. Falling more or less around Christmastime, it is a joyous holiday in which special candelabras are lit for eight nights in a row, parties are held, and gifts are typically exchanged.

  1. פורים
    Purim
    “Purim”

Celebrating the Jews’ narrow escape from annihilation at the hand of the Persian Empire, thanks to the intervention of the Jewish heroine Queen Esther, this holiday is celebrated with costume parties and the exchange of gift baskets brimming with food and drink. It falls sometime around March.

  1. פסח
    Pesakh
    “Passover”

This holiday, lasting a week and falling near Easter, celebrates the Exodus story. Its highlight is an elaborate and symbol-laden meal called the סדר (Seder), literally meaning “Order.” It tells the story of slavery and liberation using numerous foods and rituals to recount the different elements of the tale. Religious Jews eat only an unleavened bread called מצה (matzah) for the entire week, abstaining from other flour-based foods.

  1. שבועות
    Shavu’ot
    “Feast of Weeks”

Falling seven weeks after the beginning of Passover, this holiday continues the Exodus story, this time commemorating the Israelites’ reception of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is customary to eat dairy foods, such as blintzes and cheesecake, on this holiday.

  1. יום השואה
    Yom ha-Sho’ah
    “Holocaust Remembrance Day”

This solemn day, usually falling in April, commemorates the millions of victims murdered in an attempted genocide during the Holocaust, as well as the heroism of those who lost their lives fighting against Nazism and Facism in the resistance movements.

  1. יום הזיכרון
    Yom ha-Zikaron
    “Memorial Day”

This day commemorates those who fell in military service defending the State of Israel, as well as those murdered by terrorist acts.

  1. יום העצמאות
    Yom ha-’Atzma’ut
    “Independence Day”

The day after Memorial Day, this is Israel’s celebration of its independence as a modern state, declared in 1948. It is celebrated with grand firework displays, barbecues, and other festive get-togethers, in addition to military parades and displays.

7. Continue Exploring the Hebrew Language and Culture with HebrewPod101!

We hope you found this lesson interesting and informative. There is no better way to master a language than through immersion, which includes an understanding of the culture surrounding and underpinning the language. In the case of Judaism, the language and culture are inextricably woven together. And in view of the fact that Israel is the one and only Jewish state in the world, it is a great idea to learn about that culture if you are planning to visit. This will make your time that much more interesting, enjoyable, and meaningful.

Are there any aspects of Jewish or Israeli culture you’d like to know about that we didn’t cover here? Is there anything you’d like to know more about? We’re always happy to receive your feedback, as it’s our goal to always provide you with interesting and engaging lessons that speak to your needs and interests. We look forward to hearing from you. 

For now, shalom!

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Be-te’avon (Bon Appetit): An Intro to Israeli & Jewish Food!

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The world over, food is at the center of life. Whether we cook at home for loved ones or go out to eat, food is our fuel. 

As such, it comes as no surprise that it should be so central to our language. When studying a new language, it’s absolutely essential to learn things like how to order at a restaurant, how to ask for seconds, and what to call different types of foods and ingredients so you can find them at the store or market. Having a knowledge of Israeli and Jewish food can open so many doors for the aspiring Hebrew learner.

In particular, the Jewish and Israeli food culture reflect several important aspects of the people as a whole.

Firstly, Judaism takes great interest in food. Some examples of this include…

  • …prohibiting some foods outright (such as pork and shellfish).
  • …prohibiting others only when in combination with one another (such as dairy and meat products).
  • …using food as a vehicle for religious and cultural ceremonies.
  • …abstaining from food on fast days.

Aside from this, there’s an entire set of blessings for different foods and beverages, both before and after consuming them, as well as various other rituals that revolve around food. In fact, Judaism uses food as the bridge between the spiritual and the physical. It does this by imbuing foods with spiritual significance, and then putting those ideas or energies into the body through the mouth.

Apart from the religious side of things, Jews lived in almost all corners of the Earth during the two-millenia Diaspora, before returning to the Land of Israel in the latter half of the nineteenth century. When they returned, they brought with them a veritable kaleidoscope of culinary traditions. As such, so-called Israeli food is really a fusion of indigenous fare and cooking styles from all around the globe, making the final result all the more interesting to taste and experience. 

Moreover, Israel, from Biblical times until today, has been prized for the fertility of its soil. Combined with Israel’s world-renowned agricultural prowess, the grains and produce it grows—which form the basis of many dishes common to the Israeli table—are as colorful as they are delicious.

Perhaps the best part of it all is that focusing on the language of food is a great way to have fun while learning. Not only will you make new friends around the table, but you’ll also experience some of the best of Israeli culture in both its cuisine and its eating culture. Speaking of, don’t expect much table etiquette in Israel. But don’t worry. The phenomenal dishes, great conversation, constant and emphatic sharing, and general warmth and fun of the atmosphere are bound to bring a smile to your face.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Let's Cook in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Must-Try Dishes in Israeli Restaurants
  2. Important Foods in Judaism
  3. Foods You Can Only Get in Israel (Or That are Only Worth it Here)
  4. Essential Vocabulary for Food and Drinks
  5. Bonus: Simple Recipes to Make Authentic Israeli Food at Home
  6. Have Fun Learning with HebrewPod101

1. Must-Try Dishes in Israeli Restaurants

Chef Seasoning Dish

As the title says, בתאבון (be-te’avon) means “Bon appetit” in Hebrew. This is something you can expect to hear anytime food’s involved, whether from a waiter in a fancy restaurant or from a stranger as you eat a sandwich on a park bench in Tel Aviv! 

Israelis love food—making it, eating it, and serving it! 

So let’s start by having a look at perhaps the most iconic Israeli foods, though this is definitely a tough shortlist to make. Israeli cuisine represents seemingly endless culinary traditions, from Russian to Morrocan, Greek to Hungarian, Iraqi to Polish. However, the dishes we’ll look at below could be considered the most typical Israeli food items, regardless of their particular cultural extraction.

1. חומוס

Khummus

“Hummus”

Hummus

This one is definitely a contentious first entry, in light of the fact that hummus is claimed to have originated in numerous countries. The only thing that seems certain is that it’s indigenous to the Levant (that and the fact that we all love it, whether we’re Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, or Israeli)! 

In both Hebrew and Arabic, the word ‘hummus’ refers both to the garbanzo bean (or chickpea), and to the creamy, flavorful prepared dip made from it. In Israel, where hummus is the go-to spread and dip by itself or mixed with all sorts of other foods, there are numerous variations of the preparation. But to keep things simple, here’s what your basic hummus would contain.

Ingredients

  • גרגרי חומוס מבושלים
    gargerey khumus mevushalim
    “cooked garbanzos” (sometimes cooked with spices and/or root vegetables in the water to add flavor)
  • טחינה
    t’khinah
    “Tahini paste” (made from milled sesame seeds)
  • שום
    shum
    “garlic”
  • מיץ לימון
    miytz limon
    “lemon juice”
  • מלח
    melakh
    “salt”
  • פלפל שחור
    pilpel shakhor
    “black pepper”
  • תבלינים
    tavlinim
    “spices” (these generally include cumin, but the possibilities are endless and depend on the chef)

Preparation

These ingredients are mashed into a fine paste, which is typically served in a deep bowl, a ring spooned into it so olive oil can be drizzled into the rut. The oil is often sprinkled with fresh parsley, paprika, and sometimes zaatar (a spice mix with hyssop and sesame seeds). The hummus can be topped with anything: sautéed mushrooms, roasted pine nuts, ground meat, and the list goes on.

2. פלאפל

Falafel

“Falafel”

Falafel

This classic and ubiquitous Middle Eastern dish, also made from garbanzos, is also claimed to have originated in multiple parts of the region. But even if Israelis didn’t invent it, it can definitely be argued that the country elevated it to an art form. In fact, a common topic for debate among Israelis is where you can find the best falafel in the country. Below is how it’s typically prepared.

Ingredients

  • גרגרי חומוס מושרים במים
    gargerey khumus musharim be-mayim
    “soaked garbanzos”
  • פטרוזיליה
    petroziliyah
    “parsley”
  • כוסברה
    kusbarah
    “cilantro”
  • בצל
    batzal
    “onion”
  • סודה לשתייה
    sodah le-shtiyah
    “baking soda”
  • מלח
    melakh
    “salt”
  • פלפל שחור
    pilpel shakhor
    “black pepper”
  • תבלינים
    tavlinim
    “spices” (these generally include cumin and paprika, but the possibilities are endless and depend on the chef)

Preparation

These ingredients are chopped and/or ground up finely and formed into a paste, which is then shaped into balls. The balls are deep-fried and usually served in pita bread (see below), along with your choice of salads and sauces (typically tahini at minimum), and sometimes french fries as well.

3. פיתה

Pitah

“Pita Bread”

Pita Bread

This popular food in Israel is the standard bread used to serve falafel (see above) or shawarma (see below), for dipping hummus (see above), and for making sandwiches.

Ingredients

  • קמח חיטה
    kemakh khitah
    “wheat flour”
  • מים
    mayim
    “water”
  • שמרים
    sh’marim
    “yeast”
  • סוכר
    sukar
    “sugar”
  • מלח
    melakh
    “salt”

Preparation

The key to what makes pita bread so special is its pocket, where the contents of your sandwich go. This is achieved by rolling the dough out to just the right thickness and then baking it at a very high temperature, which steams the moisture within the dough. This steam pushes on and stretches from the dough, and when the baking is done, the pita bread has separated into two layers with a beautiful pocket in the middle. Pita bread is characterized by its elastic crust and chewy crumb.

4. שקשוקה

Shakshukah

“Shakshuka”

Shakshuka

This is a classic Israeli breakfast. But keep in mind that eggs are not eaten exclusively at breakfast in Israel, so you may even find it on a restaurant’s lunch menu.

Ingredients

  • ביצים
    beytzim
    “eggs”
  • עגבניות
    agvaniyot
    “tomatoes”
  • גמבה
    gambah
    “bell pepper”
  • בצל
    batzal
    “onion”
  • שום
    shum
    “garlic”
  • רסק עגבניות
    resek ‘agvaniyot
    “tomato paste”
  • פטרוזיליה
    petroziliyah
    “parsley”
  • כוסברה
    kusbarah
    “cilantro”
  • תבלינים
    tavlinim
    “spices” (these generally include cumin, paprika, and chili powder)

Preparation

The onion, garlic, and bell pepper are sautéed to perfection; the tomato paste and tomatoes are added on top; and finally, the eggs are cracked right into wells made into the mixture. The pan is covered and the eggs are cooked right into the mixture to the desired doneness. This dish is usually served garnished with chopped parsley and cilantro.

5. שווארמה

Shawarmah

Shawarma

Shawarma

Last but not least, this is the carnivore’s choice when visiting Israel. This dish is well-known throughout the Middle East, and is also popular wherever Middle Eastern immigrants to other countries have set up their carts and shops. 

Known as doner kebab in its Turkish (and original) form, this is a vertical stack of layered meat that turns and slow-roasts rotisserie style on a spit throughout the course of the day. The meat, which can be lamb, chicken, beef, or turkey (the latter of which is the most common in Israel) is seasoned before roasting, and a layer of fat and an onion are placed on top, with the onion-infused fat dripping down into the meat as it cooks.

Ingredients

  • בשר
    basar
    “meat”
  • בצל
    batzal
    “onion”
  • שומן
    shuman
    “fat”
  • תבלינים
    tavlinim
    “spices” (these vary but can include cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, and paprika)

Preparation

The meat is sliced from the spit with either a sharp knife or something resembling a barber’s electric clippers, then quick-fried on a griddle, usually with onions, and served in either pita bread or lafa (a thicker flat bread that’s used as a burrito-like wrap). The shawarma generally gets served with the same sorts of sides and sauces that are offered with falafel.

2. Important Foods in Judaism

Jewish Foods

As mentioned in the introduction, Judaism and food are closely tied together. Judaism in general is a very symbolistic culture, but food takes pride of place when it comes to symbolism. There are even cases of this in the Bible itself, such as the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the story of Genesis representing the forbidden fruit. As the majority of Israel’s inhabitants are Jewish, Jewish holidays are the most celebrated ones, and many of these involve authentic Jewish cuisine. Let’s have a look at the most important foods.

1. חלה

Khallah

Challah Bread”

Challah

This is the bread that’s traditionally baked for שבת (Shabbat) or the “Sabbath,” the Jewish day of rest which begins sundown every Friday and ends Saturday night. The bread represents the fact that this is a day of rest for God as well as man. One of the ways in which God rested was in not raining down Manna for the Israelites to eat when they wandered for forty years in the Sinai Desert on their way from Egypt to the Land of Israel. Instead, God, the Bible tells us, rained down a double portion on Friday which was to last for both Friday and Saturday.

There is further symbolism baked into this bread. Apart from the fact that we traditionally serve two loaves of Challah on the Sabbath, the bread is usually braided out of three strands, which create six parts per loaf. Two loaves of six parts make twelve, which represent the 12 Tribes of Israel.

2. מצה

Matzah

“Matza”

Matza

This is another bread, and one that also has its roots in the Exodus story. According to the Bible, when the enslaved Israelites were finally let free by the Pharaoh after the last of the 10 Plagues (in which the Pharaoh’s son was slain), they left in such haste that they had no time to wait for their bread to rise. Therefore, they took along simple, unleavened bread—essentially, big plain crackers.

