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A Guide to Hebrew Phone Words and Phrases

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Does the thought of having a phone conversation in a foreign language put you on edge?

Making and receiving phone calls in one’s mother tongue can be stressful enough, but doing so in a foreign language represents a particular brand of challenge. In fact, it’s rather common to feel comfortable having an in-person conversation in a foreign language but to become shaky when it comes to handling phone calls in that language. If you give it a bit of thought, it’s easy to see why a Hebrew phone conversation may be a taller order for language learners than a face-to-face conversation.

For starters, experts claim that much of our communication is non-verbal. In the context of a traditional phone call, you can see just how tricky things can get when we’re confined to abstract spoken language, without the ability to reference non-verbal cues such as facial expressions or hand gestures. This is particularly true in the Middle East, where locals tend to use their hands as moving punctuation marks. While the increasing availability of video call technology means you might be lucky enough to see your interlocutor, there’s no indication that the old-fashioned phone call is going anywhere soon. It’s a good idea to learn phone call phrases and to practice phone conversations in Hebrew so you’re well-prepared when the moment comes.

Phone calls also tend to be more difficult as they introduce added potential for external communication obstacles. Depending on the devices being used for the call, any existing background or ambient noise, the speakers’ voices and volume level, and the quality of the connection itself, you may well be straining to hear or understand your interlocutor. Of course, you’ll want to ensure you can have a clear connection when you do conduct Hebrew phone calls, but practicing phone call-related language can help you “fill in the blanks,” even when the connection isn’t great or the speaker is a low talker.

In today’s lesson, we’ll take a look at the top 30 phrases for having a telephone conversation in Hebrew, including how to introduce yourself, how to ask to speak with someone, how to ask for clarification or repetition, and, of course, how to wrap things up at the end of a call. By the time you finish reading, you’ll have all the tools you need to effectively communicate over the phone in Hebrew!

Woman at Computer on Phone
Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Picking up the Phone
  2. Saying Who You Are
  3. Stating/Asking the Reason for the Call
  4. Asking to Speak to Someone
  5. Asking Someone to Wait
  6. Leaving a Message
  7. Asking for Clarification
  8. Ending the Phone Call
  9. Sample Phone Conversations
  10. Phone a friend: You can call on HebrewPod101 to help you learn all the Hebrew you’ll ever need.

1. Picking up the Phone

Close Up of Woman Answering Phone

The first set of Hebrew phone call phrases you ought to study are the greetings. 

When the phone rings, you want to feel totally comfortable picking it up, regardless of who may be at the other end of the line or what time of day it is. 

While there are numerous ways to answer the phone or begin a conversation when someone else picks up, the following is a solid list of common words and phrases for picking up the phone in Hebrew. You can use the first two at any time, while the following three are time-specific. 

Note the particular way Israelis pronounce the first word, with a short “a” sound like that in “car.”

1. הלו?
Halo? (*can often sound more like “alo”)
“Hello?”

2. שלום
Shalom
“Hello” (literally: “Peace”)

3. בוקר טוב
Boker tov
“Good morning”

4. צהריים טובים
Tzohorayim tovim
“Good afternoon”

5. ערב טוב
Erev tov
“Good evening”

2. Saying Who You Are

Man Activating Headset

Now that you know how to answer the phone in Hebrew, the next step is learning to introduce yourself properly. As in English-speaking and other cultures, it is customary for the caller to identify themselves after using one of the greetings above. 

Once again, there are multiple ways to do this. For the purposes of today’s lesson, we’ll just look at the more common and basic forms used for self-introductions over the phone. Obviously, you would fill in the blank in any of these options with your own name. 

It’s worth noting that there is nothing wrong with identifying yourself first and then using one of the above greetings as an alternative way of answering the phone. Note that Hebrew syntax can be quite different from what we’re used to in English, as you’ll see in some of the examples below where the subject comes after the verb or adverb.

6. כאן ____.
Kan ____.
“____ here.”

  • כאן רות.
    Kan Rut.
    “Ruth here.”

7. מדבר/ת _____.
Medaber/et _____.
“This is _____ speaking.”

  • מדבר שי.
    Medaber Shai.
    “This is Shai speaking.”
  • מדברת ליאת.
    Medaberet Li’at.
    “This is Liat speaking.”

8. זה/זו _____.
Zeh/zo ___.
“This is ____.”

  • זה חנן.
    Zeh Khanan.
    “This is Chanan.”
  • זו שלומית.
    Zo Shlomit.
    “This is Shlomit.”

9. שמי ____.
Shemi _____.
“My name is _____.”

  • שמי דנה.
    Shemi Danah.
    “My name is Dana.”

3. Stating/Asking the Reason for the Call

Man on Phone Writing on Notepad

Next, we’ll typically indicate the reason for our call if we’re the one who initiated contact, or else we may ask the caller what they need or how we can help. This is true whether we’re calling a government agency for public information or if we’re dialing a friend to see if they feel like going to the park to play soccer. 

There are a multitude of possibilities here, but let’s have a look at the top ways to state or ask the reason for a phone call in Hebrew.

10. הגעתי ל_____?
Higa’ti l_____?
“Is this _____?”

  • הגעתי לשרות לקוחות?
    Higa’ti le-sherut lekokhot?
    “Is this customer service?”

11. רציתי לדעת אם _____.
Ratziti lada’at im ____.
“I’d like to know if ____.”

  • רציתי לדעת אם יש לכם תוכנית תשלומים.
    Ratziti lada’at im yeish lakhem tokhnit tashlumim.
    “I’d like to know if you offer a payment plan.”

12. אני מתקשר/ת אל ____ בחזרה.
Ani mitkasher/et el _____ be-khazarah.
“I’m returning ______’s call.”

  • אני מתקשר אל רון בחזרה.
    Ani mitkasher el Ron be-khazarah.
    “I’m returning Ron’s call.”

13. במה אוכל לעזור לך?
Be-mah ukhal la’azor lekha/lakh?
“How can I help you?”

4. Asking to Speak to Someone

Man Pointing to Cell Phone

Oftentimes, we place a call intending to reach someone in particular. However, we may or may not reach that person directly. If someone else picks up the phone, we want to be equipped with the proper language to ask for the person we’re calling. Here are some of the more common ways of doing so in Hebrew. Note that the final option is a good one when we’re looking for a specific department or office rather than a specific person.

14. אפשר לדבר עם _____?
Efshar ledaber ‘im ____?
“Could I speak to ____?”

  • אפשר לדבר עם חגית?
    Efshar ledaber ‘im Khagit?
    “Could I speak to Chagit?”

15. אני מחפש/ת את ____.
Ani mekhapes/et et ____.
“I’m looking for ____.”

  • אני מחפשת את שירלי.
    Ani mekhapeset et Shirli.
    “I’m looking for Shirli.”

16. האם ____ נמצא/ת?
Ha’im ______ nimtza/nimtzeit?
“Is _____ there?”

  • האם יגאל נמצא?
    Ha’im Yig’al nimtza?
    “Is Yigal there?”

17. תוכל/י להעביר אותי ל____?
Tukhal/Tukhli leha’avir oti le-_____?
“Could you transfer me to _____?”

  • תוכלי להעביר אותי למחלקת התלונות שלכם?
    Tukhli leha’avir oti le-makhleket ha-telunot shelakhem?
    “Could you transfer me to your complaints department?

5. Asking Someone to Wait

Woman with Phone Checking Watch

If we pick up the phone and the caller is seeking a specific department or person, we may need to ask them to wait while we transfer them to the right place. Alternatively, we may be asked to wait for the person, department, or office we’re trying to reach. In either case, we’d be wise to have a strong grasp of the relevant language for such a situation. Here are some common ways to handle it.

18. רק רגע, בבקשה.
Rak rega’, bevakashah.
“Just a moment, please.”

19. המתן/המתיני על הקו בבקשה.
Hamten/Hamtini ‘al ha-kav bevakashah.
“Please hold the line.”

20. אל תנתק/תנתקי בבקשה.
Al tenatek/tenatki bevakashah.
“Don’t hang up, please.”

6. Leaving a Message

Finger Pressing Keypad on Phone

Another key skill for good Hebrew phone conversations is asking to leave a message, which more often than not entails asking the person we were looking for to call us back. Here are some of the top ways to do this in Hebrew.

21. אפשר להשאיר לו/לה הודעה?
Efshar lehashir lo/lah hoda’ah?
“Can I leave him/her a message?”

22. תוכל/י לומר לו/לה שיחזור/שתחזור אליי?
Tukhal/Tukhli lomar lo/lah she-yakhzor/she-takhzor elay?
“Could you have him/her call me back?”

23. אנא התקשר/י אליי מאוחר יותר.
Ana hitkasher/hitkashri elay me’ukhar yoter.
“Please call me back later.”

7. Asking for Clarification

Woman on Phone with Palm against Forehead

Now that we’ve seen some essential language for Hebrew phone calls, let’s look at a crucial element of any conversation: asking for clarification. 

Whether due to a lack of experience making phone calls in Hebrew, the technical nature of our phone call, or even a bad connection, we may find ourselves unable to understand what was just said on the phone. In any event, it’s always good to know how to ask the other person to repeat or clarify what they’ve said. 

