The Unexpected Links between Yiddish and Arabic

Aug. 17 2021

Besides having been spoken by large portions of Jewry for long periods of history, and being the languages of some of the greatest works of Jewish thought and literature, Arabic and Yiddish would seem to have little in common. But Alexander Jabbari points to shared vocabulary, mutual influence, and much else:

Through modern Hebrew, Yiddish words occasionally find their way into Arabic. A notable example in Palestinian Arabic is balagan, meaning “chaos,” borrowed from Hebrew.

While balagan came to Palestinian Arabic through Hebrew, the source of the Hebrew word was likely Yiddish. The word is ultimately from Persian bālākhāna, meaning “upper room” or “chamber.” It passed from Persian into Tatar or another Turkic language and from there entered Russian as balagan, where it came to refer to a temporary wooden structure for circus performances. Because of the circus context, the Russian word also acquired the connotation of “buffoonery.” When borrowed from Russian and put into Yiddish (and Polish), the chaos of the circus setting gave the word the sense of a mess, bedlam, or chaos.

In Ottoman Palestine, and especially in Jerusalem before 1948, it was common for Yiddish-speaking Jews and Arabs to understand each other’s languages, particularly in neighborhoods where the two communities abutted each other. . . . [I]n the 19th century, there were groups of Ashkenazi men in Jerusalem who learned Arabic, both spoken and literary. Arabic words became part of the everyday Yiddish spoken in Palestine—even for terms specific to Judaism, like khalake, a boy’s ritual first haircut, from the Arabic for haircut, ḥalāqa.

Some Arabic vocabulary even made its way into Yiddish through [more] circuitous routes. Take the Yiddish bakaleyne, meaning “grocery store.” Originally an Arabic word, it traveled through a number of other languages before reaching Yiddish. The Arabic baqqāl, meaning greengrocer, was borrowed by Persian, and from there it followed a similar trajectory to balagan, passing through Persian to Russian via a Turkic intermediary.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Newlines

More about: Arabic, Jewish language, Language, Yiddish

 

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela