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Hebraism [ˈhiːbreɪz(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.

Idiomatic Hebrew[edit]

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 batsalakhat "buried his hand in the dish" means that someone idles away his time."[1]

Lexical items deriving from Hebrew[edit]

"Hebraism" may also refer to a lexical item with Hebrew etymology, i.e. that (ultimately) derives from Hebrew.[2] 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.[3]: 117 

Distinctive language[edit]

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.

Systematic Hebraisms[edit]

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) contrasted Hebraism with Hellenism,[4] identifying Thomas Carlyle as his age's embodiment of the former.[5] Feldman's response to Arnold expands on this usage.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bivin, David. "Hebrew Idioms in the Gospels," Jerusalem Perspective Online. Archived 2007-05-26 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Hebraism," Merriam-Webster online.
  3. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003), Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403917232 / ISBN 9781403938695 [1]
  4. ^ Arnold, Matthew. "Hebraism and Hellenism". From Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism.
  5. ^ Cumming, Mark, ed. (2004). "Arnold, Matthew". The Carlyle Encyclopedia. Madison and Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780838637920.
  6. ^ Feldman, Louis H., "Hebraism and Hellenism reconsidered," Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, March 1994.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hartz, Louis (2001). The Liberal Tradition in America. Princeton University Press. ISBN 069107447X.