Matza is made from only wheat flour and water. No yeast, no salt, no sugar. What’s more, it’s made in just eighteen minutes from start to finish (eighteen minutes being the numerical equivalent to חי [khay], the Hebrew word for “life”). Jews around the world, including Israel, eat this plain bread during the eight days of פסח (Pesakh), or Passover, the observant ones eating it exclusively while they abstain from any leavened bread or flour products.

3. לביבות

Levivot

“Latkes”

Latkes

This traditional Jewish food is eaten to celebrate חנוכה (Khanukah), or “Hanukkah,” when we commemorate the victory of the Jewish Maccabees against the Greek Empire. According to the legend, when the Maccabees were able to recapture the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they discovered that the מנורה (menorah), or “candelabrum,” that was always lit in the Temple to God’s eternal glory had been extinguished and defiled by the Greeks. What’s more, the Maccabees could only find one little jug of olive oil with which to light the candelabrum. But the oil miraculously kept for eight days, hence the eight days of Hanukkah’s celebration.

Family Lighting Hannuka Candles

And what better way to celebrate—aside, of course, from lighting our own little candelabra—than to eat fried food, in memory of that magical oil? Latkes in Yiddish, or levivot in Hebrew, are fried potato pancakes, traditionally served with applesauce and sour cream. Yum!

4. אוזני המן

Ozney Haman

“Hamentashen”

Hamentashen

These little treats are eaten on פורים (Purim), or “Purim,” which celebrates the Jews’ victory against impending doom at the hands of the villain Haman. Purim is a day of feasting and partying, including dress-up parties much like Halloween, and Hamentashen are one of the traditional sweets associated with the holiday. In memory of Haman’s tri-cornered hat, these are triangular cookies filled with jam (usually apricot, plum, or raspberry).

5. בלינצ’ס

Blinches

“Blintz”

The blintz is yet another holiday food, this one for the holiday of שבועות (Shavu’ot), or “Pentecost.” This holiday celebrates the Israelites’ reception of the תורה (Torah), or “Hebrew Bible,” after being liberated from Egypt. According to Jewish tradition, as the Jews did not yet know the laws pertaining to kosher foods, they abstained from eating meat until the Bible was given to them. In commemoration, Jews eat a lot of dairy dishes on this holiday, with blintzes being the most iconic.

These are similar to a crepe, though with a thicker, usually crunchier shell. They’re filled with cheese, usually cottage or farmer’s cheese, and may also have some fruit added either inside or as a topping.

3. Foods You Can Only Get in Israel (Or That are Only Worth it Here)

Seven Species of Israel

We’ve looked at some of Israel’s most popular dishes, as well as some of the more traditional Jewish foods. In both cases, these foods have traveled far and wide, bearing signs of foreign cuisines. Now let’s look at five foods that are either unique to Israel or better here than anywhere else.

1. במבה

Bamba

“Bamba”

This is the iconic Israeli snack (some might call it junk food), making up twenty-five percent of the entire snack market. Although there’s nothing particularly Israeli about corn or peanuts, both originally from Mexico, Bamba is an entirely Israeli invention using these two ingredients. Essentially, a peanut butter-flavored puffed corn snack, Bamba is apparently also responsible for the low incidence of peanut allergies in Israel, as most kids eat it from an early age!

2. ביסלי

Bisli

“Bissli”

This snack is the runner-up to Bamba, with over 4,000 tons of it produced each year in Israel. This one, probably even less healthy than Bamba, is essentially fried pasta that has a very crunchy mouthfeel. It comes in different pasta-like shapes as well as various flavors, including grill, barbecue, pizza, falafel, onion, and even taco. The name, it should be noted, translates roughly to “a bite for me.”

3. קרמבו

Krembo

“Krembo”

Moving deeper into the category of guilty pleasures, let’s look at another one of the most popular Israeli food products. This is a uniquely Israeli sweet. Its name means “cream in it,” and that’s just what it is. Krembo has a biscuit base topped with a whipped, marshmallow-like filling, all coated with chocolate. Because of Israel’s sultry climate, these fragile treats, prone to melting, are only sold from October to February, making their appeal that much greater to the sweet-toothed.

4. סביח

Sabikh

“Sabich”

More of a substantial item, sabich, though an original Israeli creation first whipped up in Tel Aviv, is based on a traditional Sabbath breakfast typical of Iraqi Jews. It’s a pita bread sandwich stuffed with sliced hard boiled eggs, fried eggplant (which is sometimes breaded), and Israeli salad (see recipe below), drizzled with Tahini sauce, עמבה (‘ambah) or “amba”—a sort of pickled mango chutney—and often hot sauce, as well. The hard boiled eggs and eggplant (along with boiled potatoes) were traditional Iraqi Jewish foods for Sabbath morning as no cooking is allowed on the Sabbath; these could be prepared ahead of time and eaten cold.

5. נקטר

Nektar

“Nectar”

Last but not least, we strongly recommend trying some of the so-called fruit nectars produced in Israel. Essentially, these are thickly textured fruit juices, but the unique flavors—including pear, mango, cherry, peach, and orange—and the quality of the Israeli fruits used to make them, make these a winner. There are two main brands for these types of nectars in Israel: פרימור (Primor) and פריגת (Prigat).

Israeli Flag

4. Essential Vocabulary for Food and Drinks

Food Pyramid

To accompany our look at the top Israeli and Jewish foods, here’s a list of key vocabulary words for food, including cooking food and ordering food at a restaurant.

A- General Eating/Drinking Words

  • לאכול
    le’ekhol
    “to eat”
  • לטעום
    lit’om
    “to taste”
  • לשתות
    lishtot
    “to drink”
  • לקחת שלוק
    lakahat shluk
    “to take a sip”
  • לקחת ביס
    lakakhat bis
    “to take a bite”

B- Cooking Words

  • לבשל
    levashel
    “to cook”
  • לטגן
    letagen
    “to fry”
  • לצלות
    litzlot
    “to roast”
  • להרתיח
    leharti’akh
    “to boil”
  • לתבל
    letabel
    “to season”
  • להמליח
    lehamli’akh
    “to salt”

C- Restaurant Vocab

  • תפריט
    tafrit
    “menu”
  • מלצר/ית
    meltsar/it
    “waiter” / “waitress”
  • להזמין
    lehazmin
    “to order”
  • חשבון
    kheshbon
    “check” / “bill”
  • מנה ראשונה
    manah rishonah
    “appetizer”
  • מנה עיקרית
    manah ‘ikarit
    “entrée” / “main course”
  • קינוח
    kinu’akh
    “dessert”

D- Drink Names

  • מים
    mayim
    “water”
  • יין
    yayin
    “wine”
  • בירה
    birah
    “beer”
  • קולה
    kolah
    “cola”
  • לימונדה
    limonadah
    “lemonade”
  • מיץ
    mitz
    “juice”
  • חלב
    khalav
    “milk”
  • קפה
    kafeh
    “coffee”
  • תה
    teh
    “tea”

5. Bonus: Simple Recipes to Make Authentic Israeli Food at Home

As a bonus, here are some quick and easy recipes you can use to make authentic Israeli dishes at home. If you can, find a native Israeli to help taste your dish when it’s ready so they can criticize it! (Just kidding!) They will, however, most likely comment on what, if anything, is missing or needs to be added (more salt, less oil, etc.), thereby helping you achieve that authentic touch.

1. Easy Hummus

Hummus with Other Salads

Ingredients

  • 500 grams (about 17.5 ounces) of garbanzo beans, soaked 8-10 hours with a bit of salt (preferably change the water halfway through)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable stock
  • 3-5 bay leaves
  • 300 ml raw Tahini paste
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¼-½ tsp cumin
  • juice from 2-4 lemons
  • roughly 200-300 ml water
  • olive oil
  • paprika
  • zaatar
  • 1 small bunch fresh parsley

Steps

1. Boil the garbanzo beans in water so they are covered an inch or so, mixing the stock and bay leaves into the water. Preferably use a pressure cooker on high pressure (eight minutes once pressure is reached, then quick release the pressure). Otherwise, cook until the garbanzos squish easily between the fingers (30-50 minutes).

2. Strain and cool the garbanzos, removing the bay leaves.

3. Use a food processor or mash by hand with the Tahini, minced garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, and lemon juice, depending on how strong you want the lemon flavor to be.

4. Finally, add water little by little to achieve the desired creaminess.

5. Serve in a bowl, forming a ring with a spoon and drizzling olive oil in the rut, then sprinkling with paprika, zaatar, and fresh parsley. You can use other spices if you prefer.

2. Quick Shakshuka

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, diced
  • 2 tsp paprika, preferably smoked
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder (optional)
  • 1 can tomato paste or whole peeled tomatoes
  • 6 large eggs
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • olive oil

Steps

1. Heat olive oil in a large, deep pan on medium heat. Add the pepper and onion and cook for about five minutes, until the onion becomes translucent.

2. Add the garlic and dry spices and cook for an additional minute.

3. Pour the tomato sauce or peeled tomatoes in, along with all the juice. If using peeled tomatoes, mash them up using a large spoon. Season with salt and pepper and bring the sauce down to a simmer.

4. Use a large spoon to make six small wells in the sauce, then crack the eggs right into the wells. Cover the pan and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until the eggs are done to your liking.

5. Garnish with cilantro and parsley, adding salt and pepper if desired.

3. Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Persian cucumbers, finely diced
  • 1 lb fresh ripe tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup minced onion (optional)
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Steps

1. Chop the vegetables as finely as you wish. Traditional Israeli salad is very finely diced.

2. Mix the vegetables with the parsley and onion if using, and drizzle with oil and lemon juice.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Have Fun Learning with HebrewPod101

We hope you’ve enjoyed our lesson on traditional Israeli and Jewish food. Our aim at HebrewPod101.com is to make learning a fun but practical experience. If you can navigate your way around an Israeli table, you will have proven yourself a Hebrew pro—not just in the linguistic sense, but also in the cultural one!

Be sure to check out our other lessons on Hebrew culture, including Hebrew music, Hebrew TV shows and movies, and Hebrew YouTube channels. Is there another aspect of Hebrew culture that interests you? Feel free to let us know, as we are here to serve you! 

Now go serve yourself some Israeli food, and we wish you בתאבון (be-te’avon), “Bon appetit!”

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Pesach: The Jewish Passover

In Judaism, Passover is one of the most important holidays of the year. It celebrates the release of the Jews from Egypt as described in the biblical book of Exodus, and commemorates the events leading up to it. 

Maybe you’ve heard of Passover before, but never really understood what it’s about or how it’s celebrated. If so, this article will be your golden ticket to understanding the basics and getting better acquainted with Jewish culture and traditions. 

Let’s get started!

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1. What is Passover?

A Depiction of the Passover Sacrifice

Passover is a Jewish holiday celebrated for seven days during אביב (aviv), or spring. The celebration of this holiday is commanded and outlined in the biblical books of Exodus and Leviticus, and the purpose of this holiday is to commemorate the events leading up to the חירות (kherut), or freedom, of the Israelites after fleeing Egypt. 

The history of Passover in the Bible can be found in the book of Exodus, according to which the Jews were once enslaved by the people of Egypt. In the form of a burning bush, Yahweh commanded משה (Moshe), or Moses, to speak with Pharaoh about releasing the Israelites. Despite Moses’s strong faith and devotion, he lacked confidence in his speaking abilities and rather had his older brother אהרון (Aharon), or Aaron, speak on his behalf. When Pharaoh refused, Yahweh brought about the עשר מכות (Eser makot), or 10 Plagues, which wreaked havoc among the Egyptians and caused many deaths. 

The last of these plagues was the killing of all Egyptian firstborn sons, including the Pharaoh’s own son. The Israelites were spared this plague, for Yahweh commanded them to mark their doors with the blood of a lamb which would cause the Angel of Death to pass over them. It is this event which the holiday is named after. 

Passover is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. You can learn about the other two on our website! 

2. When is Passover This Year?

springtime flowers in a green field

The first day of Passover begins on the fifteenth of Nissan according to the Jewish calendar. Here are the start and end dates of this holiday on the Gregorian calendar for the next ten years: 

  • 2021: March 27 – April 4
  • 2022: April 15 – April 22
  • 2023: April 5 – April 12
  • 2024: April 22 – April 29
  • 2025: April 12 – April 19
  • 2026: April 1 – April 9
  • 2027: April 21 – April 29
  • 2028: April 10 – April 18
  • 2029: March 30 – April 7
  • 2030: April 17 – April 25

3. Passover Traditions

seder tu bishvat, or Passover food

Passover traditions actually begin the morning before, on the fourteenth of Nissan. This is when observant Jews scour their homes for any trace of חמץ (khametz), or hametz. Hametz refers to any type of leavened product, which is prohibited on Passover. All of the hametz that’s found in one’s home must be burned.

Another event that takes place prior to the actual Passover holiday is the Fast of the Firstborn. This is a fast that the firstborn son of every practicing Jewish family participates in to commemorate the fact that Yahweh spared all of the Jewish firstborns in the Exodus story. However, people are allowed to break this fast in the event of a celebratory event; synagogues often host such an event so that the firstborn sons can eat during Passover.

