Hebraism [ˈhiːbreɪɪz(ə)m] is a lexical item, usage or trait characteristic of the Hebrew language. By successive extension it is often applied to the Jewish people, their faith, national ideology or culture.
Hebrew has many idiomatic terms that are not easily translatable to other languages, for example בארבע עיניים 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 expression לא דובים ולא יער lo dubim ve lo ya'ar is literally "neither bears nor forest" but means that something is completely false. The saying טמן את ידו בצלחת taman et yado batsalahat "buried his hand in the dish" means that someone idles away his time."
Lexical items deriving from Hebrew
"Hebraism" may also refer to a lexical item with Hebrew etymology, i.e. that (ultimately) derives from Hebrew. For example, the English word stiff-necked, meaning "stubborn", is a calque of Greek σκληροτράχηλος, which is a calque of Hebrew קשה עורף qeshēh ʿōref "hard of neck; stubborn". Similar calques are the way of women (דרך נשים) "menstruation" and flowing with milk and honey (זבת חלב ודבש) "abundance".
Sometimes Hebraisms can be coined using non-Hebrew structure. For example, the Yiddish lexical item ישיבה בחור yeshive bokher, meaning "Yeshivah student", uses a Germanic structure but two Hebrew lexical items.:117
Beyond simple etymology, both spoken and written Hebrew is marked by peculiar linguistic elements that distinguish its semitic roots. This hebraism includes 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. Archived 2007-05-26 at the Wayback Machine
- "Hebraism," Merriam-Webster online.
- Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003), Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403917232 / ISBN 9781403938695 
- 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.
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