Israel – How German Built the Hebrew Language

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    Israel – When an Israeli gets out of bed on a dark morning, she will flick on a light Schalter (switch in English) and wash down a Biss (bite) of toast with a Schluck (sip) of coffee – all Hebrew words that stem from the German language.

    After breakfast, an Israeli driving to work must occasionally using the car’s Winker (from German word Blinker, or indicator) or the Wischer (windscreen wiper) if it rains.

    Many words in Hebrew entered the language through German immigrants who arrived in Israel in the last century.

    Israeli linguist and journalist Ruvik Rosenthal distinguishes between words that originated directly from German and those that found their way into Hebrew from Yiddish, a German dialect once spoken in Jewish ghettos across Central and Eastern Europe.

    “It’s mainly in the worlds of construction, engineering science and architecture that almost all (Hebrew) words have their origins in German,” says 64-year-old Rosenthal, whose own parents came from Germany.

    The vocabulary arrived in Israel particularly during the Fifth Aliyah, or wave of immigrants, in the 1930s when German Jews fled persecution under the Nazis.

    Yiddish developed as a fusion of medieval German dialects with Hebrew, Slavic and other languages, a reflection of the migrating Jewish diaspora. The German words that have filled gaps in Hebrew are a result of the migration of Jews from Europe into what became modern Israel.

    An Israeli who works on a building site may use a Spachtel (German for trowel) or will cover an exterior with Spritz (plaster, literal meaning spray). An Israeli construction worker will use German words such as Isolierband (duct tape), Beton (concrete), Gummi (rubber), Dibel (from the German word Duebel for dowel), Leiste (ledge) and Schieber (slide).

    Many technical terms in Hebrew such as Schnurgerist and Stichmass, however, are not familiar to the majority of native German speakers.

    An Israeli electrician will talk about Erdung and Kurzschluss (grounding and short circuit) but with a strong Hebrew accent. A German would not need a dictionary if visiting a mechanic in Israel as almost every term would be familiar. Even Arab-Israeli mechanics use German words such as Kupplung, Kugellager and Drucklager to refer to car parts.

    German Jews played a major role in the organization of Israel’s educational system, which accounts for the many German words found in Israel’s schools and universities. Small children go to Gan Jeladim (derived from Kindergarten), and students are taught the Spagat (the split) in gymnastics.

    In summer, a child will offer a friend a Leck (lick) of her ice cream, and if she gets her clothes dirty, the girl may hear a Fuyah (derived from Pfui, the German expression for yuck) from her mother.

    Elderly Israelis need an afternoon snooze called a Schlafstunde (sleep hour) to get back in the swing of things (in Schwung) and keep them gesunt (healthy). They may develop a condition that has a German name such as Hexenschuss (a slipped disk) or Plattfuss (flat feet). A doctor will write out a Rezept (prescription) for a minor ailment.

    “Most Israelis are not aware that many Hebrew words are German in origin,” explains Rosenthal. Even the at sign (@) used in email addresses has a German name in Hebrew: Strudel. An Israeli engineer gave the symbol this name in the 1960s because it reminded him of the traditional Viennese Strudel desert.

    Rosenthal, who has drafted several dictionaries that document the German component in modern Hebrew, says that as many as 300 German words are used in everyday speech in Hebrew, aside from the several hundred words that have their origin in Yiddish.

    A century ago, German was so dominant as an international language of science that it almost set off a “war of languages” among Jews living in the former Palestine.

    The German Jewish aid agency Deutscher Juden decided in 1913 to use German as the official language in the first technical high school for Jewish immigrants in Palestine. This sparked a wave of anger among Zionists who considered Hebrew to be the language of the Jewish people in their home country. Pressure from the school’s donors lead to the decision to teach through Hebrew even though the biblical language had a very limited range of technical terms in its vocabulary.

    Even today, visitors to Israel will be hard pressed to avoid the German language’s influence on the country’s streets.

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    25 COMMENTS

    1. “Most Israelis are not aware that many Hebrew words are German in origin,” explains Rosenthal.”

      And most Haaretz writers are not aware of Torah, truth, or facts.

      Visher came from German? Jewish mothers have given a “Vish up” of every little spill and mess for a 1000 years before the car or windshield wiper existed.

      Goomi is copied from German immigrants? Then explain to me how the term appears in Yerushalmi Nazir 7:1, Yer Shabbas 7:2, and Vayikra rabba Chap 15, Rambam Hil Yesodai hatorah 6:6, etc.

      “An Israeli electrician will talk about Erdung….”
      So what was all that about “Haraka” in the electrical section of my Chail Avir training manuals.

      Gesundt, Leck, and Fooy are straight out of yiddish.

      “A German would not need a dictionary if visiting a mechanic in Israel as almost every term would be familiar.”

      Niether would an American. Carbretter, genaratter, brakim, shockim, don’t sound particularly German to me. They sound like Carburator, generator Brakes, and shocks.