On the evening of the first day of Passover, observant Jews have the Passover seder. This is a special meal that aids in telling the Passover story and keeping it fresh in mind. The Passover meal consists of several different foods which symbolize key aspects of the Israelites’ journey to freedom: 

  • מרור (maror), which are bitter herbs symbolizing the bitterness of the Jews’ slavery
  • חרוסת (kharoset), or charoseth, which is a sweet mix of fruit and nuts with honey, symbolizing the mortar Jewish slaves used in building
  • מצה (matzah), or matzo, which is an unleavened bread product symbolizing the unleavened bread eaten by the fleeing Israelites

It’s also customary to pour wine for each guest, as well as a glass for the Prophet Elijah who is said to visit the homes of those observing the seder. 

Each of these food elements is held and consumed in accordance with the Exodus story from the Haggadah. In addition, the recital of the Four Questions takes place during the seder. 

The following day (the sixteenth of Nissan) marks another milestone on the Jewish calendar: it’s fifty days before Shavuot. It begins the Counting of the Omer, during which Jews begin the countdown to Shavuot. 

  • See our vocabulary on Israeli Food to learn more useful cuisine-related words! 

4. Afikoman

Another fascinating Passover tradition involves the children. Parents cut off part of the matzah from the seder, called the אפיקומן (Afikoman), and hide it. The children are then encouraged to find it in order to receive presents as compensation. 

A common variation of this tradition is for the children to steal the Afikoman themselves and return it in exchange for gifts. 

5. Essential Hebrew Vocabulary for Passover

different Passover foods

Here are some of the most important vocabulary words and phrases for Passover in Israel:

  • Spring – אביב (aviv), noun [m]
  • Arm – זרוע (z’roa’), noun [f]
  • Egypt – מצרים (mitz’rayim), noun [f]
  • Passover – פסח (Pesakh), noun [m]
  • Red Sea – ים סוף (Yam Suf), noun [m]
  • Pilgrimage – עליה לרגל (aliya la-regel), noun [f]
  • Afikoman – אפיקומן (Afikoman), noun [m]
  • Aaron – אהרון (Aharon), noun [m]
  • 10 Plagues – עשר מכות (Eser makot), noun [f]
  • Song of Songs – שיר השירים (Shir ha`shirim), noun [m]
  • Passover Sacrifice – קורבן פסח (Korban Pesakh), noun [m]
  • Pharaoh – פרעה (Par-oh), noun [m]
  • Moses – משה (Moshe), noun [m]
  • Matzo – מצה (matzah), noun [f]
  • Maror – מרור (maror), noun [m]
  • Hametz – חמץ (khametz), noun [m]
  • Freedom – חירות (kherut), noun [f]
  • Cleaning – נקיון (nikayon), noun [m]
  • Charoseth – חרוסת (kharoset), noun [f]

Also be sure to head over to our Passover vocabulary list! Here, you can listen to the pronunciation of each word and practice along with the recordings.

Final Thoughts

The Jewish Passover is a defining holiday for Jews in Israel and around the world, so we hope you enjoyed learning about it with us! What are some of the important religious holidays in your country? 

If you liked this lesson and want to continue exploring Israeli culture and the Hebrew language, make sure to explore HebrewPod101.com and take advantage of our numerous resources. Our free vocabulary lists, online dictionary, and numerous audio and video lessons will help you reach your language learning goals sooner than you think! 

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A Concise Hebrew Grammar Guide

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British linguist David Wilkins once said of language, “Without grammar, little can be conveyed; without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed.” 

This captures succinctly the fact that, while it is essential to have sufficient knowledge of a language’s vocabulary in order to describe and express what we wish, we won’t get very far using individual words without knowing how to organize them in logical ways. This logic is dictated by a language’s grammar.

As we look now at Hebrew grammar, you should know that it’s particularly logical and orderly. For example, the most common way to express that everything is okay in Hebrew is to say, הכל בסדר (hakol be-seder), or “everything is in order.” 

A useful Hebrew language grammar guide must take into account that Hebrew is both synthetic, meaning it changes words’ meanings or relationships to other words by adding prefixes and suffixes (and, in Hebrew’s case, also by changing vowels), as well as analytic, meaning it uses helping words to indicate meaning and relationship.

A good command of Hebrew also requires proficiency in using grammatical gender and number correctly, as nouns, verbs, and adjectives are all gendered and must agree in terms of number. This can be particularly tricky for English speakers, who are lucky enough to not have to worry about grammatical gender, except in cases of biological gender (i.e. boy vs. girl or chicken vs. rooster). 

A final prominent grammatical feature of Hebrew is the fact that its word order is sometimes—but not always—parallel to that of English. 

In today’s lesson, we’ll take a look at some of the general features of Hebrew grammar so you can get acquainted with the structure of the language and identify any particular grammar points you’d like to work more on. Let’s get started!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. General Hebrew Grammar Rules
  2. Gender and Number (For Nouns, Adjectives, and Verbs)
  3. Nikkud (Diacritical Marks)
  4. Hebrew’s Root System
  5. Synthetic Grammar
  6. HebrewPod101 is Your One Stop For All the Hebrew Grammar Help You Need

1. General Hebrew Grammar Rules

A good way to broach the subject of Modern Hebrew grammar is to look at how it compares to what we know about English grammar. We’ll cover three key points by way of comparing and contrasting Hebrew with English.

1. Basic Word Order

Filing Cabinet

Let’s start by examining something basic that will generally look familiar when compared to English: the general word order you can expect in Modern Hebrew. 

But before we jump in, let’s first define the words subject, verb, and object. In the context of grammar, the subject is the agent or the noun (a person, place, thing, or idea) that is responsible for whatever the verb describes. The verb is a word describing an action or a condition or state that’s being met. The object is the noun that the subject is acting upon or affecting through the verb.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a simple example of how this plays out:

אני לומד עברית.
Ani lomed Ivrit.
“I study Hebrew.”

Here you can see the same syntax, or word order, as you would expect in English: SVO (Subject + Verb + Object). Luckily, most sentences will indeed follow this structure, though not always. One notable exception is the case of present tense sentences using the verb להיות (lehiyot), or “to be.” This verb is omitted—in fact, does not even exist—in present form. So don’t think something is missing if you see a sentence with just two words, like this one:

אני שרון.
Ani Sharon.
“I [am] Sharon.”

Or even one word, like this one:

חם!
Kham!
“[It’s] hot!”

2. Tenses

Sign Post with Tenses

Speaking of tenses, there’s more good news. In Hebrew grammar, tenses are one aspect where Hebrew is immensely easier than English. This is because there are only three of them! That’s right. There are no progressive tenses (e.g. -ing verbs like going), nor are there any perfect tenses (I have gone or I have been going). There are only simple tenses: past, present, and future. 

Here are some examples to illustrate:

A. Present

  • אני הולכת הביתה עכשיו.
    Ani holekhet habaytah akhshav.
    “I am going home now.” [Literally: “I go home now.”]

B. Past

  • אני הלכתי הביתה בעשר.
    Ani halakhti habyatah be-’eser.
    “I went home at ten.”

    Note that because the verb conjugation itself tells us not only the tense of the verb, but also the person and number of the subject (in this case, first person singular), we often omit the pronoun in Hebrew. This is the more common way to say the same sentence:
  • הלכתי הביתה בעשר.
    Halakhti habaytah be-’eser.
    “I went home at ten.”

C. Future

We also tend to omit the pronoun for future tense. You can find both forms below, one with the pronoun and the other without.

  • אני אלך הביתה בעוד שעה.
    Ani elekh habaytah be-’od sha’ah.
    “I’m going home in an hour.” [Literally: “I will go home in an hour.”]
  • אלך הביתה בעוד שעה.
    Elekh habaytah be-’od sha’ah.
    “I’m going home in an hour.” [Literally: “I will go home in an hour.”]

3. Verb Conjugations

Hand with Dominoes

Israelis are famous for their blunt honesty. In that vein, the honest truth is that verb conjugation is one of the most difficult aspects of Hebrew grammar for beginners. 

This is because Hebrew uses the system of בניינים (binyanim), a word literally meaning “structures,” to pattern verb conjugation—and there are a whopping seven different בניינים. To make matters more complex, all verb conjugations are gendered and numbered as singular or plural, in addition to having different forms for different speakers (e.g. first person singular [“I”] versus first person plural [“we”] or second person singular [“you”]).

On the bright side, these patterns are very structured, as their name suggests, with few exceptions. Also to your advantage as a student of Hebrew is the fact that verbs are categorized logically into different בניינים based on the verb’s function. For instance, they are classified based on whether they are active verbs, passive verbs, or reflexive verbs.

Additionally, all of Hebrew is built on the שורש (shoresh), or “root,” system, which forms related words using the same cluster of two, three, or sometimes four consonants. This means that you will see most verbs represented in different בניינים (binyanim) to apply a meaning related to the שורש (shoresh) in different relationships. 

For example, you can see how this works with the verb לשמוע (lishmo’a), meaning “to listen” or “to hear.” Here you can see how changes to the letters and vowels around the root consonants—ש (shin), מ (mem), and ע (‘ayin)—change the meaning from listening to something or someone, to being listened to or heard, to playing something (like a CD) or making it sound, etc.

  • שמעתי שיר יפה ברדיו.
    Shamati shir yafeh ba-rad’io.
    “I heard a lovely song on the radio.”
  • השיר שנשמע ברדיו הוא מאת אריק איינשטיין.
    Ha-shir she-nishma ba-rad’io hu me’et Arik Aynshteyn.
    “The song that was heard on the radio is by Arik Einstein.”
  • בוא, אני אשמיע לך את השיר.
    Bo, Ani ashmi’alekha et ha-shir.
    “Come, I’ll play the song for you.

The bottom line is that, yes, verb conjugations are one of the tougher things to learn in Hebrew, but they do have a very clear system of patterns. Once you crack that code, you’re home free.

Important Things to Know From Day 1

Times Table on Chalkboard

To sum up our general overview of Modern Hebrew grammar, let’s look at three golden rules for English speakers to keep in mind when embarking on any serious study of Hebrew grammar.

  1. Rule #1: As we mentioned earlier, unlike in English, there is no verb להיות (lehiyot), or “to be,” in the present tense. This means we often encounter very terse-looking sentences, sometimes with just one or two words.
  1. Rule #2: Unlike in English, there are only three tenses: simple present, simple past, and simple future. We can still express many of the same temporal states as English does, but we depend more on contextual words, such as time markers, to do so.
  1. Rule #3: Unlike in English, verb conjugations are quite systematic. They convey meaning beyond just person, number, and tense, based on the בניין (binyan), or conjugation pattern, used. As there are seven such conjugation patterns, don’t expect to master them all in one go. Little by little is the name of the game.

2. Gender and Number (For Nouns, Adjectives, and Verbs)

Abacus

It’s very important to recognize that, unlike English, Hebrew is grammatically gendered, even when words are referring to something with no biological gender. This is similar to the Romance languages, such as Italian and French, as well as other languages like German and Russian. However, Hebrew works a bit differently, as it does not have separate masculine and feminine articles. In fact, ה (ha or he) is the only article in Hebrew, used whether a noun is masculine or feminine, singular or plural.

Hebrew has both masculine and feminine forms of many nouns, as well as nouns that only have a masculine form or a feminine form. Most, but not all, feminine nouns end in either ה (heh) or ת (tav). Another helpful tip is that, in plural form, most—but not all—masculine words end in -ים (-im); most, but not all, feminine words end in -ות (-ot).

Moreover, adjectives must agree with the gender of the noun they describe, and verbs must be conjugated according to the number and gender of their subject.

Here are just a few examples of how this affects words.

1. Nouns with both a masculine and a feminine form

Male and Female Ice Skaters
  • Masculine
    • אני רופא.
      Ani rofeh.
      “I am a doctor.”

    • אני רופא ילדים.
      Ani rofeh yeladim.
      “I am a pediatrician.”
  • Feminine
    • אני רופאה.
      Ani rof’ah.
      “I am a doctor.”
    • אני רופאת ילדים.
      Ani rof’at yeladim.
      “I am a pediatrician.”

2. Nouns which are either masculine or feminine

Dining Table
  • Masculine
    • זה סוס.
      Zeh sus.
      “This is a horse.”
    • זה כיסא.
      Zeh kise.
      “This is a chair.”
    • זה אוטו.
      Zeh oto.
      “This is a car.”
  • Feminine
    • זאת צלחת.
      Zot tzalakhat.
      “This is a plate.”
    • זאת קערה.
      Zot ke’arah.
      “This is a bowl.”
    • זאת כוס.
      Zot kos.
      “This is a cup.”

3. Gender and number with adjectives

Paper Cut-Outs of People

As mentioned, in Hebrew grammar, adjectives must be in agreement with the number and gender of the nouns they describe. Here are some examples:

  • Masculine
    • הוא רופא טוב.
      Hu rofeh tov.
      “He is a good doctor.”
    • הם רופאים טובים.
      Hem rof’im tovim.
      “They are good doctors.”
    • זה סוס גדול.
      Zeh sus gadol.
      “This is a big horse.”
    • אלה סוסים גדולים.
      Eleh susim gedolim.
      “These are big horses.”
  • Feminine
    • היא רופאה טובה.
      Hi rof’ah tovah.
      “She is a good doctor.”
    • הן רופאות טובות.
      Hen rof’ot tovot.
      “They are good doctors.”
    • זאת צלחת גדולה.
      Zot tzalakhat gedolah.
      “This is a big plate.”
    • אלה צלחות גדולות.
      Eleh tzalakhot gedolot.
      “These are big plates.”