Here are the more common ways of asking for clarification during Hebrew phone conversations.

24. תוכל/תוכלי לחזור על זה שוב?
Tukhal/Tukhli lakhzor ‘al zeh shuv?
“Could you repeat that?”

25. לא שומעים טוב. עוד פעם?
Lo shom’im tov. ‘Od pa’am?
“I can’t hear you well. What was that?”

26. סליחה. שוב?
Slikhah. Shuv?
“Sorry. Come again?”

8. Ending the Phone Call

Phone being Hung Up

Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to know how to wrap up a phone call in Hebrew. The best way to do so will vary depending on the circumstances of the call in question, so here are four phrases you can draw on when you’re winding down a phone call.

27. תודה. עזרת לי מאוד.
Todah. Azarta/Azart li me’od.
“Thanks. You’ve been a great help.”

28. אז נדבר ____.
Az nedaber ____.
“So let’s speak ____.”

29. שיהיה לך יום נעים/ערב טוב.
She-yehiyeh lekha/lakh yom na’im/’erev tov.
“Have a nice day/good night.”

30. להתראות.
Lehitra’ot.
“Goodbye.” / “See you later.”

9. Sample Phone Conversations

Cell Phone with Different Icons Hovering above It

Now let’s piece it all together and have a look at a couple of brief sample Hebrew phone conversations, one informal and the other formal. Even though Hebrew does not use different grammar to distinguish between higher and lower registers (like Spanish and French do, for instance), it’s possible to adopt a more or less formal tone based on word choice, much the way English works.

The first conversation is between two friends, so the tone is familiar and friendly. The second call simulates making a reservation at a restaurant, so you’ll note that the tone is slightly more formal. That said, most spoken Modern Hebrew is relatively informal compared to other languages, even in exchanges between strangers.

1. Shai makes plans to get together with a friend

Man Holding Schedule

-הלו?
Halo?
“Hello?”

-שלום, רון. זה שי.
Shalom, Ron. Zeh Shai.
“Hi, Ron. This is Shai.”

-היי, שי. מה נשמע?
Hay, Shai. Mah nishmah?
“Hi, Shai. What’s up?”

-הכל טוב. מה איתך?
Ha-kol tov. Mah itkha?
“Everything’s good. What’s up with you?”

-אצלי הכל בסדר. תודה. מה קורה?
Etzli ha-kol beseder. Todah. Mah koreh?
“Everything’s good with me. Thanks. What’s going on?”

-רציתי לדעת אם בא לך לצאת לאכול בסופ”ש.
Ratziti lada’at im ba lekha latzeit le’ekhol ba-sofash.
“I wanted to know if you feel like going out for brunch this weekend.”

-וואלה. אשמח. אל תנתק, אני רק בודק את היומן שלי.
Wallah. Esmakh. Al tenatek. Ani rak bodek et ha-yoman sheli.
“Yeah. I’d be happy to. Don’t hang up. I’m just checking my schedule.”

-אוקיי.
Okay.
“Okay.”

-אז אני פנוי בשבת בבוקר מ-11:00 והלאה.
Az ani panuy be-Shabbat ba-boker me-akhat-esreh ve-hal’ah.
“So, I’m free Saturday morning from 11:00 onwards.”

-אחלה, בא נקבע ל-11:30 במקום הקבוע שלנו.
Akhlah, bo nikba’ le-akhat-esreh-va-khetzi ba-makom ha-kavu’a shelanu.
“Great, let’s set it for 11:30 in our usual place.”

-בסדר גמור. רשמתי.
Be-seder gamur. Rashamti.
“Absolutely. I wrote it down.”

-יופי. אז נדבר בסופ”ש.
Yofi. Az nedaber ba-sofash.
“Nice. So let’s talk this weekend.”

-נשמע טוב, חבר. שיהיה לך ערב טוב.
Nishma’ tov, khaver. She-yihiyeh lekha ‘erev tov.
“Sounds good, buddy. Have a good evening.”

-גם לך. להתראות.
Gam lekha. Lehitra’ot.
“You too. See you.”

2. Shai reserves a table at Lavan Restaurant

Waiter Holding Plates

-שלום. הגעתי למסעדת לבן?
Shalom. Higa’ti le-mis’edet Lavan?
“Hello. Is this the Lavan Restaurant?”

-צהריים טובים. כן, כאן לירון במסעדת לבן. במה אוכל לעזור לך?
Tzohorayim tovim. Ken, kan Liron mi-mis’edet Lavan- Be-mah ukhal la’azor lekha?
“Good afternoon. Yes, this is Liron at Lavan. How can I help you?”

-אני רוצה להזמין שולחן לשניים בבקשה.
Ani rotzeh lehazmin shulkhan le-shnayim bevakashah.
“I’d like to reserve a table for two, please.”

-אין בעיה. יום ושעה, בבקשה?
Ein ba’ayah. Yom ve-sha’ah bevakashah?
“No problem. Day and time, please?”

-יום שבת ב-11:30. על שם שי בבקשה.
Yom Shabbat be-akhat-esreh va-khetzi. ‘Al shem Shai bevakashah.
“Saturday at 11:30. Under Shai, please.”

-אוקיי, אני רושמת. זהו, רשום. עוד משהו?
Okay, ani roshemet. Zehu, rashum. ‘Od mashehu?
“Okay, I’m entering it in. That’s it, you’re registered. Anything else?”

-כן, רק הייתי רוצה לבקש את השולחן בפינה, עם נוף לעמק.
Ken, rak hayiti rotzeh levakesh et ha-shulkhan ba-pinah, ‘im nof la-’emek.
“Yes, I’d just like to ask for the table in the corner, with a view of the valley.”

-אוקיי, הוספתי הערה.
Okay, hosafti he’arah.
“Okay, I’ve added a note.”

-אחלה. תודה, עזרת לי מאוד.
Akhlah. Todah, azart li me’od.
“Great. Thanks, you’ve been very helpful.”

-אין על מה. תודה ונכחה לכם בשבת ב-11:30.
Ein ‘al mah. Todah ve-nekhakeh lakhem be-Shabbat be-akhat-esreh-va-khetzi.
“No problem. Thanks, and we’ll be looking forward to seeing you on Saturday at 11:30.”

-להתראות.
Lehitra’ot.
“Goodbye.”

-ביי.
Bay.
“Bye.”

10. Phone a friend: You can call on HebrewPod101 to help you learn all the Hebrew you’ll ever need.

We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s lesson on how to have a Hebrew phone conversation. Obviously, the more you improve your Hebrew, the more comfortable you’ll be both speaking by phone and understanding the person on the other end of the line. That said, it’s always great to practice specific situations with the right vocabulary, particularly ones you tend to get stressed over.

HebrewPod101 is here to offer you a wealth of resources to prepare you for speaking and understanding Hebrew in any situation you may face, whether it’s related to work, school, travel, family, friends, or even romance. Check out our site, and you’ll find an endless variety of lessons hand-crafted to equip you with all the language you’ll need to speak with fluency and confidence. 

As always, we’re happy to hear from you if you feel we’ve missed anything or if you’d like us to clarify something we covered.

Until next time, shalom!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew

How to Say “I Love You,” in Hebrew

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It’s a well-known fact that when studying a foreign language, there’s no better tutor or motivator than a romantic partner who happens to speak the language you’re interested in acquiring. Hebrew, of course, is no exception. Whether you’ve already fallen in love with a Hebrew speaker or are hoping to find romance in the Holy Land, today’s lesson is designed to equip you with all the language you’ll need to pursue your love interest and express your love in Hebrew. Once you find that partner, he or she should be motivation enough to keep up your Hebrew studies!

Today, we’ll be looking at phrases you can use to…

  • …start up a conversation with someone who sparks your interest.
  • …deepen your connection with him or her. 
  • …take things a step further, whether in terms of moving in together, getting married, or starting a family.

In addition, we’ll go over some general terms of endearment that you can use at any stage of a relationship. We’ll also see some beautiful quotes about love in Hebrew culled from the best of Israeli poetry and song.

One caveat before we plunge right in: Romance is a peculiarly sensitive thing, and one that changes from one culture and individual to another. If you’re unfamiliar with Israeli culture, expect for it to take you a while to understand how romance works in Hebrew, what is appropriate or welcome to say in a given situation, and how to properly pick up on cues from the object of your interest. While eagerness to use your new language skills will certainly be commended, you definitely want to proceed with caution when foraying in the world of romance. So choose your words wisely!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Budding Love: Conversation Starters and Pick-up Lines
  2. Deepening Love: Expressing More Profound Emotions
  3. Taking Things to the Next Level: Meeting the Folks, Moving in, and Starting a Family Together
  4. Terms of Endearment for Any Occasion
  5. Love Quotes to Impress, to Move, and to Inspire
  6. Let HebrewPod101 Help You Fall in Love with Hebrew

1. Budding Love: Conversation Starters and Pick-up Lines

Man Whispering in Woman's Ear

While some romantic relationships develop organically from friendships or other already-established relationships, sometimes your heart just stops when you see someone from the other end of the bar. Whatever the case may be, this section is designed to give you the linguistic tools you need to (at least try to) endear yourself to someone who catches your interest, whether you’ve been introduced or not.