      Another useless (am)Haaretz article.

    2. “Winker (from German word Blinker, or indicator)”
      I have never heard this word used before. in israel (i have an israeli license) they call them “Etootim” or “Etoot”. I never heard of winker or vinker or whatever.

    3. typical Israeli…trying to do away with the Yiddish language and culture by attributing the words to German. spoken in the past, in the ghetto? when was the last time this writer visited Yerushalayim or Brooklyn?

    4. oh come off it every israeli that says Why why why totally english! Modern herbrew is not hebrew AT ALL it is just half english half german half arabic. And to all those native up themselves israelis who say u cant live in israel without knowing the language get off ur high horse.

    5. And what is Yiddish but a hybrid of German mixed in with some Hebrew? Moshe rabbeinu did not speak Yiddish, contrary to what some of your rebbis may have taught you.

    6. This article makes perfect sense if you know a little bit about the evolution of modern Hebrew. Ben Yehudah (the father of modern Hebrew) and his ilk had violent reactions to hearing Yiddish spoken. As a matter of fact, there is a story told about the first people who escaped from the Nazi horrors in Europe, one of the survivors spoke for a while describing what was going on and when he finished Ben Gurion got up and said “even though the word spoken in Yiddish grate on our ears ….”.

      These Zionists were more concerned with getting rid of the image of the shtetel yid then with anything else. So it is no surprise that they will try to say that all these words come from German rather that admit that they were not successful in wiping out the Yiddish language.

      • Rabbi Moshe Weinberger from Woodmere told us the following story in High School:

        “Once Ben Yehuda and Ben Gurion were walking together in Israel during a ‘hamsan’, an Israeli heatwave. Ben Gurion said to Ben Yehuda ‘oy, s’iz azoy hais!’, to which Ben Yehuda asked angrily ‘why are you speaking that accursed galut language?’. Ben Gurion answered ‘it’s too hot to speak Ivrit’.”

    7. These are not HEBREW expressions at all they are slang just like sayin Ani rotzeh LFakses otcha I want to fax you or televizia, rahdyo, etc. Everyone knows that teh above mentioned terms are NOT Hebrew

    8. Gummi is German byut originates from gumi arabicum a liquid which comes from the tree but no longer applicable since everything is made from plastic. Schalter is a switch as I knew it as a child. The best Hebrew grammar book was composed by a German non-Jew

    9. The authot forgot to mention that 95% of the Hebrew language originated from what is generally known as “LASHON HAKODESH” which is Hashem’s language. And the rest is English, Yiddish (not German) and some Arabic.

    10. I speak both Yiddish and German, and lived a few years in Eretz Yisroel, and the journalist did a very good job of picking out words that came from German immigrants, as opposed to those that came from Yiddish.

      Gemi in the gemoro is not gummi, but a reed. They are homonyms (sound alike but don’t share meaning).

      However, he is a little wrong on the following:
      Yiddish developed as a fusion of medieval German dialects with Hebrew, Slavic and other languages, a reflection of the migrating Jewish diaspora.

      Yiddish didn’t come from modern German (Hochdeutsch), but is a so called Middle High German dialect, which split off about a thousand years ago.

    11. To my knowledge there are very many words in today’s modern German that originate from Hebrew!
      ganove
      mazal
      schlamazal
      schmiere
      etc.
      these words came in thru yidden living in germany hundreds of years!

    12. Rubber was discovered in the 15th or 16th century by Spanish explorers in South America. The Talmud was completed 1000 years before that. There couldn’t be a word in the Talmaud that meant “rubber” when it was written.

      • Gema IS found in the Talmud, and it is a resin from trees, a gum-like substance. So while you might be correct about *rubber* being discovered later, there WAS a word in the Talmud for a tree resin which they called Gema. Which probably traces its etymology to the same place where the english word “gum” stems from.

    13. Cannot understand what is news here. Firstly, these words are Yiddish and not Hebrew. Everyone knows that the basis of the Yiddish jargon is German, just like the Sephardic jargon of Ladino is Spanish. Since Hebrew the original language of the world did not, of course, have modern words (tech. or otherwise), naturally, many words from German, English, etc. were incorporated into modern Hebrew. Examples:
      Telephon, Televisia and many others. Also, the Romance languages all have the same basis, as you can see many similarities in English, Spanish, Italian, French and even German.

    14. I don’t do any of those things. I ladlika ha menorot to be able to see in the dark. I okelet breakfast and I shotah my coffee.
      ##2 and 6 are right about that being Yiddish which is fine for the descendants of Eastern European Jews. For me, I just prefer to speak Hebrew since I don’t know Ladino and not too many people here do. Hebrew is our national language.

    15. Example how a language gets corrupted : when i came to america,an american jew gave me the following instructions in yiddish ; geh zum corner by sixth avenue dort is a barbershop nem a haircut un mit di change koif a bottle milk. :).

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