4. Gender and number with verbs

Figurines in Arrow Formation

As we mentioned earlier, Hebrew verbs also need to be in agreement with their respective subjects in terms of number and gender. Here are some examples of how verbs change to accommodate this:

  • Masculine
    • הרופא עובד בבית החולים.
      Ha-rofe ‘oved be-veyt ha-kholim.
      “The doctor works at the hospital.”
    • הרופאים עובדים בבית החולים.
      Ha-rof’im ‘ovdim be-veyt ha-kholim.
      “The doctors work at the hospital.”
  • Feminine
    • הרופאה עובדת בבית החולים.
      Ha-rof’ah ‘ovedet be-veyt ha-kholim.
      “The doctor works at the hospital.”
    • הרופאות עובדות בבית החולים.
      Ha-rof’ot ‘ovdot be-veyt ha-kholim.
      “The doctors work at the hospital.”

3. Nikkud (Diacritical Marks)

Fountain Pen

Another key point of both Hebrew grammar and Hebrew orthography is that of ניקוד (nikkud), or diacritical marks. 

Because Hebrew is an abjad, written Hebrew letters are restricted to consonants or placeholders for vowels, while vowels themselves are represented by lines and dots above, below, or next to these letters. To make the ride even more exciting, written and printed Modern Hebrew—as well as, incidentally, the Torah, or Hebrew Bible—almost always omit these diacritical marks. This means that learners will need to first learn to read with them, and then wean themselves off of the written vowels, eventually learning to infer them as native Hebrew speakers do. Think of it like learning to ride a bicycle with training wheels, which are eventually taken off so you can ride freely.

As for the grammatical significance of ניקוד, there are two key points you should know.

1. Consonant Homonyms

Woman Reading with Confused Look

Firstly, there are consonant homonyms. These are words whose letters (which, if you recall, are only consonants and vowel placeholders) look identical, but which are not actually homophones (words that sound the same). This is because the vowels make all the difference. We obviously need to know which word we’re dealing with if we want to get the rest of our grammar right.

Here’s an example of three letters that can spell out three totally different words, based on the vowels employed. Just remember that you would normally see these all written without the diacritical marks as דוד (equivalent to dvd), and would have to infer the right word based on the context. Tricky, I know. But the fun is in the challenge!

  • דָּוִד
    David
    “David,” as in the proper name
  • דּוֹד
    Dod
    “Uncle”
  • דּוּד
    Dud
    “Boiler”

2. Construct States

Boy Handing Girl a Book

Another way that ניקוד is related to grammar is in the case of construct states. 

In Hebrew grammar, construct states are where two nouns work together to form either a compound noun or a genitive (possessive) phrase. In a construct state, the first noun will be the genitive of the second noun, making the second noun “possessed” by the first. In most cases, the words involved will see some change to their letters and their ניקוד, and in some cases only to their ניקוד. In the latter cases, considering that the vowels are generally omitted, you will once again have to learn to infer them. 

Here are some examples:

  • עוּגָה
    ‘Ugah
    “Cake”
  • עוּגַת שׁוֹקוֹלָד
    ‘Ugat shokolad
    “Chocolate cake” (Literally: “Cake of chocolate”)
  • מִלְחָמָה
    Milkhamah
    “War”
  • מִלְחֶמֶת הָעַצְמָאוּת
    Milkhemet ha-Atzma’ut
    “The War of Independence”
  • סְפָרִים
    S’farim
    “Books”
  • סִפְרֵי יְלָדִים
    Sifrey yeladim
    “Children’s books”
  • בַּיִת
    Bayit
    “House”
  • בֵּית סֵפֶר
    Beyt sefer
    “School” (Literally: “House of the book”)

4. Hebrew’s Root System

Tree Roots

Another key aspect is Hebrew’s root system. 

One of the most interesting and unique aspects of the Hebrew language is its use of שורשים (shorashim), a system of using consonant roots to form words. Not only do these roots help you to acquire, recognize, and even infer new vocabulary, but they also make for a very systematic learning experience. 

If you visually and sonically contrast Hebrew words belonging to one root with their English counterparts, you will see just how much more inviting Hebrew’s system is. Instead of having to memorize words that have no apparent connection other than their meanings, the relationships between Hebrew words is evident in both their look and their sound.

This root system applies to all parts of speech, as we’ve already seen. 

Let’s have just a quick glimpse at some examples of words derived from a single root to better understand how this works in Hebrew. We’ll use the triconsonantal root אמר (equivalent to amr) here, but keep in mind that the patterns you see here can be applied to almost any root to express almost anything.

  1. לומר
    Lomar
    “To say”
  1. להיאמר
    Lehe’amer
    “To be said”
  1. אמירה
    Amira
    “Saying”
  1. מאמר
    Ma’amar
    “Article”

As you can clearly see, by identifying the root consonants, you can get some idea of the “family” a word is in, even if you’re unsure of its exact meaning. In this case, each of these words have to do with speaking or expressing oneself. Moreover, once you begin to recognize set patterns, you’ll be even better prepared to grasp a word’s meaning. For instance, the מ (mem) in מאמר (ma’amar) is a common prefix added to a root to create a noun form.

In addition to using this root system to form different but related words, Hebrew uses suffixes and prefixes to provide further information about words. This is particularly true for the genitive form. For instance, מאמרי (ma’amari) would be “my article,” מאמרו (ma’amaro) “his article,” and מאמרנו (ma’amarenu) “our article.”

5. Synthetic Grammar

Man Speaking to Woman with Letters and Question Mark Floating

A final, crucial grammar point to be aware of is that Hebrew is largely synthetic, meaning that it uses different morphologies, or physical forms of the same word, to convey meaning, relationships, and other information. We already saw this in terms of the genitive, but there are other cases where this is true as well. 

Let’s look at some common situations, along with examples.

1. Prefixes for articles and prepositions

Books

One way in which words can change is by gaining a prefix or prefixes in order to accommodate an article, a preposition, or both. Note how all of these look, visually, like single words, but (apart from the first example) they all consist of two or three elements.

  • ספר
    Sefer
    “Book”
  • הספר
    Ha-sefer
    “The book”
  • מִסֵּפֶר
    Mi-sefer
    “From a book”
  • מהספר
    Me-ha-sefer
    “From the book”

2. Suffixes for plurals and genitives

Twins with Book and Computer

We also saw that suffixes are used, as in English, to form plurals. They can also be used to indicate that a noun is genitive, or both genitive and plural. 

Here are some examples:

  • ספר
    Sefer
    “Book”
  • ספרי
    Sifri
    “My book”
  • ספרו
    Sifro
    “His book”
  • ספרים
    Sfarim
    “Books”
  • ספריו
    Sfarav
    “His books”
  • אהבה
    Ahavah
    “Love”
  • אהבות
    Ahavot
    “Loves”
  • אהבותיהם
    Ahavoteyhem
    “Their loves” (with “their” referring to masculine or mixed gender)

6. HebrewPod101 is Your One Stop For All the Hebrew Grammar Help You Need

As you can see, while Hebrew grammar does share some elements in common with English, there is plenty of new territory to be explored when learning this unique language. HebrewPod101 is here to help you every step of the way with clear and engaging lessons that break things down, step-by-step, with plenty of examples and usage in context.

Our lessons include both text- and audio-based units to keep your learning diverse and interesting. As you can see by the examples we linked to throughout the article, we have a truly vast wealth of materials at your disposal so that you can pick and choose as you wish based on your needs and interests.

We hope you’ve found this overview helpful, and we look forward to guiding and encouraging you along the way as you progress with your Hebrew studies. Be sure to let us know in the comments if you have any questions about what we covered today.

Shalom!

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The Top 25 Hebrew Quotes

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In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “It is a pleasure to be able to quote lines to fit any occasion.” 

While this may be a truism, the unique allure of the aptly chosen and well-timed quote is something many of us give little thought to. The famous actress and singer Marlene Dietrich offers one insightful quote about quotes to help sum up this common phenomenon: “I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself.”

Now, how does this apply to Hebrew quotes specifically?

While slipping in a pithy quote would seem to be a universal practice, one might argue that Jewish culture prizes it more so than other cultures. This may be because, as the People of the Book, Jews have historically viewed specific—and often encyclopedic—knowledge of Scripture and the ensuant body of legal and literary works as a special badge of erudition. In fact, the phenomenon of citing a well-turned, previously coined phrase is already ingrained in the Hebrew Bible itself, which contains multiple instances of self-reference (i.e. quoting verses in one part of the Bible from another part). 

It comes as no surprise that the Bible should be such a common source of quotes, widely read as it is the world over. Moreover, there are numerous works in the Bible that are quite clearly consciously preoccupied with the shaping of eloquent language to express the variety of life’s experiences with concision and panache. Indeed, by way of example, the Book of Proverbs is so named because it is just that: a sententious anthology of aphorisms beautifully shaped to the unique economical lines of the Hebrew language.

Indeed, Hebrew quotes from or about the Torah have long dominated the quotation scene, so to speak. This is largely due to the fact that, though Hebrew continued to be used more or less continuously in the post-Biblical era to produce religiously themed works of poetry and prose, there was no real secular Jewish culture or literature until relatively recently in history. On this note, it’s important to keep in mind that integration and assimilation were, for the most part, not possible throughout most of Jewish history, particularly in Europe. As a result, with a few notable exceptions, Jews didn’t really participate in secular culture even where it had taken root in the broader societies in which they lived.

Moreover, beginning from the Roman Exile around the year 70 BCE, Jews largely abandoned Hebrew as a spoken language. During this time, Yiddish (a blend of Hebrew and German) was the lingua franca of most European Jewish communities—or Ashkenazi Jews—and Ladino (a mixture of Hebrew and Spanish) was the preferred tongue among Sephardic Jewish communities, namely those from Spain. Indeed, outside of Israel, Hebrew was generally deemed inappropriate for use in describing lay matters; it became consciously reserved as לשון הקודש (leshon ha-kodesh), or “the language of holy matters.”

Thus, the vast majority of literary endeavors in Jewish communities were restricted to religious texts throughout most of history. However, particularly from the Haskalah movement of the late nineteenth century onward, European Jews (and later their brethren elsewhere) found entry into the secular, enlightened world. They henceforth began both partaking of and contributing to it, including through secular writings on all manner of topics. Many of these texts were, however, not in Hebrew, but rather in European languages like German, French, and English. One need only think of a few representative luminaries, such as Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Arthur Miller, and Ayn Rand to realize that the Jewish contribution to modern-world literature has been nothing less than immense.

Apart from opening doors to the literary worlds of other languages, the Haskalah movement also gave rise to a new, secularized Jewish culture that emphasized the revival of Hebrew writing as a vehicle to express worldly (as opposed to religious) matters. The movement also marked a division between Yiddish- and Hebrew-language literature, the latter of which also represents a fairly broad corpus of secular (as well as religious) works.

With the expansion of the Zionist movement at the turn of the twentieth century, and with the return of ever-increasing numbers of Jews to their historical home in the Land of Israel, a new Hebrew literature flourished, as did the language’s lexis and range of expression. Hebrew novels, poems, and songs, as well as journalistic, academic, and technical texts, abounded with each passing year. Fast-forward to the modern State of Israel today, and Hebrew as a written language is not only alive and well, but more robust than ever. It’s also ever-evolving, with countless works published in every possible genre and field each year. 

As a result of all this rich history, today’s Hebrew-speaking world has a broad and varied corpus of literature—both historical and new—to draw on when looking for the right quote for any given occasion. In today’s lesson, we’ll look at the top 25 Hebrew quotes, covering a range of topics from love to learning, and everything in-between. Enjoy!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Quotes About Life
  2. Quotes About Love
  3. Quotes About Time
  4. Quotes About Work
  5. Quotes About Family and Friendship
  6. Quotes About Wisdom and Foolishness
  7. Quotes About Food and Drink
  8. Quotes About Happiness and Health
  9. Quotes About Language
  10. Conclusion

1. Quotes About Life

Earth from Space

We’ll start by looking at some Hebrew quotes about life that cover topics such as the passage of time, the pace of life, life’s different stages, and the difficulties that life puts before us.

1. ואבא תמיד אומר, תעזבנו יום, יעזבך יומיים. העגלה נוסעת, אין עצור. קפצת ממנה היום, חלפו שנתיים והנה נשארת מאחור.

-מאיר אריאל, “נשל הנחש”

Ve-Abba tamid omer, ta’azvenu yom, ya’azvekha yomayim. Ha-agalah nosa’at, eyn atzor. Kafatzta mimenah hayom, khalfu sh’natayim ve-hine nish’arta me-akhor.

-Me’ir Ari’el, Neshel ha-Nakhash

“And father always says, leave it a day, it will leave you for two. The wagon travels on; there is no stopping. Jump off it today, two years go by. And look, you’ve been left behind.”

-Meir Ariel, The Skin of the Snake

This quote comes from a famous song by modern Israeli singer-songwriter Meir Ariel. The lines cited speak to the notion that life can easily pass us by if we don’t keep up with the pace of things. The quote itself actually paraphrases a passage from the Talmud, the main corpus of Jewish legal interpretations. The original Talmud passage means, essentially, that if you leave something undone, don’t expect it to hang around waiting for you.