It bears mentioning that, particularly if you’re approaching someone you’ve never met, it’s always wise to measure your words and to be fully prepared for rejection (or worse) if you choose to go all out with a pick-up line. It’s probably a safe bet that most people—at least Israelis—will respond more warmly to an attempt at genuine conversation than a cheesy pick-up line. That being said, each of us has our own style, and the world is full of all types. Just keep in mind that Israelis tend to be a little harder-edged than, say, their American counterparts. So if you’re going to drop a bomb, you’d better brace for impact!

1. אני X. איך קוראים לך?
Ani X. Eykh korim lekha/lakh?
“I’m X. What’s your name?”

2. אפשר להזמין אותך ל…?
Efshar lehazmin otkha/otakh le…?
“Can I buy you a…?”

*Note that you can use this for any object, though typically it would be a drink, such as a beer (בירה, birah) or a cup of wine (כוס יין, kos yayin).

3. בא לך…?
Ba lekha/lakh…?
“Do you feel like…?”

*This one can be used either to invite someone to partake in drinking or eating something, or to engage in any other activity. Here are a couple of examples:

  • בא לך פיצה?
    Ba lekha/lakh pitzah?
    “Do you feel like pizza?”
  • בא לך לרקוד?
    Ba lekha/lakh lirkod?
    “Do you feel like dancing?”
  • בא לך לצאת החוצה?
    Ba lekha/lakh latzeit hakhutzah?
    “Do you feel like going outside?”

4. אתה בא/את באה לפה הרבה?
Atah ba/At ba’ah lepoh harbeh?
“Do you come here often?”

5. היי מותק.
Hay, motek.
“Hi, sweetheart/honey.”

*Be careful with this one, as being called מותק may not always be welcome. It’s similar to calling someone you don’t know sweetheart, honey, or sugar, which may go well or poorly depending on who says it to whom, as well as how smoothly it was delivered!

6. את/ה מאמינה/מאמין באהבה ממבט ראשון?
At/ah ma’amin/ah be-ahavah mi-mabat rishon?
“Do you believe in love at first sight?”

*A warning should be unnecessary here, as the cheesiness of this line requires that you both choose the right addressee and deliver it with suavity.

2. Deepening Love: Expressing More Profound Emotions

Man and Woman Touching Heads

Assuming you’ve gotten over the first hurdle of striking up a conversation with someone, and have now been seeing someone romantically for a while, you’ll probably be looking for ways to express all those butterflies in your stomach with eloquence and style. Below, you’ll find a few ways of talking about your deepening feelings and expressing your love in Hebrew. It bears noting that the Hebrew word for love—לאהוב (le’ehov)—is used to express both “love” and “like,” with the degree of intensity being inferred from the speaker, context, intonation, etc. With that in mind, be careful about jumping the gun and using this word too soon! You don’t want to spook the man or woman of your dreams before they’ve had a chance to get to know you.

7. אני אוהב/ת אותך.
Ani ohev/et otakh/otkha.
“I love you.”

8. אתה/את יקר/ה לי.
Atah/At yakar/yekarah li.
“You’re dear to me.”

9. אני מאוהב/ת בך.
Ani me’ohav/me’ohevet bakh/bekha.
“I’m in love with you.”

10. אני חולה עליך.
Ani kholeh/kholah alayikh/alekha.
“I’m crazy about you.”

11. אני לא יכול להפסיק לחשוב עליך.
Ani lo yakhol/yekholah lehafsik lakhsov alayikh/alekha.
“I can’t stop thinking about you.”

12. אני מתגעגע/ת אליך.
Ani mitga’age’a/mitga’aga’at elayikh/elekha.
“I miss you.”

3. Taking Things to the Next Level: Meeting the Folks, Moving in, and Starting a Family Together

Family's Feet at Foot of Bed

Hopefully, your relationship has continued to grow and strengthen, and you’re now ready to take things to the next level. Whether you just want to introduce your partner to your folks or you’re ready to get down on one knee and propose, these are the top love phrases in Hebrew you’ll need to take things a step further. As in any culture, you should make sure you—and your significant other—are ready for these milestones before you try any of these phrases out!

13. הייתי רוצה להכיר אותך למשפחה שלי.
Hayiti rotzeh/rotzah lehakir otakh/otkha la-mishpakhah sheli.
“I’d like to introduce you to my family.”

14. אני רוצה לעבור לגור יחד.
Ani rotzeh/rotzah la’avor lagur yakhad.
“I want to move in together.”

15. התחתן/התחתני איתי!
Hitkhaten/Hitkhatni iti!
“Marry me!”

16. התינשא/י לי?
Ha-tinase/tinas’ii li?
“Will you marry me?”

17. אני רוצה לעשות איתך ילדים.
Ani rotzeh la’asot itkha/itakh yeladim.
“I want to have children with you.”

18. בוא/י נקנה בית יחד.
Bo/Bo’i nikneh bayit yakhad.
“Let’s buy a house together.”

4. Terms of Endearment for Any Occasion

Heart on Envelope

Now that we’ve seen a lot of scenario-specific language, let’s have a look at terms of endearment that you can use at any time. After all, when is it a bad time to make the apple of your eye feel as special as he or she is to you? Obviously, you do want to keep in mind that not everyone likes being called by something other than their name, and there are some nicknames that simply won’t work for certain people. However, using terms of endearment is very common in Hebrew, and it may well earn you some extra brownie points—particularly if your partner is feeling down or if, say, you forgot to bring them flowers on their birthday. A final note: Pay attention to which of these terms change based on the gender of the person you’re talking to and which don’t!

19. מותק
Motek
“Sweetheart”

  • התספורת ההיא ממש הולמת אותך, מותק.
    Ha-tisporet ha-hi mamash holemet otakh, motek.
    “That haircut really suits you, sweetheart.”

20. יפה שלי
Yafeh/Yafah sheli
“(My) pretty/handsome”

  • מה בא לך לאכול הערב, יפה שלי?
    Mah ba lekha le’ekhol ha-erev, yafeh sheli?
    “What do you feel like eating tonight, handsome?”

21. נשמה שלי
Neshamah sheli
“My soul”

  • נשמה שלי, איך התגעגעתי אליך!
    Neshamah sheli, eykh hitga’aga’ti elayikh!
    My soul, how I missed you!”

22. עיניים שלי
Eynayim sheli
“My eyes”

  • איך אני מאוהב בך, עיניים שלי!
    Eykh ani me’ohav bakh, eynayim sheli!
    “I’m so in love with you, my eyes!”

23. אהובי
Ahuvi
“My love”

  • אהובי, אתה לא רוצה לצאת לשתות משהו?
    Ahuvi, atah lo rotzeh latzet lishtot mashehu?
    My love, you don’t want to go out for a drink?”

24. חיים שלי
Khayim sheli
“My life”

  • אל תהיי עצובה, חיים שלי. אני איתך.
    Al tihiyi atzuvah, khayim sheli. Ani itakh.
    “Don’t be sad, my life. I’m with you.”

5. Love Quotes to Impress, to Move, and to Inspire

Book pages in shape of heart

Last but not least, sometimes you just want to leave a good impression or change the mood by using a properly turned phrase coined by someone else. Fear not! We’ve got you covered. Now that we’ve looked at Hebrew phrases for the various stages of romance, let’s have a look at some carefully culled love quotes in the Hebrew language that will be sure to move even a heart of stone. Keep in mind that this is just a short selection, but Hebrew has absolutely no shortage of beautiful poetry and song lyrics that are ripe with amorous quotations for any occasion.

1. אביא לך אבנים מהירח, אתן לך אוצרות מלב הים, מה שתבקשי, מה שרק תרצי, אם את עודך שלי.
-בועז שרעבי
Avi lakh avanim me-ha-yare’akh, eten lakh otzarot mi-lev ha-yam, mah she-tevakshi, mah she-rak tirtzi, im at odekh sheli.
-Bo’az Shar’abi
“I’ll bring you rocks from the moon; I’ll give you treasures from the heart of the sea; whatever you ask, whatever you ask, as long as you’ll still be mine.”
-Boaz Sharabi

2. בין האפל לנסתר, בעולמנו המר, אומרים שיש עוד תקווה, קוראים לזה אהבה.
-ארקדי דוכין
Beyn ha-afel la-nistar, be-olameinu ha-mar, omrim she-yeish ‘od tikvah, korim le-zeh ahavah.
-Arkadi Dukhin
“Between the obscure and the hidden, in our bitter world, it’s said there’s still hope. It’s called love.”
-Arkadi Duchin

3. כל אהבה שתלויה בדבר – בטל דבר, בטלה אהבה. ושאינה תלויה בדבר – אינה בטלה לעולם.
-פרקי אבות
Kol ahavah she-t’luyah be-davar – batel davar, betelah ahavah. Ve-she-eynah t’luyah be-davar – eynah betelah le-’olam.
-Pirkei Avot
“Any love which is dependent on something, when the ‘something’ ceases, the love ceases. Any love which is not dependent on anything will never cease.”
-Pirkei Avot

