Q&A: What is a biblical Hebrew expression that no one is familiar with – or even knows what it means?

My favourite so far is לֹא אָבָה יַבְּמִי – lo avah yabmi (Deut. 25:9)—meaning ‘He will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother’—which is the official complaint of a childless widow whose brother-in-law refuses to do his fraternal duty of giving her a child after the husband has died.

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Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/7rj642DevKTEgnS48

The expression is unfamiliar because the word yabmi is a conjugation of a curious verb— לִבְּמוֹת libmot — which is awkward to pronounce, not used in other contexts, and even the word for husband’s brother (יבם yavam), is unfamiliar today (in modern Hebrew, it is גיס gis, and can refer to the wife’s brother, as well).

I also love the description of the consequences of such a refusal:

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Q&A: Which English words or phrases have been adopted in Hebrew but do not mean the same thing?

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A beq-eqs.

This is a frequent theme of mine in my Hebrew blog, in which I warn my clients (and other native Hebrew speakers) about the pitfalls of English expression.

One of the oldest—and certainly one of my favourite—examples, which go back decades, if not a century, is the word beq-eqs, which is a corruption of ‘back axle’—i.e. ‘rear axle’. You might think that doesn’t qualify as a loan word with a different meaning—until you discover that the word for ‘front axle’ is—wait for it—front-beq-eqs

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Q&A: Is it best to start with the “alef-bet” when learning Hebrew?

That’s how it’s normally taught at ulpanim (HSL—Hebrew-as a Second Language—schools)—but to my mind, that’s a bit like teaching car mechanics to someone who wants to learn to drive. There’s little point in learning the tools when you don’t know what function each of them serves.

SimHebrewCourse-Logo.pngIn general, when teaching a new subject to someone, one should always teach the problem—then the solution. Not the other way round.

Which is why in my Hebrew teaching classes, we dive straight into whatever material the student really want to engage in in the end:

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Q&A: How are line breaks handled in bidirectional messages containing both English and Hebrew?

This is a very good question, as it relates to one of several unresolved problems in using traditional (‘Square’) Hebrew text in computer environments:

Mixing RTL (right-to-left) text such as Hebrew or Arabic with LTR text such as English usually wreaks havoc on the display order of the text. One reason is the conflict between two competing standards of encoding in Hebrew—Logical, and Visual:

The bi-directional way (logical method) and the visual method. In the logical method characters are stored in the electronic document in the order that a normal person would type, and in the visual method the characters are ordered assuming that the display device will order them left-to-right. In HTML, only the logical method is a real standard.[1]

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Q&A: What is the interpretation of the Song of Solomon verse 5:16? And what does mahmadim mean in Hebrew?

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In this chapter of the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon, as it is sometimes known in English), the woman is describing her lover to her female confidantes. Some of it is rather graphic—but thankfully, the verse you’re asking about is fairly tame:

חִכּוֹ, מַמְתַקִּים, וְכֻלּוֹ, מַחֲמַדִּים; זֶה דוֹדִי וְזֶה רֵעִי, בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם

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Q&A: What are some great nuggets from the Bible that you would miss if you don’t understand Hebrew, ancient idioms, and ancient poetry?

Coincidentally, that is the subject of a book that I’m writing at the moment.

My favourites are verbal expressions by people that sound startlingly modern, almost colloquial. The following are just a few examples, in my own translation (to convey their vernacular flavour to the ears of native Hebrew speakers):

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Q&A: Do the frequent references to iron in the Pentateuch mean that it could not possibly have been written contemporaneously?

Not necessarily.

In our time, for example, we’ve been bandying about the term quantum for decades (e.g. ‘quantum leap’)—although the vast majority of us have only the vaguest idea what that means, and actual quantum devices are only now beginning to appear.

Also, remember that the Israelites had just come out of Egypt, which is one of the few places in the world where they would have encountered iron implements—in construction, in the materiel of the military, etc. Like modern Israel with Soviet materiel in the twentieth century, the ancient Israelites may also have captured iron instruments in battle—they just didn’t know how to produce it, or work it, themselves, until much later.

Last but not least, if indeed, as Jewish tradition has it, Moses himself wrote the Pentateuch, he certainly, as a former Egyptian prince, would have had first-hand knowledge of iron.

But if it’s evidence that the Pentateuch wasn’t written contemporaneously that you want, there’s a much more telling indication…

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