2. הכל עבר כל כך מהר וקצת קשה להיזכר איך פעם זה היה פשוט לשיר לחיות ולא למות.

-יהונתן גפן, “אתם זוכרים את השירים”

Ha-kol avar kol kakh maher u-ktzat kasheh lehizakher eykh pa’am zeh hayah pashut lashir likhyot ve-lo lamut.

-Yehonatan Geffen, “Atem Zokhrim et ha-Shirim”

“Everything went by so quickly, and it’s a bit hard to remember how once it was simple to sing, to live, and not to die.”

-Yehonatan Geffen, You Remember the Songs

This quote about life is from author, poet, and songwriter Yehonatan Geffen. It comes from a song that embodies the feeling of nostalgia for one’s lost youth and the innocence of days gone by. The line cited captures the particular poignancy of such nostalgia from an Israeli perspective: the loss of youth goes hand in hand with the realization of the dangers and difficulties of life in a world in constant war.

3. כל ההתחלות קשות, אך קשה מהן היא ההתמדה.

-חיים נחמן ביאליק

Kol ha-hatkhalot kashot, akh kasheh me-hen hi ha-hatmadah.

-Khayim Nakhman Bialik

“All beginnings are hard, but harder yet is perseverance.”

-Khayim Nakhman Bialik

This is indeed an oft-cited quote in Israel, coming from the pen of one of modern Israel’s greatest poets. Bialik was so influential as a pioneer of Hebrew language poetry—apart from his prominence as a Yiddish writer—that for a long period, much poetry from other Hebrew writers was essentially derivative of his style. This is another quote that paraphrases an earlier Rabbinic precept, according to which beginnings are particularly difficult. The quote goes further by pointing out that it’s even more difficult to stick to something over time.

2. Quotes About Love

Pages Folded in Heart Shape

Now, let’s take a look at a topic we all love: love! We’ll examine three Hebrew quotes on love, each quote representing one of the three general periods of Hebrew: modern, Rabbinic, and Biblical.

4. בין האפל לנסתר בעולמנו המר, אומרים שיש עוד תקווה. קוראים לזה אהבה ומחכים לבואה.

-ארקדי דוכין, “יש בי אהבה”

Beyn ha-afel la-nistar be-olamenu ha-mar, omrim she-yesh od tikvah. Kor’im le-zeh ahavah u-mekhakim le-vo’ah.

-Arkadi Dukhin, “Yesh Bi Ahavah”

“Between the hazy and the hidden in our bitter world, they say there is still hope. It’s called love, and we await its coming.”

-Arkadi Duchin, I Have Love

This quote by famous singer-songwriter Arkadi Duchin is a beautiful encapsulation of both the need for love in a broken world and the deep yearning we all feel for it.

5. כל אהבה שהיא תלויה בדבר, בטל דבר בטלה אהבה. ושאינה תלויה בדבר אינה בטלה לעולם.

פרקי אבות ה’:י”ט

Kol ahavah she-hi tluyah be-davar, batel davar batlah ahavah. Ve-she-eynah tluyah be-davar eynah batlah le-olam.

-Masekhet Avot 5:19

“All love that is reliant upon a thing annuls that same thing. Love that is not reliant upon a thing will last forever.”

-Chapters of the Fathers 5:19

This pearl of wisdom comes from a famous compilation of ethical teachings from the Rabbinic sages. It gives eloquent expression to the notion that true love is not dependent on material matters, and that any love that does depend on something material is bound to be lost if that material thing is lost. This is similar to, though more analytical and specific than, the English adage, “True love lasts forever.”

6. אני לדודי ודודי לי, הרעה בשושנים.

-שיר השירים ו’:ג’

Ani le-dodi ve-dodi li, ha-ro’eh ba-shoshanim.

-Shir ha-Shirim 6:3

“I belong to my beloved, and he belongs to me, he who pastures his flock among the lilies.”

-Song of Songs 6:3

This is one of the more famous Hebrew Biblical quotes from the seminal love song known as Song of Songs or Song of Solomon. The theme of שושנים (shoshanim), or “lilies” (sometimes translated as “roses”), is recurrent in this work. A flower surrounded by sharp thorns serves to emphasize the contrast of beauty versus pain, as well as the fragility of love and perhaps the care we must show in how we treat our beloved.

3. Quotes About Time

Sun Dial

Though it’s often said that time is an illusion, it certainly is a pervasive aspect of life and a common theme in literature and art the world over. Hebrew culture is no exception. Here are a couple of Hebrew quotes about time.

7. גדול הוא האומץ לחכות מן האומץ לשפוך את הלב.

-נתן זך, “גדול הוא האומץ לחכות”

Gadol hu ha-ometz lekhakot min ha-ometz lishpokh et ha-lev.

-Natan Zakh, “Gadol Hu ha-Ometz Lekhakot”

“Greater is the courage to wait than the courage to spill one’s heart out.”

-Natan Zach, Greater is the Courage to Wait

This quote speaks on both the difficulty and the importance of holding out for the right moment rather than jumping the gun. The quote focuses specifically on the value of holding one’s tongue and speaking in the most opportune moment, rather than saying too much too soon. Of course, one can also apply these words to broader contexts.

8. לבל יהי יומי עליי כתמול שלשום. לבל יהי עליי יומי הרגל.”

-לאה גולדברג, “למדני אלוהי”

Leval yehi yomi alay ke-tmol shilshom. Leval yehi alay yomi hergel.

-Le’ah Goldberg, “Lamdeni Elohay”

“Lest my day be for me as yesterday or the day before. Lest my day be a habit to me.”

-Leah Goldberg, Teach Me, My Lord

This quote, from a poem by one of Israel’s most renowned poets, speaks on the importance of seeing each day with open eyes, renewing our energy, and making each day count. Here, in the form of a prayer, the poet asks God to help her avoid falling into a dull and repetitive routine so that she can remain engaged and excited about life each day.

4. Quotes About Work

Farmer Plowing

Jews are well-known the world over for being hard workers. Indeed, the image of the חלוצים (khalutzim), or “pioneers,” who drained the swamps, planted the forests, and generally built a flourishing country out of deserts and wastelands is deeply ingrained in the Israeli psyche. These pioneers are regarded as the nation’s early heroes. On that note, let’s now have a look at some Hebrew language quotes about work.

9. היום קצר והמלאכה מרובה.

-פרקי אבות ב’:ט”ו

Ha-yom katzar ve-ha-melakhah merubah.

-Pirkey Avot 2:15

“The day is short, and the work abounds.”

-Chapters of the Fathers 2:15

This terse quote, attributed to the sage Rabbi Tarfon, is another gem from Chapters of the Fathers. In an inimitable style, it encompasses the notion that time is short but the labor before us is great, such that we must take advantage of the time we have to get things done before it’s too late. A rough parallel in English might be: “Make hay while the sun shines.”

10. העבודה הראשונה העומדת עתה לפני האנושות היא עבודה של חינוך עצמי.

א.ד. גורדון, “האדם והטבע”

Ha-’avodah ha-rishonah ha-’omedet ‘atah lifney ha-enoshut hi ‘avodah shel khinukh ‘atzmi.

-A.D. Gordon, “Ha-Adam ve-ha-Teva’”

“The first order of business facing humanity today is that of self-education.”

-A.D. Gordon, Man and Nature

This wonderful quote comes from A.D. Gordon, a חלוץ (khalutz), or “pioneer,” who moved to the Land of Israel at an advanced age to live on a kibbutz. He was somewhat akin to an Israeli Henry David Thoreau, emphasizing in his writings the importance of doing an honest day’s work (particularly in terms of agriculture), living in harmony with nature, and, as this quote reflects, ensuring one’s own self-education through life experience.

5. Quotes About Family and Friendship

Siblings

Now let’s look at a theme of universal importance, namely that of family and friends. Here are some choice Hebrew quotes about family and friendship for you to ponder.

11. אני ואתה נשנה את העולם. אני ואתה, אז יבואו כבר כולם.

אריק איינשטיין, “אני ואתה”

Ani ve-atah neshaneh et ha-’olam. Ani ve-atah, az yavo’u kvar kulam.

-Arik Aynshteyn, “Ani ve-Atah”

“You and I, we’ll change the world. You and I, the rest will soon follow.”

-Arik Einstein, You and I

This is a lovely quote from iconic Israeli singer-songwriter and actor Arik Einstein. It speaks of the eternal hope of changing the world for the better, something that’s possible as long as we have just one person we can count on. The song doesn’t specify if the other person is family or a friend, but it clearly speaks of someone with whom there is a strong bond.

12. לא טוב היות האדם לבדו.

-בראשית ב’:י”ח

Lo tov heyot ha-adam levado.

-Bereyshit 2:18

“It is not good for man to be alone.”

-Genesis 2:18

This is, interestingly, the first piece of advice God offers Man in the creation story found in Genesis. God speaks these words to Adam just before informing him that He will create a partner for him (namely, Eve).

13. כשתשאל על אדם, שאל מי רעהו.

-רבי שלמה אבן גבירול, “מבחר הפנינים”

Ke-she-tish’al ‘al adam, she’al mi re’ehu.

-Rabi Shlomoh ibn Gabirol, “Mivkhar Pninim”

“Should you ask about a man, ask who his friends are.”

-Rabbi Solomon ibn Gabirol, Choice Pearls

This pearl of wisdom comes from a brilliant eleventh century poet and scholar whose influence on Hebrew culture has been profound over the centuries. Here, he eloquently expresses the notion that we are to be judged not only for our own merits and faults, but for those of the people with whom we choose to associate.

6. Quotes About Wisdom and Foolishness

Human Head and Brain

The theme of wisdom versus foolishness is a common one throughout Hebrew literature of every era, such that there are seemingly endless quotations to draw on in this category. Let’s have a look at a few popular Hebrew quotes that touch on this topic.

14. זו שסיימה בית ספר יתר על המידה, שהוציאה את כל השפה על נסיונות. תחת חלון על השלחן מנחת תעודה: ‘עברה את כשלונותיה’.

נורית זרחי, “שיעורי העונות”

Zu she-siymah beyt sefer yeter ‘al ha-midah, she-hotzi’ah et kol ha-safah ‘al nisyonot. Takhat khalon ‘al ha-shulkhan munakhat te’udah: ‘’Avrah et kishlonoteyhah.’

-Nurit Zarkhi, “Shi’urey ha-’Onot”

“She who finished school and then some, who spent all her language on experience. Beneath a window on the table lies a diploma: ‘She passed her failures’.”

-Nurit Zarchi, Seasons’ Lessons

This quote, from Israeli poet Nurit Zarchi, may be considered a parallel to Mark Twain’s famous quip, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Both authors draw our attention to the fact that there is much wisdom to be gleaned outside the confines of the classroom. In Zarchi’s case, she focuses specifically on the need to go through hardships—to fall and pick oneself up again—in order to fully “graduate.” This is more or less what we mean when we refer to the School of Hard Knocks in English.

15. מן המקום שבו אנו צודקים לא יצמחו לעולם פרחים באביב‭.

-יהודה עמיחי, “המקום שבו אנו צודקים”

Min ha-makom she-bo anu tzodkim lo yitzmekhu le-’olam prakhim ba-Aviv.

-Yehudah ‘Amikhay, “Ha-Makom she-Bo Anu Tzodkim”

“From the place where we are right, no flowers will ever bloom in spring.”

-Yehuda Amichai, The Place Where We Are Right

This is a particularly apt poem for Israel, considering the endless polemics wrapped up in the Israeli reality over so many different things, including existence itself. Here, soldier-turned-poet Yehuda Amichai, widely considered modern Israel’s most important poet, poignantly reminds us that excessive insistence on being right very often comes at the expense of growth and peace.

16. אין שכל, אין דאגות.

-עממי

Eyn sekhel, eyn de’agot.

-’Amami

“No brains, no worries.”

-Popular saying

This one, though not attributed to any particular author, is a very common saying in Israel. The gist of it is that people who think less worry less, much like the English saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” In the Hebrew version, this is both a blessing and a curse. People who enjoy the tranquility of ignorance are also often unaware of problems, even when such awareness might be to their benefit or when their ignorance may affect others negatively.

7. Quotes About Food and Drink

Set Table

Anyone who knows the first thing about Judaism knows that food and drink are a central theme in our culture. In fact, there’s even a popular dark joke in Israel, according to which all Jewish holidays can be classified as either feast days to celebrate the Jewish people surviving an attempted massacre, or fast days to commemorate the Jewish people falling victim to such a massacre. Let’s look at some representative quotes in the Hebrew language on food and drink.

17. על טעם וריח אין להתווכח‎.

-אברהם שלונסקי

‘Al ta’am ve-reyakh eyn lehitvake’akh.

-Avraham Shlonski

“One should not argue over taste and smell.”

-Avraham Shlonsky

This aphorism is a fairly ubiquitous one in Israeli life, and is something like a combination of the English sayings, “There is no accounting for taste,” and “To each his own.” Ironically (or perhaps not!), Israelis love to argue about food, drink, and other matters of taste. An altogether common conversation (or argument) topic in Israel, for instance, is where one can get the best hummus; agreement over one particular hummus shop is a rare creature, indeed!