4. יש האומרים שאהבה טובה ומתוקה, ויש אומרים קשה היא, ויש אומרים רכה. יש האומרים שהיא איננה, שמזמן אבדה, ויש האומרים שהיא הכל ואין עוד מלבדה.
-אהוד מנור
Yesh ha-omrim she-ha-ahavah tovah u-metukah, ve-yesh omrim kashah hi, ve-yesh omrim rakah. Yesh ha-omrim she-hi eynenah, she-mi-zman avdah, ve-yesh ha-omrim she-hi ha-kol ve-eyn ‘od milvadah.
-Ehud Manor
“There are those who say that love is good and sweet; there are those who say it’s tough and those who say it’s soft. There are those who say it doesn’t exist, that it was lost a long time ago, and those who say it’s all there is, and there’s nothing else.”
-Ehud Manor

5. שדות ביקשו אל הגשם, הגלים ביקשו אל החוף ואני ביקשתי את לבך לקטוף.
-אביב גפן
Sadot bikshu el ha-geshem, ha-galim bikshu el ha-khof, va-ani bikashti et libekh liktof.
-Aviv Geffen
“Fields asked for the rain, the waves asked for the shore, and I asked your heart to pluck.”
-Aviv Geffen

6. כמו כלים שלובים, אני ואת ביחד מתמלאים עד קו הלב.
-יוני רכטר
Kemo kelim shluvim, ani ve-at beyakhad mit’mal’iim ‘ad kav ha-lev.
-Yoni Rekhter
“Like communicating vessels, you and I together fill ourselves to the heartline.”
-Yoni Rechter

6. Let HebrewPod101 Help You Fall in Love with Hebrew

HebrewPod101 Logo with Girl Wearing Headphones

We hope that you found today’s lesson helpful, though on this one in particular, we can’t guarantee the results. After all, the heart is fickle, and courtship and love are an art, not a science. Just keep in mind that expressing love in another language is not as simple as translating your “game” word for word. Rather, you need to immerse yourself in the culture—linguistic and otherwise—of Hebrew to really get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

We invite you to explore our vast resources covering all aspects of the Hebrew language and Israeli culture, including romance but also general conversation vocabulary and tips. You’ll find a wealth of written and audiovisual lessons to help you grow your Hebrew lexicon, practice your pronunciation, and hear how real Israelis converse. In closing, we wish you luck in romance, and hope you fall in love with Hebrew…and maybe even with a Hebrew speaker, too!

If you enjoyed our lesson, make sure to continue exploring all that HebrewPod101.com has to offer!

Are there any love phrases we didn’t mention in this article that you want the Hebrew translation for? Let us know in the comments and we’ll get back to you!

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Negation in Hebrew: How to Say No Like a Pro

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Expressing negation is a crucial skill in any language. Not only do we need to know the right word(s) to say in order to make logical negative sentences, but we also need to understand which forms are appropriate in which cases. Unlike some cultures, which seemingly struggle with saying no, Israelis are (as in all other spheres of communication) quite direct when expressing things like disinterest, the lack of something, or the inability to do something. While Hebrew negation may sound abrasive to the untrained ear, the fact is that there’s an art to it all, and a nuanced one at that. Today’s lesson will prime you to say no like a pro as we look at all facets of Hebrew negation.

The first thing to understand is that Israelis tend to be more frank than what Westerners may be accustomed to, with fewer niceties of conversation, less small talk, and less beating around the bush. When a situation arises in which someone wishes to express a negative, they’ll typically do so in the most direct and efficient way possible. The other person will generally not take any offense at such directness, as this is simply the nature of Hebrew.

That being said, you also don’t want to find yourself inadvertently exaggerating your directness. That’s why we’re going to look at different ways to express negation in Hebrew—including more formal ones—along with contextual examples to demonstrate their correct usage. Finally, we’ll look at some of the top words and phrases that you can use to say no in Hebrew.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Negative Statements
  2. Negative Imperatives
  3. Answering Questions with Negation
  4. Other Words and Phrases for Negation
  5. Don’t Be Afraid to Learn Hebrew – HebrewPod101 Has Always Got Your Back!

1. Negative Statements

The most basic thing we need to know is how to formulate simple negative statements. The great thing is that, by and large, you’ll only need to know one word: לא (lo). This word, meaning “no,” is your go-to for all things negative, though it can also take the function of other negative English words and phrases, such as “don’t” or “won’t.” 

Let’s begin by having a look at how לא works in context by comparing positive and negative statements, with לא being the only distinction between them. Note that the word לא comes after the subject and before the word or phrase it negates.

A- Use of the word לא (lo) – “no” /Japan road sign 302.svg

No Sign with Guy Holding Up Hand
  1. אני סטודנטית.
    Ani studentit.
    “I’m a student.”
  1. אני לא סטודנטית.
    Ani lo studentit.
    “I’m not a student.”
  1. אני רעב.
    Ani ra’ev.
    “I’m hungry.”
  1. אני לא רעב.
    Ani lo ra’ev.
    “I’m not hungry.”
  1. אני רוצה לראות סרט.
    Ani rotzeh lir’ot seret.
    “I want to see a movie.”
  1. אני לא רוצה לראות סרט.
    Ani lo rotzeh lir’ot seret.
    “I don’t want to see a movie.”
  1. ההורים שלי גרים בישראל.
    Ha-horim sheli garim be-Yisrael.
    “My parents live in Israel.”
  1. ההורים שלי לא גרים בישראל.
    Ha-horim sheli lo garim be-Yisrael.
    “My parents don’t live in Israel.”

B- Use of the word אין (eyn) – “no” / “there is no” / “there are no”

Woman Holding Hands Palms Up

The word אין (eyn) can also be used for simple negation. It means the opposite of יש (yesh), meaning “there is” or “there are,” which can also take the place of the English verb “have,” for which there’s no Hebrew equivalent. אין (eyn) is chiefly used to describe the lack of something. Here are some examples:

  1. יש מבחן מחר.
    Yesh mivkhan makhar.
    “There’s a test tomorrow.”

    אין מבחן מחר.
    Eyn mivkhan makhar.
    There’s no test tomorrow.”

  1. יש לי אחים.
    Yesh li akhim.
    “I have siblings.”

    אין לי אחים.
    Eyn li akhim.
    “I don’t have siblings.”

  1. יש לי זמן לדבר מחר.
    Yesh li zman ledaber makhar.
    “I have time to speak tomorrow.”
  1. אין לי זמן לדבר מחר.
    Eyn li zman ledaber makhar.
    “I do not have time to speak tomorrow.”

אין can also be used as an alternative to לא in negating nouns/nominal phrases or verbs/verbal phrases. However, unlike לא, which is used without any morphological changes (i.e. changes to the form of the word itself), אין must be conjugated to fit the subject’s gender and number, as demonstrated in the examples below.

Additionally, אין is generally considered a bit more formal. For example, you may encounter this word on signs warning of things not to be done in a given place, or in instruction manuals advising users on improper use of a product. 

  1. אבא שלי דתי.
    Abba sheli dati.
    “My father is religious.”
  1. אבא שלי אינו דתי.
    Abba sheli eyno dati.
    “My father is not religious.”
  1. אמא שלי אוהבת אוכל חריף.
    Imma sheli ohevet okhel kharif.
    “My mother likes spicy food.”
  1. אמא שלי אינה אוהבת אוכל חריף.
    Imma sheli eynah ohevet okhel kharif.
    “My mother does not like spicy food.”
  1. אני רעב.
    Ani ra’ev.
    “I am hungry.”
  1. אינני רעב.
    Eyneni ra’ev.
    “I am not hungry.”
  1. אתה מורשה להשתמש בציוד משרדי לשימוש עצמי.
    Atah mursheh lehishtamesh be-tziyud misradi le-shimush atzmi.
    “You are authorized to use office supplies for personal use.”
  1. אינך מורשה להשתמש בציוד משרדי לשימוש עצמי.
    Eynkha mursheh lehishtamesh be-tziyud misradi le-shimush atzmi.
    “You are not authorized to use office supplies for personal use.”
  1. את מוסמכת להפעיל את כלי הרכב הזה.
    At musmekhet lehaf’il et kli ha-rekhev ha-zeh.
    “You are authorized to operate this vehicle.”
  1. אינך מוסמכת להפעיל את כלי הרכב הזה.
    Eynekh musmekhet lehaf’il et kli ha-rekhev ha-zeh.
    “You are not authorized to operate this vehicle.”
  1. הרופא נמצא כעת.
    Ha-rofe nimtza ka-’et.
    “The doctor is currently in.”
  1. הרופא אינו/איננו נמצא כעת.
    Ha-rofe eyno/eynenu nimtza ka-’et.
    “The doctor is not currently in.”
  1. אחותי מעוניינת בפוליטיקה.
    Akhoti me’unyenet ba-politikah.
    “My sister is interested in politics.”
  1. אחותי אינה/איננה מעוניינת בפוליטיקה.
    Akhoti eynah/eynenah me’unyenet ba-politikah.
    “My sister is not interested in politics.”
  1. אתם רצויים כאן.
    Atem retzuyim kan.
    “You are wanted here.”
  1. אינכם רצויים כאן.
    Eynkhem retzuyim kan.
    “You are not wanted here.”
  1. אתן נמצאות ברשימת המוזמנים.
    Aten nimtza’ot bi-r’shimat ha-muzmanim.
    “You are on the guest list.”
  1. אינכן נמצאות ברשימת המוזמנים.
    Eynkhen nimtza’ot bi-r’shimat ha-muzmanim.
    “You are not on the guest list.”
  1. קרובי המשפחה רשאים להיכנס לחדר בלי ציוד מגן אישי.
    Krovey ha-mishpakhah rasha’im lehikanes la-kheder bli tziyud magel ishi.
    “Relatives are allowed to enter the room without PPE.”
  1. קרובי המשפחה אינם רשאים להיכנס לחדר בלי ציוד מגן אישי.
    Krovey ha-mishpakhah eynam rasha’im lehikanes la-kheder bli tziyud magel ishi.
    “Relatives are not allowed to enter the room without PPE.”
  1. העובדות יודעות איך התחילה השריפה.
    Ha-ovdot yod’ot eykh hitkhilah ha-s’reyfah.
    “The employees know how the fire started.”
  1. העובדות אינן יודעות איך התחילה השריפה.
    Ha-ovdot eynan yod’ot eykh hitkhilah ha-s’reyfah.
    “The employees do not know how the fire started.”

