Hebraism is the identification of a usage, trait, or characteristic of the Hebrew language. By successive extension it is often applied to the Jewish people, their faith, national ideology, or culture.
There exist in the Hebrew language numerous idiomatic terms that don't translate easily to more widely used languages. To the extent those broader cultures rely for cultural meaning on Hebrew-language-based scriptures, those idioms sometimes prove puzzling.
Writer David Bivin gives examples of some difficult Hebrew idioms: "be'arba enayim, literally 'with four eyes,' means face to face without the presence of a third person, as in, 'The two men met with four eyes.' [The term] lo dubim ve lo ya'ar is literally '[There are] neither bears nor forest,' but means that something is completely false. And taman et yado batsalahat, 'buried his hand in the dish,' means that someone idles away his time."
The word "hebraism" may also describe a word in another language that has Hebrew etymology. Several common-place phrases in English have Hebrew origins. Some examples are "The way of women," "Flowing with milk and honey," and "stiff-necked."
Beyond simple etymology, both spoken and written Hebrew is marked by peculiar linguistic elements that distinguish its semitic roots. These hebraisms include word order, chiasmus, compound prepositions, and numerous other distinctive features.
Finally, the word "hebraism" describes a quality, character, nature, or method of thought, or system of religion attributed to the Hebrew people. It is in this sense that Matthew Arnold (1869) contrasts Hebraism with Hellenism. Feldman's response to Arnold expands on this usage.
- Bivin, David. "Hebrew Idioms in the Gospels," Jerusalem Perspective Online.
- "Hebraism," Merriam-Webster online.
- Arnold, Matthew. "Hebraism and Hellenism". From Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism.
- Feldman, Louis H., "Hebraism and Hellenism reconsidered," Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, March 1994.