18. למדני את השיר הפשוט של הלחם ופרוס לי חלק משלומך.

-רחל שפירא, “למדני את השיר הפשוט”

Lamdeni et ha-shir ha-pashut shel ha-lekhem u-fros li khelek mi-shlomekha.

-Rakhel Shapira, “Lamdeni et ha-Shir ha-Pashut”

“Teach me the simple song of bread, and slice me a piece of peace.”

This line comes from a beautiful song by poet and songwriter Rachel Shapira, who composed many of the most famous classics in Israeli music. This quote speaks of the importance of appreciating the simpler pleasures of life, such as a humble slice of bread. This sentiment is similar to what Walt Whitman meant when he wrote, “A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.”

19. ויין ישמח לבב אנוש.

-תהלים ק”ד:ט”ו

Ve-yayin yesamakh levav enosh.

Tehilim 104:15

“And wine shall gladden the heart of man.”

Psalms 104:15

This ancient passage from the Book of Psalms is often cited even in modern Hebrew to express, with eloquence and economy, the unique pleasures afforded by wine.

8. Quotes About Happiness and Health

Happy Older Couple

Health and happiness are common themes in Hebrew culture, with connections often being made between the two. Let’s see some good examples of Hebrew quotes about happiness and health. 

20. כי השמחה שלי היא המחאה שלי.

נעמי שמר, “על ראש שמחתי”

Ki ha-simkha sheli hi ha-mekha’ah sheli.

-Na’omi Shemer, “‘Al Rosh Simkhati”

“For my happiness is my protest.”

-Naomi Shemer, My Chiefest Joy

Naomi Shemer, often labeled the “First Lady” of Israeli music, was a prolific singer-songwriter particularly famous for her song ירושלים של זהב (Yerushalayim shel Zahav), meaning “Jerusalem of Gold.” This quote perhaps serves to help explain how Israel, despite the constant strain and strife of daily life under fire, is consistently reported among the happiest countries according to surveys. Not only is happiness a necessary answer to hardship, but a form of peaceful protest against violence.

21. אין עושר כבריאות, ולא נעימות כמו לב הטוב.

-רבי שלמה אבן גבירול, “מבחר הפנינים”

Eyn ‘osher ke-vri’ut, ve-lo ne’imut kmo lev ha-tov.

-Rabi Shlomoh ibn Gabirol, “Mivkhar Pninim

“There is no joy like health, and no pleasure like a heart of goodness.”

-Rabbi Solomon ibn Gabirol, Choice Pearls

Another wonderful quote from ibn Gabirol, this one almost seems to sum up the entirety of life! Indeed, it simply speaks for itself.

22. תוחלת ממשכה מחלה לב ועץ חיים תאוה באה.

-משלי י”ג:י”ב

Tokhelet memushakhah makhalah lev ve-’etz khayim ta’avah ba’ah.

-Mishley 13:12

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a tree of life is a longing fulfilled.”

Proverbs 13:12

This pithy maxim from Proverbs touches on the power of following one’s dreams and ensuring they are realized, rather than waiting too long and letting them fade.

9. Quotes About Language

Dictionary and Key

What better way to end our list of Hebrew quotes than to enjoy some quotes about language itself? Here they are.

23. בארץ הלוהטת הזאת, מילים צריכות להיות צל.

יהודה עמיחי, “שיר אהבה”

Ba-aretz ha-lohetet ha-zot, milim tzrikhot lihiyot tzel.

-Yehudah ‘Amikhay, “Shir Ahavah”

“In this blazing land, words must be shade.”

-Yehuda Amichai, Love Song

This quote speaks of the essential power of language to comfort and shelter us, and how vital that function of language is in a place as infernal as Israel has been.

24. מות וחיים ביד לשון, ואהביה יאכל פריה.

משלי י”ח:כ”א

Mavet ve-khayim be-yad lashon, ve-ohavehah yokhal piryah.

-Mishley 18:21

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

-Proverbs 18:21

This passage from Proverbs speaks of the power of language for both good and evil. It also sheds light on the fact that those who truly love language and use it wisely will reap the benefit from their own words accordingly.

25. לעזאזל השיר וכל אשר בו. אני צריכה 120 שקל חדש בחשבון אחרון.

-דליה רביקוביץ, “פרנסה”

La-’Azazel ha-shir ve-khol asher bo. Ani tzrikhah me’ah-’esrim shekel khadsh be-kheshbon akharon.

-Daliyah Ravikovitz, “Parnasah”

“To hell with poetry and everything that goes with it. I need 120 new Israeli shekels, when all is said and done.”

-Dalia Ravikovitch, Livelihood

To end on a lighter note, here’s a quote that captures the sardonic use of language so typical of much Israeli humor. Here, a writer ironically mocks her own craft, at once affirming (through the very fact of having written these lines) and dismissing (through the content of the lines) the art of poetry.

10. Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed our compilation of Hebrew quotes! Remember that learning Hebrew doesn’t just mean learning grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation—it also means tapping into an entire culture, rich in wisdom gleaned over millennia of reflection. As you can now attest to, much of this wisdom is captured in the vast Hebrew library of literary works, both old and new. In that vein, which of these Hebrew quotes was your favorite, and why?

We at HebrewPod101 are convinced that learning a language is as much a cultural endeavor as it is a linguistic one, and we hope today’s lesson has enriched your understanding of Hebrew from a new perspective. Check out our wealth of resources on many other aspects of Jewish and Israeli culture to learn even more. When you learn Hebrew with HebrewPod101, you’ll always be prepared to say the right thing at the right time!

Shalom!

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Take Care of Business with Hebrew Business Phrases

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In Israel, business is booming. It’s well-known that Israel is one of the most advanced and dynamic economies the world over. The country has, in fact, been dubbed the Startup Nation for the immense number of businesses launched in or from Israel. Having only sparse natural resources, Israel has, since its inception, wisely invested in its human resource through extensive research and development. In particular, Israel is a world leader in technology pertaining to communications, computers, aviation, the military, agriculture, and medicine, among many other sectors.

Amazingly, Israel has more companies listed on NASDAQ than any other country, except the U.S. and China! So, if you’re planning on doing business with Israelis or in Israel, it’s wise to prepare; Israeli businesspeople are no slouches when it comes to making a deal! With that in mind, there’s no better way to simultaneously make a good impression and position yourself for a favorable outcome than to arm yourself with a handy toolkit of Hebrew business words and phrases.

Like any language, Hebrew has its own lingo for conducting business. In today’s lesson, we’ll look at essential words and phrases for interviewing for a job, interacting with coworkers, impressing at business meetings, and fielding business-related phone calls and emails. So, get your pencils sharpened and your coffee ready to go, and let’s get to work!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Business Words and Phrases in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Nailing a Job Interview
  2. Interacting with Coworkers
  3. Sounding Smart in Meetings
  4. Handling Business Phone Calls and Emails
  5. Let HebrewPod101 Get You Ready for Business

1. Nailing a Job Interview

Man In Suit Covering Face with @ Sign

If you’re planning on working for Israelis, it’s essential that you’re able to get your foot in the door. The first step is, of course, the oft-dreaded job interview. To make matters more intense, the Israeli business world is extremely competitive, as Israel is a small country filled with highly qualified people. (In fact, Israel’s citizens are the third-most educated in the world, after those in Canada and Japan!)

To ensure you give yourself a competitive edge, you’ll need to impress your prospective employer with your command of business Hebrew phrases. In this section, we’ll talk about how to introduce yourself, elaborate on your professional background, and respond to any questions the employer may have for you. 

Let’s have a look at some of the key words and phrases for nailing a job interview in Hebrew.

1. Introducing Yourself

Businesspeople Shaking Hands

You obviously want to start with a greeting. Here are the two most common ways to say hello in Hebrew.

a. שלום
Shalom
“Hello”

שלום (shalom), which literally means “peace,” is the most classic greeting in Hebrew. It also has the advantages of being appropriate in any situation, whether formal or informal, and not requiring any verb conjugations or gender-specific words. This makes it an easy-to-use greeting that will definitely be appropriate for your job interview.

b. היי
Hay
“Hi”

You can also use this less-formal greeting in a pinch. Next, let’s look at how to provide your name.

2. Self-Introduction

If you’re meeting someone for the first time, it’s customary to offer your name, and to ask for the other person’s name. We covered this topic in depth in our article about introductions, but here are the basic elements:

c. אני
Ani
“I [am]”

d. שמי
Shmi
“My name [is]”

e. השם שלי הוא
Ha-shem sheli hu
“My name is”

f. קוראים לי
Kor’im li
“I am called/named”

For example:

  • שלום, שמי דניאל.
    Shalom, shmi Dani’el.
    “Hello, my name is Daniel.”
  • היי, קוראים לי מישל.
    Hay, kor’im li Mishel.
    “Hi, I am named Michelle.”

Remember, none of these require any conjugation, so just practice until you memorize them, and you’re good to go!

3. Talking About Professional Experience

Different Occupations

There are some business terms in Hebrew that you should know to talk about your professional experience. These include key verbs and phrases to describe your studies, previous employment, and job duties. Let’s have a look.

a. למדתי
Lamadeti
“I studied/learned”

This is a very useful verb for describing things you’ve learned, whether at an institution of higher learning, on the job, or otherwise.

  • למדתי הנדסה חמש שנים.
    Lamadeti handasah khamesh shanim.
    I studied engineering for five years.”
  • למדתי עבודה בצוות בעבודה הקודמת שלי.
    Lamadeti avodah be-tzevet ba-avodah ha-kodemet sheli.
    I learned teamwork at my previous job.”
  • למדתי לתואר שני במנהל עסקים באוניברסיטת שיקגו.
    Lamadeti le-to’ar sheni be-minhal asakim be-universitat Shikago.
    I studied for my Masters degree in business management at the University of Chicago.”

b. יש לי
Yesh li
“I have”

You may have learned that Hebrew has no verb for “to have” and instead uses the form יש לי (yesh li), which is literally equivalent to, “There is/are to me.” We can use this phrase to describe experience, credentials, and more. Here are some examples:

  • יש לי תואר בחשבונאות.
    Yesh li to’ar be-kheshbona’ut.
    I have a degree in accounting.”
  • יש לי תעודה בתכנות JAVA.
    Yesh li te’udah be-tikhnut JAVA.
    I have a certificate in Java programming.”
  • יש לי הרבה ניסיון בשירות מול לקוחות.
    Yesh li harbeh nisayon be-sheyrut mul lekokhot.
    I have a lot of experience in customer service.”

c. התמחיתי ב ___.
Hitmakheti be ___.
“I specialized in ___.”

  • התמחיתי במיזוגים ורכישות בתפקיד הקודם שלי.
    Hitmakheyti be-mizugim ve-rekhishot ba-tafkid ha-kodem sheli.
    I specialized in mergers and acquisitions in my previous job.”
  • התמחיתי בפיתוח שווקים במסגרת התואר השני שלי.
    Hitmakheyti be-fitu’akh shvakim be-misgeret ha-to’ar ha-sheni sheli.
    I specialized in market development during my Master’s studies.”

4. Asking the Interviewer to Repeat His/Her Question

During the course of an interview, you may find yourself unsure of what you’ve been asked, or needing clarity for some other reason. In such a case, there’s nothing wrong with politely asking the interviewer to repeat a question. Let’s see how to do so.

  • האם תוכל/תוכלי לחזור על השאלה, בבקשה?
    Ha’im tukhal/tukhli lakhzor al ha-she’elah be-vakashah?
    “Could you repeat the question, please?”

5. Thanking the Interviewer for the Opportunity

Thank You Written Out

At the conclusion of a job interview, it’s considered polite—and therefore, in your interest—to thank the interviewer for taking the time to interview you and for the opportunity to present your candidacy for the position. Let’s see how to do that in Hebrew.

  • תודה על ההזדמנות.
    Todah al ha-hizdamnut.
    “Thank you for the opportunity.”

6. Closing the Interview

Lastly, it’s a good idea to express your enthusiasm for the job. Here are a couple of good ways to do so.

a. אשמח להיות בקשר.
Esmakh lihiot be-kesher.
“I look forward to being in touch.”

b. אני מְקַוֶּה/מְקַוָּה להיות בקשר.
Ani mekaveh/mekavah lehiyot be-kesher.
“I hope to be in touch.”

*Note the need to properly conjugate the last one, depending on your gender!

2. Interacting with Coworkers

Now, let’s assume you got the job you interviewed for, and are looking to build some rapport with your coworkers. In the following section, we’ll take a look at a number of important Hebrew business phrases for communicating with your colleagues.

1. Asking Someone’s Name

Girl with Question Mark Covering Face

The easiest way to ask for the other person’s name, assuming they haven’t shared it with you on their own (though many Israelis will give their name without needing to be asked), is to use the verb לקרוא (likro). This is the same form we just looked at for stating your own name, but this time we’ll be using it in question form.

The good news is that we only need to conjugate one word; in this case, it’s the second person pronoun “you.” Specifically, if we’re talking to a male, we ask, איך קוראים לְךָ? (Eich korim lekha?), while if speaking to a female, we ask, איך קוראים לָךְ? (Eich kor’im lakh?).

  • איך קוראים לְךָ/לָךְ?
    Eikh korim lekha/lakh?
    “What is your name?”