2. Negative Imperatives

No Written on Hand

Sometimes we want to tell people what they should or must do, and sometimes we want to tell them what not to do. This is when negative imperatives come in handy. In Hebrew, negative imperatives are formed with just one word: אל (al) – “do not.” Just be aware that, as in English, speaking to someone in the imperative voice should be reserved for situations of urgency, as it’s a highly direct form of speech, particularly when you’re essentially ordering someone not to do something. 

Here are some examples of negative imperatives in Hebrew:

  1. אל תרוץ בתוך הבית.
    Al tarutz betokh ha-bayit.
    Don’t run inside the house.”
  1. אל תאכלו באוטובוס.
    Al tokhlu ba-otobus.
    Don’t eat on the bus.”
  1. אל תסעי לשם לבד.
    Al tis’i le-sham levad.
    Don’t go there alone.”
  1. אל תפחדו, זה לא נחש ארסי.
    Al tifkhadu, zeh lo nakhash arsi.
    Don’t worry, that’s not a poisonous snake.”
  1. אל תסתכל בקנקן אלא במה שיש בו.
    Al tistakel ba-kankan ela mah she-yesh bo.
    Don’t look at the jug, but at its contents.” (This is a saying equivalent to English’s, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”)

3. Answering Questions with Negation

Woman Making Iffy Face

Now let’s have a look at how we can answer questions with negative answers. As in most languages, there are a number of ways to do this in Hebrew, including with לא and אין. For the purposes of this lesson, we’ll look at the most common forms to answer questions with negation, though there are obviously others. We’ll illustrate these through a few short exchanges demonstrating negative answers to various questions.

  1. -יש לך 20 שקל במקרה?
    -Yesh lekha esrim shekel be-mikreh?
    -“Do you have 20 shekels by any chance?”

    אין עליי כלום.
    -Eyn alay klum.
    -“I don’t have a thing on me.”

*Note that Hebrew uses double negatives, so the above sentence literally translates to: “I don’t have nothing on me.”

  1. -את רוצה לנסוע לצפון בחגים?
    -At rotzah linso’a la-Tzafon ba-khagim?
    -“Do you want to travel to the North over the holidays?”

    לא, אני לא רוצה.
    Lo, ani lo rotzah.
    -“No, I don’t.”

  1. -אתה מעוניין להצטרף אלינו למסיבה?
    -Atah me’unyan lehitztaref eleynu la-mesibah?
    -“Are you interested in joining us at the party?”

    -אני מעדיף שלא.
    -Ani ma’adif she-lo.
    -“I’d prefer not to.”

  1. -את חושבת שתסיימי את הפרוייקט השבוע?
    -At khoshevet she-tisaymi et ha-proyect ha-shavu’a?
    -“Do you think you’ll finish the project this week?”

    לא נראה לי.
    Lo nir’ah li.
    -“I don’t think so.”

  1. -לדעתך ירד גשם היום?
    -Le-da’atekh yered geshem ha-yom?
    -“Do you think it will rain today?”

    לא חושבת.
    Lo khoshevet.
    -“I don’t think so.”


4. Other Words and Phrases for Negation

Man with Tape Over Mouth

Finally, let’s take a look at some of the more common words and phrases used in the context of negation. There are obviously many more ways of making a sentence or statement negative in Hebrew than what’s provided here, but this list covers the top 10 most commonly used negative expressions.

*Note the use of double negatives in many of the examples below. Though we saw this previously, it bears clarifying that Hebrew uses double negatives, with negative verbs or verbal phrases taking negative objects. This can be confusing for English speakers, as double negatives are not used in correct English, so make sure to pay attention!

  1. כמעט ולא
    Kim’at ve-lo
    “Hardly”

    אני כמעט ולא רואה טלוויזיה.
    Ani kim’at ve-lo ro’eh televiziyah.
    “I hardly watch TV.”

  1. בכלל לא
    Bikhlal lo
    “Not at all”

    הוא בכלל לא רואה משחקי כדורגל.
    Hu bikhlal lo ro’eh miskhakey kaduregel.
    “He doesn’t watch soccer games at all.”

  1. לעולם לא
    Le-’olam lo
    “Never”

    היא לעולם לא יצאה מישראל.
    Hi le-’olam lo yatzah me-Yisrael.
    “She has never been outside of Israel.”

  1. בחיים לא
    Ba-khayim lo
    “Never ever”

    -היית אוכל כריש?
    -Hayita okhel karish?
    -“Would you eat shark?”

    בחיים לא!
    Ba-khayim lo!
    -“Never ever!”

  1. גם לא
    Gam lo
    “Neither” / “Either” / “Nor” / “Or”

    מה שעשיתם זה לא הוגן וגם לא יפה.
    Mah she-’asitem zeh lo hogen ve-gam lo yafeh.
    “What you did was not fair, nor was it nice.”

  1. אין מצב
    Eyn matzav
    “No way”

    אין מצב שאתם עושים מסיבה בלי להזמין אותי.
    Eyn matzav she-atem ‘osim mesibah b’li lehazmin oti.
    “There’s no way you guys are having a party without inviting me.”

  1. אף אחד
    Af ekhad
    “No one”

    אף אחד לא שאל אותך!
    Af ekhad lo sha’al otkha!
    No one asked you!”

  1. אף פעם
    Af pa’am
    “Never” / “Not once”

    אף פעם לא מאוחר להתפייס.
    Af pa’am lo me’ukhar lehitpayes.
    “It’s never too late to make up.”

  1. כלום
    Klum
    “Nothing” / “Anything”

    מחר אנחנו לא עושים כלום.
    Makhar anakhnu lo ‘osim klum.
    “We’re not doing anything tomorrow.”

  1. שום דבר
    Shum davar
    “Nothing at all” / “Not a thing”

    שום דבר לא יכול לעצור בן אדם בעל רצון.
    Shum davar lo yakhol la’atzor ben adam ba’al ratzon.
    “There’s not a thing that can stop a motivated person.”


5. Don’t Be Afraid to Learn Hebrew – HebrewPod101 Has Always Got Your Back!

We hope you found today’s lesson useful. Even though our focus was on negation, we truly hope you had a positive learning experience. Our goal at HebrewPod101 is always to make sure you receive quality lessons that are informative, interesting, and clear. If there’s anything else you’d like to know about Hebrew negation, please get in touch with us, and one of our expert Hebrew teachers will be happy to respond!

Remember that with broad topics like negation, it’s best not to bite off more than you can chew and digest at any one time. For that reason, we recommend learning and practicing a few small language chunks at a time, rather than attempting to assimilate an entire lesson in one sitting. Practice these words and phrases a little bit at a time, and you’ll see that they’ll start to sink in before you know it!

Until next time, shalom!

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Why learn Hebrew? 10 reasons to start learning today.

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With all the languages you could possibly study, you may be wondering, “Why learn Hebrew?” 

And that’s a fair question. 

As you probably already know, Hebrew doesn’t even come close to being one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, nor is it spoken as an official language in anyplace other than Israel. Nevertheless, Hebrew is unique among the languages, and there’s no shortage of solid reasons to study it.

Whether you’re interested in one of the world’s oldest languages (and cultures), want to become involved in one of the world’s most vibrant economies, wish to visit a country where numerous events crucial to Western culture took place, or simply want to partake in what is likely the most miraculous linguistic experiment the world has ever seen, Hebrew is the language for you! 

In today’s lesson, we’ll have a look at the top 10 reasons to study Hebrew.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Hebrew and the Land of Israel
  2. Personal Benefits of Learning Hebrew
  3. Additional Benefits of Learning Hebrew
  4. Now that you have so many reasons to learn Hebrew, let HebrewPod101 help you achieve your goals.

