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.

Read more at Newlines

More about: Arabic, Jewish language, Language, Yiddish


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy