June 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

As one who has complete disregard for April Fool’s Day and the pranks that go along with it, I am intrigued by the Yiddish word nahr, fool. Decades ago, during an election year, I recall a Yiddish professor of mine saying the following about one of the candidates: Ehr iz nisht kayn nahr; ehr iz ah groisehr nahr,” “He is no fool; he’s a big fool”. Election year aside, and April Fool’s Day aside, I offer the following examples of usages based on the word nahr.

Bahnahrishn Zich (make a fool of oneself). It was the third century sage Shimon ben Lakish, better known as Reish Lakish, who is credited with the truism, “A man does not commit an indiscretion unless a spirit of foolishness enters him.” Yiddish speakers of old saw that this maxim was most fitting when describing a man committing an indiscretion with a woman who was off limits to him. Euphemistically, they would say Ehr hott zich bahnahrisht,” he made a fool of himself.

Oisnahren (played as a fool). In less than a month’s time, at the Pesach seder, we will we quoting Deuteronomy 26:5, “The Aramean sought to destroy my father…” What is being alluded to is our patriarch Jacob taking up residence with his uncle Laban. It was during that time that Lovven hott oisgenahrt Ya’akov, Laban defrauded Jacob. By having Jacob think that he would be rewarded with Rachel as a wife in exchange for seven years’ work, Laban played Jacob as a fool.

Nahrish (foolish). For those who subscribe to the belief that humans grow gray from worrying, there is a similar aphorism in Yiddish reminding us that a narisher kopp vehrt aymoll nit groy, a foolish head never goes gray. For those of you who are aficionados of the movie “Goodfellas,” the following line was delivered by the FBI agent to Karen Hill (wife of gangster Henry Hill), “Don’t give me the babe in the wood routine!” Had this been a Yiddish movie, the agent would have admonished Mahch zich nisht nahrish,” lit. “Don’t make yourself foolish”.

Oppnahren (deceive). Flight time from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes 90 minutes. Yet, back in the 1960s airlines fleggn oondz oppnahren, would deceive us, and advertise that they could travel between those two major cities in just 45 minutes. Unlike oisnahren, the airlines were not depriving the public of anything other than realistic thinking. Yet, the public fawned over such unrealistic promises because the human mind is taken by grandiose claims. Many an infomercial is predicated upon oppnahren.

Nahrishkeit (foolishness). When it comes to Yiddish admonitions, nahrishkeit seems to be inextricably related to another oft used but seldom adequately translated Yiddish maxim, Hahk mir nisht kayn cheinik mit azah nahrishkeit, on’t drive me crazy with such foolishness. Recently I came across the following maxim Nahrishkeit oon shtoltz vahksen oif ayn holtz,” foolishness and haughtiness grow on one wood/tree.

Suffer the nahrishkeit of this April Fool’s Day. Beware of any plans of oppnahren. Realize that being nahrish seems to be ubiquitous in our society. Never let yourself become a victim of oisnahren. Above all, remember that it takes years for a parent to raise a mentsch, but it takes practically no time at all to bahnahrish zich.


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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