1. Hebrew and the Land of Israel

Map of Israel with Flag

Hebrew is directly linked to the Jewish People—often referred to, in fact, as Hebrews—and likewise to the land of Israel. In fact, the word originates as a descriptor for Abram’s (later Abraham) lineage, as his family is described as coming from the East, over the Jordan River. The word לעבור (la’avor) means “to cross (over),” and Abram is described as עברי (‘Ivri), derived from this same root apparently by way of describing him as being from “across” the river. This same word gives us our English word “Hebrew.” 

Now, let’s have a look at some of the unique cultural and historical elements of Hebrew that make it a compelling choice when picking a language to study.

1- Hebrew is over 3,000 years old.

Western Wall

Hebrew is no spring chicken. The earliest records of Paleo-Hebrew—the earliest known form of the language—date back to the tenth century BCE, making Hebrew over 3,000 years old! 

Belonging to the Canaanite language group, a branch of the Northwest Semitic language family, Hebrew is the traditional language of the Hebrew people who share its name, most notably the Jews, who are descendants of the Hebrew Kingdom of Judah (as opposed to the so-called Lost Tribes of the Kingdom of Israel, though both kingdoms spoke Hebrew). In ancient times, the peak of Hebrew use lasted from around 1200 to the Babylonian Exile of 586 BCE, though the language continued in use for some time later, alongside Aramaic.

By Late antiquity, Hebrew was extinct as a spoken language, but continued to be used by Jews mostly for liturgical, exegetical, and holy literary purposes. It was not widely spoken again until the late nineteenth century, when Zionist efforts to revive the language miraculously succeeded even after almost two millenia of disuse as a spoken tongue. It’s now Israel’s official language, and spoken by over 9 million people worldwide. By learning Hebrew, then, you’re taking part in an ongoing three-millennia linguistic journey!

2- Hebrew is the language of the Bible.

Torah Scroll

Hebrew is the language of the entire Hebrew Bible (known by Christians as the Old Testament), with the sole exceptions of the Books of Daniel and Ezra, which are in Aramaic. Unarguably considered cornerstones of Western culture, the Hebrew Bible offers endless riches of poetry, philosophy, and history. Of course, the Hebrew found in the Bible differs vastly from Modern Hebrew, the dialect of the language spoken today. Nevertheless, just as anyone with knowledge of Modern English can at least get the gist of much of Shakespeare, anyone with basic Modern Hebrew knowledge will be able to understand a surprising amount of Hebrew Scripture.

What’s more, the Hebrew Bible has lent quite a lot of material to English, as well as to many other languages. This includes names like Jonathan (יונתן, Yonatan) and Rebecca (רבקה, Rivkah) and words like “jubilee” (from יובל, yovel, “fallow year”) and “behemoth” (from בהמה, behemah, “beast”). You can find more about these words here. 

By learning Hebrew, you can deepen your connection to the Bible and everything that has come out of it.

3- Hebrew is the language of Judaism.

Menorah

Just as Hebrew itself is a link to the ancient world, the Jewish people whose language it is are one of the world’s oldest and most interesting ethnoreligious groups. Originally from Israel and the Levant in general, Jews traced one of human history’s most extensive migrations over the course of some two millennia. Reaching all corners of the earth, from Shanghai to Sydney, Los Angeles to Lima, and Odessa to Capetown, Jews have contributed to and participated in world culture to an extent highly disproportionate to their numbers.

Thanks to a culture that stresses family ties, education, hard work, social justice, and other positive values, Judaism has managed not only to survive endless instances of persecution, oppression, and genocide, but to thrive in any society where they’ve lived. 

By learning Hebrew, then, you’re tapping into one of the world’s great cultural success stories, right down to the miracle of the modern State of Israel, founded in 1948 by Jews returned to their historical homeland after almost 2,000 years of wandering in the Diaspora. By learning Hebrew, you can strengthen your understanding of Judaism, one of the world’s great cultures.

4- Hebrew is the only language to have been successfully revived after almost two millennia of disuse as a spoken language.

Israeli Flag in Speech Bubble

As mentioned, Hebrew fell into disuse as a spoken language beginning after the Babylonian Exile of 586 BCE. As Aramaic rose to prominence in the Middle East and Jews elsewhere adopted local languages for their daily communication, Hebrew was eventually relegated to use only as a written language. Specifically, it was used for writing either prayers or liturgical poetry, or for exegesis of Biblical and other religious works. This situation prevailed until the nineteenth century, when Zionists revived Hebrew as a spoken language.

This revival of Hebrew was spearheaded by Eliezer ben Yehuda, who went so far as to move his family to Israel and force his children to speak only Hebrew—even though no other children at the time did. Ben Yehuda would go on to compile the first Hebrew dictionary and coin a profusion of words, many of which are still in use today.

In order to comprehend the significance of the efforts by Ben Yehuda and his fellow Zionists, it’s important to realize that due to its disue over such an extended period of time, Hebrew lacked a vast amount of vocabulary for describing the various aspects of modern life. Through a concerted scholarly and linguistic effort, the Zionists would devise new words, generally based on Hebrew or other Semitic languages (such as Aramaic and Arabic), though they also drew on Latin, English, Russian, French, German, and other sources, as well.

Within a relatively short span of time, Hebrew schools were established, as well as the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Hebrew jargon was established for every field imaginable. Today, less than 200 years after the first attempts to revive it, Hebrew is spoken by over 9 million people! So, by learning Hebrew, you’re also taking part in perhaps the world’s greatest and most successful literary experiment!

2. Personal Benefits of Learning Hebrew

Apart from the cultural and historical elements that make Hebrew so unique, there are also great personal benefits to studying Hebrew. As the modern State of Israel represents one of the world’s most vibrant economies and one of its cultural powerhouses, Hebrew gives you a direct “in” to one of the most interesting and productive societies in the modern world. Within this context, here are a few more specific reasons why you should learn Hebrew. 

5- Hebrew gives you access to some of the best music, movies, and TV in the world.

Girl with Headphones On

Jews the world over are associated with the media, whether in terms of big-name producers and directors, or the many talented actors, musicians, and other entertainers who pertain to the Hebrew race. While Jews are quite prominent in English-language film, TV, stage, and music productions, Israel has its own highly productive media scene.

In fact, especially in the Netflix age, many Israeli productions have infiltrated the international scene, with Fauda and Unorthodox being just a couple of the more recent examples. In terms of music, Israel has produced prominent figures in just about every genre, from popstars David Broza and Dana International to classical legends like Itzhak Perlman and Gil Shaham—there’s even a vibrant electronic music scene represented by the likes of Infected Mushroom and Astral Projection.

By learning Hebrew, you can enjoy great Hebrew-language movies, TV shows, and music, not to mention the vast expanse of Hebrew literature stretching from antiquity to modern times. In fact, Israel has the world’s second highest per capita of new books published.

6- Hebrew is rare enough to be used as a secret code.

Passing Note Under Desk

As noted, Hebrew is spoken by around 9 million people, 7 million of whom speak it as their native tongue. Compared with English’s 1.5 billion speakers worldwide (350 million of whom are native speakers) or even, say, German’s roughly 200 million speakers worldwide (90-95 million of whom are native speakers), Hebrew’s numbers are miniscule. 

That being the case, learning it is something akin to joining an exclusive club. Since you can be fairly certain that just about anyone who isn’t Israeli or Jewish is unlikely to understand Hebrew, it makes for a good language when attempting to keep conversations secret. Just make sure there aren’t any inconspicuous Israelis around—Israelis can be found all across the globe!

7- Learning Hebrew means you get to acquire an entirely new alphabet, and one that’s written from right to left.

Man Writing on Chalkboard

As an extension of the previous point, Hebrew even uses its very own alphabet. Because it’s so old that it developed before paper, Hebrew (like Arabic and Farsi) is written from right to left. This is because it was originally chiselled into stone, and, most people being right-handed, it was easier to hold the hammer with the right hand and the chisel with the left. Thus, it was easier to maneuver the writing from right to left. 

Moreover, Hebrew uses a stylized Aramaic script, sometimes known as Assyrian script, entirely different from the Latinate alphabet. Originally, Hebrew was a pictographic language, later becoming abstract while still roughly maintaining the representative shapes of earlier alphabets. At the time of the Babylonian exile, however, Jews adopted the block script they encountered in use throughout the Babylonian empire, with its fancy block letters.

By learning Hebrew, you’re learning not only a new language but also an entirely new writing system. To make things even more interesting, Hebrew employs one script for print and another for handwriting, so you’re really in for a challenge. But that’s all part of the fun!

3. Additional Benefits of Learning Hebrew

Israel is unique in many ways, which means that Hebrew has no small number of unique advantages compared to other languages. For example, as an international mover and shaker in terms of both economics and academics, Israel is a great place for doing business or furthering your studies. Israel is also the only nation in the world that drafts its entire population, men and women, into the military for service, so you can expect to meet interesting people with rich life experiences.

Though plenty of dealings get done in Israel in English and other international languages, there’s no doubt that diving in and learning Hebrew will afford you a huge advantage if you have any educational, business, or other dealings with Israel or Israelis. 

Let’s take a look at three additional benefits of learning Hebrew.

8- Hebrew allows you to tap into one of the most vibrant economies and business climates in the world.