Here are some ways you could respond after getting their name.

a. נעים מאוד.
Naim me’od.
“Nice to meet you.”

b. נעים להכיר.
Na’im lehakir.
“Nice to meet you.”

2. Asking Others for Help

Hands Reaching Out

Especially if you’re new to a job, you may well find yourself in need of a bit of help, whether it’s to get the copier working or to find the nearest takeout joint for lunch. Here are the most common ways to ask for help. Pay attention to gender and how it changes the verb’s conjugation.

  • סליחה, האם תוכל/תוכלי לעזור לי?
    Slikha, ha’im tukhal/tukhli la’azor li?
    “Excuse me, could you possibly help me?”
  • סליחה, אפשר לבקש מִמְּךָ/מִמֵּךְ עזרה?
    Slikha, efshar levakesh mimkha/mimekh ezrah?
    “Excuse me, could I ask you for some help?”
  • סליחה, אפשר לשאול אוֹתְךָ/אוֹתָךְ שאלה?
    Slikha, efshar lish’ol otkha/otakh she’elah?
    “Excuse me, could I ask you a question?”

3. Apologizing

Woman Apologizing

Although obviously something you want to avoid, you may also find yourself in need of apologizing if, say, you jam up the printer or unwittingly take someone’s parking spot. Here are the most common phrases related to saying sorry in Israel, though keep in mind that Israelis aren’t typically very touchy about small stuff.

a. סליחה.
Slikha.
“Sorry.” / “Excuse me.”

b. אני מבקש/מבקשת סליחה.
Ani mevakesh/mevakeshet slikha.
“I have to apologize.”

c. עשיתי טעות.
Asiti ta’ut.
“I made a mistake.”

d. טעות שלי.
Ta’ut sheli.
Mea culpa. / “My bad.”

4. Saying Thank You

This one is pretty straightforward. There are certainly many situations in which you may find yourself wanting to say thank you. Let’s look at a number of constructs using the word תודה (todah), or “thanks.”

a. תודה על + noun
Todah al + noun
“Thanks for” + noun

  • תודה על העזרה.
    Todah al ha-ezrah.
    Thanks for the help.”
  • תודה על הטיפ.
    Todah al ha-tip.
    Thanks for the tip.”

b. תודה ש… + verb
Todah she… + verb
“Thanks for” + verb

  • תודה שעזרת לי.
    Todah she-azart li.
    Thanks for helping me.”
  • תודה שהראית לי איפה לחנות.
    Todah she-herayta li eyfoh likhnot.
    Thanks for showing me where to park.”

*Note the need to conjugate the verb with the correct gender and count here.

You can also intensify your thanks. Here are a few common ways to do so:

c. תודה רבה.
Todah rabah.
“Thank you very much.”

d. המון תודה.
Hamon todah.
“Thanks a ton.”

5. Inviting Coworkers Out After Work

If you’re looking for ways to form positive relationships with your coworkers, you should consider inviting them to join you in after-work activities. In this section, we’ll look at a couple of ways you can do this.

a. בא לְךָ/לָךְ לצאת אחרי העבודה?
Ba lekha/lakh latzet akharey ha-avodah?
“Do you feel like going out after work?”

b. אפשר להזמין אוֹתְךָ/אוֹתָךְ לצאת אחרי העבודה?
Efshar lehazmin otkha/otakh latzet akharey ha-avodah?
“Can I invite you to go out after work?”

3. Sounding Smart in Meetings

Many workplaces have meetings, and you may well be asked to participate in them. Therefore, it’s a good idea to equip yourself with some basic Hebrew for business meetings so you’re prepared to not only speak, but to impress, in such situations. Let’s have a look at a few key phrases that can help you sound smart in meetings.

1. Giving Your Opinion

Woman Speaking at Meeting

Let’s start with some phrases you can use to effectively express your opinions during a meeting.

a. אני חושב/חושבת ש ___.
Ani khoshev/khoshevet she ___.
“I think that ___.”

  • אני חושב שהמספרים לא משקפים את המציאות.
    Ani khoshev she-ha-misparim lo meshakfim et ha-metzi’ut.
    I think that the numbers do not reflect the reality.”
  • אני חושבת שדני צודק.
    Ani khoshevet she-Dani tzodek.
    I think that Danny is right.”

b. לדעתי ___.
Le-da’ati ___.
“In my opinion ___.”

  • לדעתי, אנחנו צריכים להשקיע בציוד חדש.
    Le-da’ati, anakhnu tzrikhim lehashki’a be-tziyud khadsh.
    In my opinion, we need to invest in new equipment.”
  • זה לא יהיה מספיק, לדעתי.
    Zeh lo yihiyeh maspik, le-da’ati.
    “That won’t suffice, in my opinion.”

c. אני סבור/סבורה ש ___.
Ani savur/svurah she ___.
“I am of the opinion that ___.”

  • אני סבורה שאנו מוכנים לפגישה עם הלקוח החדש.
    Ani svurah she-anu mukhanim la-pegishah im ha-lako’akh he-khadash.
    I am of the opinion that we are ready for the meeting with the new client.”
  • אני סבור שהדולר יתחזק.
    Ani savur she-ha-dolar yitkhazek.
    I am of the opinion that the dollar is going to strengthen.”

2. Making Suggestions

While making suggestions is a crucial part of business meeting engagement, in Israeli culture, it’s wise to make a polite suggestion rather than a blunt one; you don’t want to risk sounding too aggressive or condescending.

a. אני מציע/מציעה ש ___.
Ani metzi’a/metzi’ah she ___.
“I suggest that ___.”

  • אני מציעה שננסה מחדש.
    Ani metzi’ah she-nenaseh mekhadash.
    I suggest that we try again.”
  • אני מציע שנחכה עד לרבעון הבא.
    Ani metzi’a she-nekhakeh ad la-riv’on haba.
    I suggest that we wait until next quarter.”

b. הרעיון שלי הוא ___.
Ha-ra’ayon sheli hu ___.
“My idea is ___.”

  • הרעיון שלי הוא למכור רק למדינות אסייתיות בינתיים.
    Ha-ra’ayon sheli hu limkor rak le-medinot Asiyatiot beynatayim.
    My idea is to sell solely to Asian countries at the moment.”

3. Agreeing and Disagreeing

Woman Giving OK Sign

To successfully negotiate in a business meeting, you must know how to express that you agree or disagree with others. Note that in Hebrew, the structure for many opposing forms is the same, save for the absence or presence of the word לא (lo), meaning “no” / “not,” for negation. This is true for the first two phrases here.

a. אני (לא) מסכים/מסכימה.
Ani (lo) maskim/maskimah.
“I agree/disagree.”

  • אני לא מסכים שאנו צריכים מחשבים חדשים.
    Ani lo maskim she-anu tzrikhim makhshevim khadashim.
    I disagree that we need new computers.”
  • אני מסכימה שהגיע הזמן להיות יותר פרואקטיביים.
    Ani maskimah she-higi’a ha-zman lihiyot yoter proaktiviyim.
    I agree that the time has come to be more proactive.”

b. אני (לא) חושב/חושבת כמו ___.
Ani khoshev/khoshevet k’mo ___.
“I am of a like mind with ___.”

  • אני חושב כמו בני.
    Ani khoshev k’mo Beni.
    “I am of a like mind with Benny.”
  • אני חושבת כמו עמיתי לעבודה כאן.
    Ani khoshevet k’mo amiti la-avodah kan.
    “I am of a like mind with my coworker here.”

c. אני חולק/חולקת על דַּעְתְּךָ/דַּעְתֵּךְ.
Ani kholek/kholeket al da’etkha/da’etekh.
“I differ with you.”

*Note that the last form is a bit more formal and emphatic.

4. Responding to Others

To close this category, let’s look at some ways you can politely and professionally open a response to something another person said. These are a bit formal, especially in Israeli society where niceties are not terribly common. Nevertheless, when used correctly, they can effectively get people’s attention and lend an air of seriousness to your comments.

a. בנוגע למה ש ___ אמר/אמרה ___.
Be-noge’a le-mah she___ amar/amrah ___.
“Regarding what ___ said ___.”

  • בנוגע למה ששרון אמרה, אני חושב שיש לחכות קצת לפני שנשיק מוצרים חדשים.
    Be-noge’a le-mah she-Sharon amrah, ani khoshev she-yesh lekhakot ktzat lifney she-nashik motzarim khadashim.
    Regarding what Sharon said, I think we need to wait a bit before launching new products.”
  • בנוגע למה ששמוליק אמר, זה נדמה לי קצת מרחיק לכת.
    Be-noge’a le-mah she-Shmulik amar, zeh nidmeh li ktzat markhik lekhet.
    Regarding what Shmulik said, it strikes me as a bit far-fetched.”

b. הייתי רוֹצֶה/רוֹצָה להגיב למילים של ___.
Hayiti rotzeh/rotzah lehagiv la-d’varim shel ___.
“I would like to respond to ___’s comments.

  • הייתי רוצה להגיב לדברים של רם. אני חושבת שהוא צודק אבל יש עוד כמה נושאים רלוונטיים כאן.
    Hayiti rotzah lehagiv la-d’varim shel Ram. Ani khoshevet she-hu tzodek aval yesh od kamah nos’im relevantiyim kan.
    I would like to respond to Ram’s comments. I think he is right, but there are a few other relevant issues here.”
  • כמנהל המחלקה, הייתי רוצה להגיב לדברים של תומר ומיכל.
    Ke-menahel ha-makhlakah, hayiti rotzeh lehagiv la-d’varim shel Tomer ve-Mikhal.
    “As department head, I would like to respond to Tomer’s and Michal’s comments.”

c. התרשמתי ממה ש ___ אמר/אמרה.
Hitrashamti mi-mah she-amar/amrah ___.
“I was impressed by what ___ said.”

  • התרשמתי ממה שאמר דימה, ואני לגמרי בעד הרעיון שלו.
    Hitrashamti mi-mah she-amar Dimah, va-ani legamrey be’ad ha-ra’ayon shelo.
    I was impressed by what Dimah said, and I am completely in favor of his idea.”
  • למען האמת, די התרשמתי ממה שאסנת אמרה.
    Le-ma’an ha-emet, dey hitrashamti mi-mah she-Osnat amrah.
    “To be honest, I was pretty impressed by what Osnat said.”

4. Handling Business Phone Calls and Emails

Finally, we’re going to look at Hebrew business words and phrases for handling phone calls and emails, both of which are a part of many jobs. 

1. Business Phone Calls

Woman on Phone

a. Answering the phone

  • שלום, מדבר/מדברת ___.
    Shalom, medaber/medaberet ___.
    “Hello, this is ___ speaking.”
  • שלום, מדבר אלון רוט.
    Shalom, medaber Alon Rot.
    Hello, this is Alon Roth speaking.”
  • שלום, מדברת רוני אזולאי.
    Shalom, medaberet Roni Azulay.
    Hello, this is Roni Azulai speaking.”
  • הִגַּעְתָּ/הִגַּעְתְּ ל ___.
    Higata/Higa’t le/la ___.
    “You have reached ___.”
  • הִגַּעְתָּ למשרד של איתי ריבלין.
    Higata la-misrad shel Itay Rivlin.
    You have reached the office of Itai Rivlin.”
  • הִגַּעְתְּ למעבדת מיקרו-מק.
    Higat le-Ma’abadat Mikro-Mak.
    You have reached Micro Mac Laboratories.”

b. Offering to help

  • במה אוכל לעזור לְךָ/לָךְ?
    Ba-meh ukhal la’azor lekha/lakh?
    “How can I help you?”
  • לאן להעביר את שִׂיחָתְךָ/שִׂיחָתֵךְ?
    Le’an leha’avir et sikhatkha/sikhatekh?
    “How may I direct your call?”

c. Signing off

  • שמחתי לעזור.
    Samakhti la’azor.
    “I was happy to help.”
  • אנחנו נהיה בקשר.
    Anakhnu nihiyeh be-kesher.
    “We will be in touch.”
  • אל תהסס/תהססי להתקשר.
    Al tehases/tehasesi lehitkasher.
    “Don’t hesitate to call.”
  • אנחנו עומדים לְשֵׁרוּתְךָ/לְשֵׁרוּתֵךְ.
    Anakhnu omdim le-sherutkha/sherutekh.
    “We are at your service.”

2. Business Emails

Man Writing Email

The art of writing an effective business email, or any type of letter for that matter, is clearly a topic unto itself. It’s certainly a skillset worth developing, but a bit much to cover in today’s lesson. For today’s discussion, then, let’s limit ourselves to some key words and phrases you can use when drafting business emails.

a. לכל מאן דבעי
Le-khol man dab’i
“To Whom It May Concern”

b. אג”ן (אדון, גברת נכבדים)
AG”N (Adon, Geveret nekhbadim)
“Dear Mr./Mrs.”

c. בתגובה לְבַקָּשָׁתְךָ/לְבַקָּשָׁתֵךְ
Be-teguvah le-vakashatkha/le-vakashatekh
“In response to your request”

d. מצ”ב (מצורף בזה)
MTz”B (Metzoraf ba-zeh)
“Enclosed”

e. בברכה
Bi-vrakhah
“Sincerely”

f. נ”ב (נכתב בצד)
N”B (Nikhtav ba-tzad)
“P.S.”

