April 9, 2024
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Father’s Day Yiddish Style

While countless Americans celebrate Father’s Day, perhaps it behooves us to delve into the folk wisdom of our Eastern European ancestry to see what they had to say about fathers. Understandably, as much as this folk wisdom says about our Eastern European ancestry, it says even more about the Eastern European culture responsible for these aphorisms.

“Opplahchen foon tahtten iz azoi vie dinnen ahn oppgott” or “laughing at/making fun of one’s father is akin to idol worship.” Long before television portrayed the father as either the epitome of perfection or the embodiment of idiocy, our Eastern European tradition focused on the father’s position in the family. Respecting the father (and mother), was of such paramount importance in Judaism, that it was included in the Ten Commandments. This first quote, taken from Midrash Tanchuma, insists on filial esteem.

“Oifen tahtten’s ort, zitzt men nit” or “one does not sit in one’s father’s place” (Talmud Kiddushin 31b). A story is told about a troubled wagoner who sought out the advice of his revered rabbi. While other horses ate grass and hay, the wagoner’s horse insisted on eating cholent and kasha varnishkes. The wagoner was beside himself! After hearing the tale of woe from the wagoner, the revered rabbi pondered the problem. “It’s quite simple,” explained the rabbi. “The animal observed that since you make it a point of eating like a horse, it had better start eating like a human.” A healthy society, intimated the revered rabbi, is contingent upon everyone knowing his place and respecting the place and space of others.

“A tatteh hott glezzerneh oigen” or “a father has glazed eyes.” The Talmud (Tamid 32a) asks: “Who is wise”? To which it answers, “He who sees and anticipates the ‘nolad’ viz. the consequences of his behavior.” “Nolad,” however, literally means “the one who came into being” or “the one born to him.” Not every parent is capable of seeing the truth about one’s child. There are those parents who see preconceived notions, rather than accurate assessments of their child. It is as though those parents are peering at their children through glazed eyes.

“A tahtteh’s brocheh braynged doss keend hahtzlocheh” or “a father’s blessing brings the child success.” If there is one thing all children seem to have in common, it is that they seek their parent’s approval and approbation. There is no greater gift that a child can receive than encouragement from a parent. Conversely, there is no greater slight to a child than a parent who is incapable of showing confidence in the child’s ability and unable to delight in the child’s achievements. If a little bit of encouragement goes a long way, then how much more so a tatteh’s brocheh.

I’m sure that many will agree that gone are the days of buying Dad a shirt and tie for Father’s Day. I’m also sure that many will agree that there is an ephemeral quality to today’s Father’s Day gifts of personalized golf balls and whiskey making kits. The most meaningful and lasting Father’s Day gift might very well be the tried, tested and timeless teachings exemplified by those aphorisms that have come down to us from our Eastern European heritage.


Rabbi Shawn Zell has recently returned to New Jersey, after serving at a pulpit in Dallas. He possesses certification in teaching Yiddish. Rabbi Zell is the author of three books.

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