Shekels

By learning Hebrew, you’re opening yourself up to a world of opportunities. In fact, Israel was ranked third for innovation out of 137 countries in the 2017-2018 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, and it consistently ranks high in the annual Bloomberg Global Innovation Index. 

Israel also has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any country other than the United States and China, and it’s ranked #2 in the world for venture capital funds. As if that fails to impress you, there are over 300 multinational companies with research and development centers in Israel, including Coca-Cola, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Intel—a clear sign of the unparalleled research and development prowess of Israeli society. 

With all this in mind, learning Hebrew surely has the potential to open up countless doors for business opportunities.

9- Israel is a country of immigrants, so Hebrew education for non-native speakers is highly developed.

Immigrants disembarking ship

Relative to its size, Israel is the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on Earth. In fact, it has absorbed some 350% of its overall population in the span of 60 years! Because Israel has so much experience with immigrants needing to integrate into Israeli society, it also has a highly developed system for teaching Hebrew to non-native speakers. Throughout Israel, there are אולפנים (ulpanim), or special learning centers where functional Hebrew is taught to immigrants wishing to study, work, and live in the country.

Apart from a wealth of educational materials to this end, including a Hebrew-language newspaper that uses simplified language to encourage immigrants to read the news in Hebrew, Israelis are also great at helping non-native speakers improve their Hebrew. They’re generally both aware of the common difficulties non-native speakers face and eager to help them overcome these challenges. And in general, you’ll find that Israelis are likely to meet you halfway even if you can’t find exactly the Hebrew word you’re looking for. 

10- Israelis make wonderful friends.

Friends Giving High Five

On the same note, Israelis represent a unique cultural community, and one that you won’t be disappointed with should you choose to foray into it. With mandatory military service, a country that’s only 77 years old but a nation that’s over 3,000 years old, and a culture that’s unique while also comprising elements from all across the globe, Israelis are quite unlike any other people. By learning Hebrew, you’ll be able to get to know and befriend some of the most interesting folks around. Moreover, Israelis are highly gregarious, so befriending one often leads to meeting more. Don’t be surprised if Israelis readily invite you to a party or even to their home, as this happens often.

In short, by learning Hebrew, you’ll open yourself up to a new and special social circle!

4. Now that you have so many reasons to learn Hebrew, let HebrewPod101 help you achieve your goals.

In this article, we discussed why to learn Hebrew when there are so many other options. We hope you’ve found today’s lesson interesting, and that at least some of the reasons we provided were compelling enough for you to follow through with your plans to study Hebrew. 

HebrewPod101 is committed to offering high-quality lessons in both audiovisual and print format, covering both the mechanics of the Hebrew language and the culture surrounding it.

We invite you to take a look at our broad pool of learning resources that will help you with every step along the way as you study the Hebrew language. You’ll find general lessons on grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, as well as lessons categorized by topic or situation (such as Hebrew for expressing anger and Hebrew for talking about food).

As always, if there’s any topic you don’t find covered on our website, or if you find yourself with questions that a particular lesson didn’t address, we’re always looking for feedback from our users. So don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We’re always improving to ensure that you have a fun, rewarding, and enriching experience studying Hebrew.

Until next time, Shalom!

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How Long Does it Take to Learn Hebrew?

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How long does it take to learn Hebrew? This is an altogether common question for people interested in picking up this ancient, vibrant, and wholly unique language. 

No two students are alike, so the answer to this question will vary based on who you are and how you go about studying. For example, if you already know how to read the Hebrew alphabet, you’ll surely progress much faster than someone starting from scratch. Or if you’re able to do immersion learning in Israel, you’ll likely progress more quickly than someone learning in a place where they can’t engage with Hebrew day and night.

Of course, motivation is one of the most central factors in determining how fast you progress with a language. For instance, if you’re learning Hebrew in order to land a new business contract—or better yet, to impress a girl or guy you met at a party—you’ll likely find yourself progressing at a faster clip than someone who, say, has to learn Hebrew because their parents think it’s important for them to be able to read prayers or the Torah.

In any case, today we’ll be looking at:

  • Factors that can influence your learning speed
  • The essential skills you’ll need to reach the beginner, intermediate, and advanced Hebrew proficiency levels
  • Some helpful tips on how to learn Hebrew fast

We’ll also talk about how long you can expect it to take you to reach each of these levels, though the numbers can vary quite a bit from one language learner to the next. Without further ado, let’s have a look at how long it takes to learn Hebrew.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Factors That Can Influence Your Learning Speed
  2. Beginner Level
  3. Intermediate Level
  4. Advanced Level
  5. Top 10 Tips to Help You Learn Hebrew Faster
  6. Let HebrewPod101 Get You on the Fast Track to Hebrew Learning

Factors That Can Influence Your Learning Speed

Car Going Over Speed Bump

Before we look at each level and what it entails, let’s look at some more general factors that are likely to influence your learning speed.

Motivation

As mentioned previously, your motivation level is going to be reflected in the speed at which you progress with your Hebrew studies. Generally speaking, an intrinsically motivated student, meaning someone who is learning Hebrew out of his or her own personal choice, is going to find it much easier to advance. This is because there’s a lot of satisfaction to be found in achieving something you set your mind to. Plus, you’re typically going to be able to use Hebrew for a specific goal, which can be very gratifying, indeed.

Chances are, if you’re reading this lesson, you already have some reason for wanting to improve your Hebrew. But even if that isn’t the case, try to set your eyes on smaller goals that you can keep at the front of your mind as you study. This will help keep you motivated as you progress through your stated goals and feel that sense of accomplishment. For example, you may want to be able to sing along with a Hebrew song you like or to read Hebrew without nikkud. Keep your goals realistic for your current level, rather than overshooting it!

Your language(s) going in

Language Books

One thing that’s going to make a huge difference in terms of how fast you progress with Hebrew is the language(s) you speak going in. Because Hebrew is a member of the Semitic language family, you’ll be more comfortable with the way Hebrew works if you speak any Arabic or Farsi, for example. This is because these languages share common traits (such as being read and written right to left) and comparable grammar logic. 

English speakers are unlikely to find any foothold here, as they would with Germanic or Romance languages. Hebrew is altogether distinct from these language families and really bears no resemblance to English (other than all the loanwords it has from English, Latin, and other international languages). You may well recognize individual words, but don’t expect this to get you too far. At the end of the day, you just have to accept that the Hebrew language has its own separate character, rules, and approach to expressing the world.

Your linguistic abilities and experience in general

Another key factor is any prior experience you have with languages. For example, if you grew up bilingual or polyglot, you’ll likely have a leg up on someone who is monolingual—even if none of the languages you know are Semitic! This is partly due to something known as “tolerance for ambiguity,” a term that refers to a language learner’s willingness to accept and assimilate language features that differ from what s/he knows from her/his native tongue(s).

Moreover, if you’ve ever studied a language before, whether Hebrew or any other language foreign to you, your prior experience is likely to have some bearing on how you approach your Hebrew learning. For example, if you had good language teachers in school who inculcated healthy learning habits and gave you an overall positive language learning experience, you’re likely to have an easier time taking up a new language. On the other hand, if you had lousy teachers, you may be somewhat traumatized from these experiences and need to develop new habits and a new attitude toward language learning.

How and where you’re studying

Woman Studying from Books

As we said in the introduction, immersion studying is always going to be ideal, but it may not be a possibility for everyone who wants to learn Hebrew. If you can find a way to spend time in Israel, you’ll be able to benefit from constant exposure to the Hebrew language through interactions with other people, listening to the news, watching TV, etc., all in Hebrew. However, if you can’t physically go to Israel, try your best to boost your exposure to Hebrew by taking advantage of the wealth of media available online. For example, you can check out Hebrew-language Netflix series, Hebrew songs on YouTube, and even Hebrew-language forums.

Apart from location, it will be beneficial to have some sort of structure to your learning. This will help to ensure that you progress in a linear fashion, building your knowledge successively and acquiring all the skills you need in one level before running ahead to a more advanced one. It will also prevent you from feeling like you’re drowning in an overwhelming sea of information, without knowing how to progress.

It’s always a good idea to vary your learning, as well. We recommend using a mix of serious and fun learning materials (for example, grammar lessons vs. lessons on slang), as well as giving all four language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) equal attention. Of course, there are some situations where you may need to hone only one or two skills. For example, in an academic setting, you may only need to be able to read Hebrew (and not produce it). Or maybe you simply want to learn conversational Hebrew and have little interest in learning to read it. In such cases, you may want to focus only on the necessities.

Beginner Level

The beginner level is just what it sounds like. This level describes someone who is in the initial phases of acquiring the Hebrew language. 

The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) groups world languages into four different categories, with Category I languages being the most similar to English and Category IV languages being the least similar. They have ranked Hebrew as a Category III language, meaning it has significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English. Languages in this category are estimated to require 44 weeks (or 1100 hours) in order to reach “General Professional Proficiency” in speaking and reading. This would be equivalent to Intermediate Level on HebrewPod101.com.

Extrapolating based on this projection, the average time it takes to reach the beginner level might be something like 22 weeks (or 550 hours), if we assume that the beginner level is halfway to the intermediate level. 

At the beginner level, the assumption is that you’re building up a lot of passive knowledge, but obviously with the goal of being able to apply it and produce language (i.e. speak or write) more and more as you progress.