5. Let HebrewPod101 Get You Ready for Business

We hope you enjoyed today’s lesson. It goes without saying that preparing yourself to do business and/or work in a foreign culture is a complex endeavor. However, with some essential vocabulary under your belt, you’ve already got the ball rolling. Practice these phrases, as well as any relevant grammatical or lexical points, and build the confidence you need to succeed working or doing business in Israel.

Is there a related topic we didn’t cover, or are you still unclear about something we did discuss? We at HebrewPod101 love hearing from you so that we can custom-tailor our lessons to your needs. Get in touch today, and let us know how we’re doing! In the meantime, Shalom!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Business Words and Phrases in Hebrew

Top 10 Hebrew YouTube Channels for Your Hebrew Studies

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Feeling like you’ve lost some momentum in your Hebrew language studies? Or maybe you’re just looking to spice things up a bit? Along with Hebrew movies and TV shows, YouTube channels are one of the best ways to supplement your Hebrew learning while lightening the load on those gray cells. Indeed, watching Hebrew YouTube videos is a great way to expose yourself to authentic Hebrew spoken by native Israelis, while at the same time taking a break from the books.

There’s no doubt that HebrewPod101 is your best bet for a solid Hebrew foundation, offering you a wealth of resources to work on grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and idiomatic features of the language, including slang. In fact, all of our lessons are prepared and/or taught by native Hebrew speakers to ensure you get the real deal. We also give you access to a huge library of comprehensive and diverse materials, with both spoken and written lessons. And while one of our main goals is to ensure that your learning experience is fun and stress-free, we know that it’s only natural to want to mix things up now and again.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the top ten Hebrew YouTube channels for supplementing your Hebrew studies. When used in conjunction with HebrewPod101—including our own YouTube channel—this can be a fantastic way to absorb more vocabulary in context, while also exposing yourself to native Israeli culture and even humor. You’ll be amazed at just how much sinks in when you spend a bit of time immersing yourself in some videos in the Hebrew language. Just pick a channel that appeals to you, and try it out for yourself today!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. קומדי בר T.V. Komedi Bar T.V. (“Comedy Bar TV”)
  2. Sugar Zaza
  3. The WORD in HEBREW
  4. כאן חדשות Kan Khadashot (“News Here”)
  5. היהודים באים Ha-Yehudim Ba’im (“The Jews Are Coming”)
  6. טופ גיק “Top Geek”
  7. שרים קריוקי Sharim Kariyoki (“Singing Karaoke”)
  8. משרד החינוך Misrad ha-Khinukh (“The Ministry of Education”)
  9. האקדמיה ללשון העברית Ha-Akademiyah la-Lashon ha-Ivrit (“Academy of the Hebrew Language”)
  10. ערוץ הספורט ‘Arutz ha-Sport (“The Sports Channel”)
  11. Bonus: Learn Hebrew with HebrewPod101.com
  12. With HebrewPod101 as Your Foundation, YouTube Can Be a Fun and Useful Supplement

1. קומדי בר T.V.

Komedi Bar T.V. (“Comedy Bar TV”)

Standup Comedian

Category: Humor
Level: Advanced
Example video

What better way to take a break from serious studies than to enjoy a bit of humor? The American brand of Jewish humor, of course, is world-famous. One need only think of the likes of Woody Allen or Larry David, among a myriad list of others. Israeli comedy is also well worth checking out, though one should be forewarned that it does tend to be a bit more rough around the edges. This is easy to understand, considering the difficult life circumstances facing Israelis day to day. However, it’s surely the ability to laugh at even the darkest aspects of life that lends the Israeli people much of their unique vitality.

The YouTube channel Comedy Bar T.V. is dedicated to showcasing Israeli comedians with a variety of different styles of humor, both in stand-up performances and in sketches. The videos include Hebrew subtitles, so you can catch the often rapid-fire Hebrew they use in their bits. Even though it’s a challenge, as humor is prone to using language in quite complex ways, this channel is a great option if you need to take a break from serious studies while still improving your Hebrew (especially slang).

2. Sugar Zaza

Category: Reading in Hebrew
Level: Intermediate / Advanced
Example video

Woman Reading

This is another fun channel full of silly videos of all sorts. Though not exactly comedians, the channel’s hosts, Tom and Or, offer amusing videos on all manner of topics. Of particular interest for Hebrew learners are the videos in which they read books and other texts, sought out specifically for their humor or absurdity. This is a fun way to practice reading along with the text, which is displayed on the bottom of the screen while it’s read.

Another series on this channel that can be useful in building vocabulary and practicing pronunciation consists of videos called משחק הציורים הנוראי (Miskhak ha-Tziyurim ha-Nora’i), or “The Terrible Pictures Game.” This is basically a simplified game of Pictionary. These videos can strengthen your vocabulary for describing visuals, and they’re a lot of fun to watch and play along with! 

3. The WORD in HEBREW

Category: Bible / Religion
Level: Beginner
Example video

Bible Open to Book of Jonah

Would you like to throw in some Biblical Hebrew on top of your Modern Hebrew lessons? YouTube channel The WORD in HEBREW is a great place to do so. 

In the spirit of offering a variety of options for enrichment, this channel is for those who have any interest in supplementing their studies in modern Hebrew (what’s spoken in Israel today and the focus of HebrewPod101) with Biblical Hebrew, as well as the Mishnaic, Medieval, and later Hebrew of Rabbinic literature. It should be noted that these are very different languages from modern Hebrew, similar to how the English of Shakespeare’s time differs greatly from what’s spoken on the streets of London, Sydney, or New York today.

Whether you are religious or not, there’s an undeniably rich literature beginning with the Old Testament of the Bible (which is what Jews consider the entire Bible, excluding the New Testament), and progressing through centuries of liturgical writings. For those with curiosity vis-à-vis this literature, the channel’s host, Ayelet, presents Bible passages, prayers, and blessings, helping you pronounce and understand the texts in question in a friendly and patient manner. While not necessarily essential in mastering modern Hebrew, a basic knowledge of Biblical and religious Hebrew can certainly help, as much of this language is still encountered in expressions and phrases used even now.

4. כאן חדשות

Kan Khadashot (“News Here”)

Stack of Newspapers

Category: News and current affairs
Level: Intermediate / Advanced
Example video

One of the best ways to learn a foreign language is to use it to access topics that are of interest to you and/or about which you already have “top-down knowledge.” This can truly help to boost your morale, as you’ll be able to pick up more new vocabulary when watching videos on topics you already know something about (or want to know about). If you have any interest in news and current affairs, this Hebrew news YouTube channel may be of interest to you.

כאן חדשות offers a wide range of news-related videos, including numerous programs produced by the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation. Here, you can absorb yourself in current affairs, politics, cultural issues, and so on, with the advantage that most of the presenters speak with clear pronunciation and diction to facilitate your understanding.

5. היהודים באים

Ha-Yehudim Ba’im (“The Jews Are Coming”)

Biblical Scene

Category: Comedy / Satire / History / Culture
Level: Beginner / Intermediate / Advanced
Example video

This is actually a specific program put out by the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation mentioned above. The show takes a comedic approach to Israeli and Jewish topics, both historic and current, presenting them in a humorous and often satirical light. The show is something like an Israeli take on Monty Python’s Flying Circus of yesteryear, mixing social and historical commentary with absolute tomfoolery.

For example, the show presents the story of the mass suicide at Masada via a military psychologist interviewing a Jew who does not want to commit suicide, arguing the logic of mass suicide with him in philosophical terms à la Catch 22. Another skit depicts King David, traditionally attributed as the author of Psalms, as a narcissist only interested in composing songs to his own glory.

While this brand of irreverent humor may not be for everyone, and some skits admittedly do push the envelope quite far, this is a fun channel to watch if you’re interested in picking up some Jewish and Israeli history or culture with a fat dose of laughter to go with it. English subtitles are available to help you along the way.

6. טופ גיק

“Top Geek”

Geek

Category: Entertainment / Popular and consumer culture
Level: Intermediate / Advanced
Example video

This Hebrew YouTube channel is a hodgepodge of videos on all sorts of topics related to popular/consumer culture and entertainment. To get an idea of the variety it offers, a glimpse at its Videos page will show you videos on must-have Android apps, a discussion on the top movie of the past decade, and a tour of NYC. There’s also a series called דברים שלמדתי היום (Dvarim she-Lamadeti ha-Yom), or “Things I Learned Today,” which covers a fairly random cross-section of curiosities on just about everything.

The channel has reviews for movies, shows, and products, unboxing clips, and basically an endless array of ways to waste your time—if not for the fact that you’ll be learning Hebrew vocabulary and working on your listening comprehension!

7. שרים קריוקי

Sharim Kariyoki (“Singing Karaoke”)

Woman Singing Karaoke

Category: Music/Karaoke
Level: Beginner
Example video

This one is pretty straightforward: a Hebrew-language karaoke channel. Here lies a trove of Hebrew songs on YouTube, prepared for karaoke singing with the Hebrew lyrics on the screen. Music has been proven to aid your memory, so take advantage and sing along with a song or two as you practice your pronunciation. You can even invite a friend to sing along with you and double the fun. It’s obviously best to acquaint yourself with the lyrics before jumping in.

8. משרד החינוך

Misrad ha-Khinukh (“The Ministry of Education”)

Graduate in Cap and Gown

Category: Education
Level: Beginner / Intermediate / Advanced
Example video

This is the official channel of Israel’s Ministry of Education, and it contains a wealth of programming pertaining to and promoting education. Some of the material is about education in Israel, while other videos are for students (or made by them). Thus, one can find videos preparing high school students for exams, interviews with educators in different aspects of education in Israel, and student project videos submitted as part of their studies.

The variety offered on this channel, including in terms of student age, can help to facilitate learning based on your level. For instance, if you’re a beginner, you might well find it easy to listen to videos by or about younger students, as their vocabulary is going to be much more limited than, say, a lecture on pedagogical developments (though the latter may be of interest to you if you’re more advanced).

9. האקדמיה ללשון העברית

Ha-Akademiyah la-Lashon ha-Ivrit (“Academy of the Hebrew Language”)

Woman with Question Marks Above Head

Category: Education / Linguistics
Level: Intermediate / Advanced
Example video

This is the official YouTube channel of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, the formal body responsible for all matters of Hebrew lexicology, grammar, and linguistics in general. This is a bit heavier fare, but if you’re truly interested in finding more complex Hebrew lessons on YouTube, this channel is a wellspring of information. You can delve deeper into grammar or other linguistic issues you may have come across on HebrewPod101, or perhaps discover new themes that we haven’t covered.

For example, you can find videos of expert linguists discussing grammar questions, the differences between Hebrew and Yiddish, the issue of gender in Hebrew, and so on. It’s important to note, however, that the register here is fairly high-brow, and not necessarily representative of “street Hebrew,” just as the Oxford English Dictionary or the Chicago Style Manual may not be the best representatives of how spoken English normally sounds. Nevertheless, it’s important to have rules and order so that language can function and be taught, and that’s precisely what the Academy works toward.

10. ערוץ הספורט

‘Arutz ha-Sport (“The Sports Channel”)

Sports Medal

Category: Sports
Level: Intermediate / Advanced
Example video

Last but not least, for all of you sports fans, this YouTube channel covers a range of sports, from soccer to tennis to basketball, among many others. It covers Israeli leagues and events, as well as events and teams from the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere in the world, including full matches and sports commentary shows. You may be surprised to find that the NBA and, to a lesser extent, the NFL, are quite popular in Israel.

As mentioned earlier, a great way to reinforce your Hebrew while simultaneously giving yourself positive encouragement is to access Hebrew language materials that pertain to topics you enjoy and know about. So, if you know a lot about sports or are at all interested in them, watching the sports you like in Hebrew can help you learn new vocabulary specific to sports and improve your level of listening comprehension.

11. Bonus: Learn Hebrew with HebrewPod101.com

Girl Clicking YouTube Icon

Category: Education
Level: Beginner / Intermediate / Advanced
Example video

Let’s not forget the HebrewPod101 YouTube channel. Here you can find a vast array of video resources to support your Hebrew learning endeavors, with both audio and video lessons. Our channel is an exhaustive resource, taking you from your very first words in Hebrew to advanced topics like slang and cultural issues. Our lessons are taught solely by native speakers, and cover all four language skills: speaking, writing, listening, and reading.

Make sure to take advantage of our expert teaching methods and custom designed material to boost your Hebrew language skills in a fun, interesting, and effective way. We’re always adding new videos, so be sure to subscribe to our channel to keep up to date!

12. With HebrewPod101 as Your Foundation, YouTube Can Be a Fun and Useful Supplement

As you can see, there’s no shortage of Hebrew YouTube channels to speak to the interests and needs of all sorts of students. Whether you want to delve deeper into a grammar point covered in a HebrewPod101 lesson, expand your vocabulary in a specific area, or just have some laughs while enjoying Hebrew comedy, YouTube is definitely a great resource to supplement your studies with us.

Which Hebrew YouTube channel interests you the most? Let us know in the comments! 

Just remember that it’s important to strike a balance between education and entertainment if you’re serious about learning anything, Hebrew included. While we definitely encourage you to avail yourself of the vast media resources available online in general, and on YouTube in particular, a solid base of well-planned and organized lessons is your best bet for achieving success in your language learning objectives. And that is what we here at HebrewPod101.com are all about! 

Shalom!

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