Wondering how to learn Hebrew from scratch? Here’s a list of skills and abilities you’ll want to master as a beginner:

The alphabet – אלפבית (alefbeyt)

Hebrew Book

As Hebrew does not use the Latin alphabet, you’ll need to learn to read the 22 characters of the Hebrew alphabet. To make things more complicated, Hebrew is an abjad, meaning that vowels are not letters but diacritical marks placed above, below, or within the letters, which are all consonants or vowel-bearing placeholders. To make it just a bit more complicated, these diacritical marks, called ניקוד (nikkud), are almost universally omitted from written and printed Hebrew and therefore need to be deduced from context. However, many learning materials include them for the benefit of the student reader. One last complication is that Hebrew uses one script for print and another for handwriting, so you’ll probably want to learn both of these.

Basic verbs

Verbs are action words, so you won’t see much action without them! The good news about Hebrew verbs is that there are only three main tenses—simple past, simple present, and simple future—and there’s no verb “to be” in present tense. The bad news is that there are a whopping seven conjugation patterns to learn.

Male and female forms

One of the aspects of Hebrew that tends to be particularly tricky for speakers of non-gendered languages, such as English, is the fact that Hebrew uses male and female forms for nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verb conjugations.

Talking about yourself

Two women talking

At the beginner level, you’ll learn how to introduce yourself and how to say basic things about yourself, such as where you’re from and what you do.

Saying hello and goodbye

You won’t get very far without these essential skills.

Countries, nationalities, and languages of the world

The beginner level is a great place to learn these, starting with your own country of origin, nationality, and language(s). Once you have those down, you can progress to other countries, nationalities, and languages so that you can also talk about other people in this regard.

Likes and dislikes

Woman Making Face of Displeasure

As a beginner, you should learn to express basic likes and dislikes, as well as things like your hobbies and pastimes.

Food and drink

In Israel, we love food! So, no basic Hebrew-language education would be complete without learning how to discuss food. This includes verbs, nouns, and adjectives for eating, drinking, ordering at a restaurant, etc.

Work and school

You’ll also want to know how to talk about work and school, including the vocabulary for different professions and careers.

Numbers and time

Numbers on Check

Finally, numbers and the related topic of telling time are also essential for the beginner level. Note that Hebrew also has male and female forms for numbers, so you’ll want to master this, as well.

Intermediate Level

As you progress, you’ll move on to the intermediate level, which is where many students feel comfortable staying. At this level, which, as mentioned, might take around 44 weeks (1100 hours), you’ll already be getting much more comfortable holding a basic conversation and generally defending yourself in Hebrew.

Here’s a list of skills and abilities you’ll want to acquire at the intermediate level of Hebrew:

Dealing with travel situations

Because this is an essential skill set that draws on various abilities, you should get to a certain level of comfort when handling travel situations. This includes things like taking a taxi and buying bus tickets, as well as asking for and even giving directions.

Writing simple texts

Icon of Envelope

At this level, you should be able to produce simple texts, such as short text messages and emails or brief descriptions.

Describing things with some detail

Man Talking

At this point, you should also be acquiring sufficient vocabulary. This includes not only nouns and verbs, but also adjectives and adverbs which will permit you to describe experiences, plans, and opinions with some level of detail and precision.

Reading and understanding more complex texts

Books

You should be able to read and comprehend more complex texts such as news items or technical articles in fields you’re familiar with, such as those related to your profession. Much of this, of course, will have to do with vocabulary acquisition.

Have lengthier, more complex conversations

Again, as you progress in your ability to understand speech spoken at native speeds, and as you build up your own ability to speak with fluency, you should be able to engage in more interesting and drawn-out conversations.

Advanced Level

First of all, it should be noted that there really isn’t a limit to the advanced level. While there is a distinction in terms of skills and abilities when compared to the intermediate and beginner levels, you can take the advanced level just about as far as you wish—even to the point of achieving what’s known as near fluency. 

So, how long does it take to learn Hebrew fluently? A conservative estimate might be something like 2 years, though a really motivated and talented student might get there as soon as, say, 18 months.

Here’s a list of skills and abilities that pertain to the advanced level of Hebrew-language study:

Understanding longer and more demanding texts or conversations

As you grow your vocabulary and improve your grasp of things like grammar and syntax, you should be able to fend for yourself even when reading complex texts such as full-length books, opinion pieces, and even poems and song lyrics. You should also be able to engage in lengthy and complex conversations, such as discussing your opinions on politics or talking about technical matters.

Expressing ideas comfortably and in a fluid manner

Woman with Lots of Thought Bubbles

By now, you should feel comfortable expressing most of your thoughts and ideas with fluency, which in the literal sense means that your speech flows, without much stuttering, hesitation, or searching for words.

Effectively using language in social, academic, and professional situations

Your broad vocabulary, improved grammar, and stronger rhetorical abilities should enable you to feel comfortable using language in functional settings, such as at work or school, or in making and getting to know friends…or even that special someone.

Writing well-structured, detailed texts on complex topics

Woman Working on a Written Project

Assuming you’re focusing on writing and not just speaking, you should now be able to write more complex texts, such as essays and full-length letters or emails. You should have a solid grasp of different registers (e.g. formal vs. informal) and when to employ them.

Top 10 Tips to Help You Learn Hebrew Faster

Regardless of your current level or your language learning goals, there are several things you can do to make the most of your study time. Here are our top ten tips for how to learn Hebrew faster!

1. Read both with and without vowels to practice word recognition.

This is obviously going to be more important at the beginner level (and perhaps the intermediate level, to some extent), as the expectation is that by the time you reach the intermediate level, you’ll have become comfortable reading without vowels. That’s why it’s important to start practicing this ability as early as possible.

2. Keep track of vocabulary.

Record new words as you go, using a notebook or even your phone. Also, quiz yourself regularly to make sure you’re retaining this vocabulary.

3. Make sure to talk to native speakers, and ask them to correct you.

Two men in conversation

This is obviously much easier to do if you’re physically in Israel, but even if you’re not, you should do whatever it takes to find some native speakers in your town or online. This way, you can practice speaking Hebrew with someone who can offer you helpful feedback on your use of the language.

4. Watch and listen to plenty of media in Hebrew.

One of the best and most enjoyable ways to improve your Hebrew is to take advantage of the wealth of media available, particularly online, in the Hebrew language. Watch Hebrew TV shows and movies, and listen to Hebrew music as much as you can, especially with subtitles in Hebrew (see below).

5. Study with a partner.

Dancers

This may not be for everyone, but many people find that a study partner can be a great way to get mutual encouragement. It can also help with any anxiety when it comes to speaking. Obviously, it’s always best to try to find someone who is more or less at the same level of proficiency as you are.

6. Be willing to make mistakes.

Numerous studies have shown that the most successful language learners are those who go easy on themselves. Making mistakes is part and parcel of learning languages, so don’t just allow for this—expect it. Learn to laugh at yourself when you make a silly mistake, rather than getting caught up on it.

7. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions.

Question Marks and Light Bulb

According to a Hebrew proverb, a bashful person makes for a poor student, and a strict person makes for a bad teacher. Part of any successful learning endeavor is a sense of comfort about asking questions whenever you’re in doubt. So when in doubt, ask someone for help!

8. Practice pronunciation in front of the mirror.

Woman in front of mirror

This will probably feel funny at first, but by actually watching what your mouth is doing when you speak, you have a better chance of honing in on the mechanics of producing the right sounds to approximate native-sounding Hebrew. In the same vein, pay attention to what you see Israelis’ mouths doing when they make any sounds you’re having difficulty with, and do your best to mimic them when you practice.

9. Do karaoke in Hebrew.

This one’s a no-brainer. Not only is it fun to let loose in front of the karaoke screen, but actually singing a song to beat is a great way of drumming language into your head—literally.

10. Use subtitles to help connect words to sound.

Popcorn and Remote

Subtitles are your friend. They’re a fantastic tool for working on anything, from expanding your vocabulary to recognizing words without vowels to picking up on grammar and syntax structures. 

As a beginner, you’ll likely need subtitles in your native language, but as you progress, you can use subtitles in a more challenging way. An intermediate student, for example, can pick up a lot of new words by watching TV or movies in his/her native tongue, with Hebrew subtitles to accompany it. As you advance, however, challenge yourself to watch Hebrew-language TV shows and movies with Hebrew subtitles. This can go a long way toward helping you connect the physical appearance of words with the sounds they make.

Let HebrewPod101 Get You on the Fast Track to Hebrew Learning

As you can see, there are many components to tackle in mastering the Hebrew language. We at HebrewPod101 are proud to offer you a broad array of learning materials to ensure that you learn comfortably and at as fast a pace as you desire.

Whether you prefer audio lessons or written ones like this one, our library of materials is diverse and designed with the optimal student experience in mind. In addition to our learning materials, we also offer numerous lessons addressing tips and techniques to make your learning more efficient and more enjoyable. 

Is there anything else you’d like to know about the process of learning Hebrew? Feel free to get in touch and let us know.

Until next lesson, shalom!

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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
Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  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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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. 

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  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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