Hebrew phrases

Yesterday I received an email telling me that there shouldn’t be Hebrew versions of Merry Christmas and Happy Easter among the Hebrew phrases on my site as,

“the Hebrew language is a holy language” and that “if you say Happy Easter, or Merry Christmas in Hebrew you pretty much burn to death in the spot if you’re a Jew.”.

He also states that,

“Most of the people who will be reading your Hebrew section are either Jewish and will be offended, or will think they can say those things to Jewish people, and they will offend the Jewish people they speak to.”

I’m aware that Jews do not celebrate Christmas or Easter, and that the majority of people who speak Hebrew are Jews. However I understand that there are around 350,000 Hebrew-speaking Christians in Israel [source] who probably do celebrate these festivals and use these phrases – I’ve added a note to the Hebrew phrases page along these lines. I’ve had similar comments about the Somali versions of these phrases.

Do you think that my correspondent is right about this?

10 thoughts on “Hebrew phrases

  1. One cannot possess language, only use it to communicate what ever you choose and to whomsoever you choose. Your correspondent I am sure will freely admit that Latin is not the sole preserve of the Catholic Church. Language thank god is free.

  2. There’s a certain irony to wanting to say Merry Christmas in Hebrew, I suppose – even more so in Yiddish ;-). There are lots of Christians in Israel, who presumably speak Hebrew, although perhaps they would wish each other a Merry Christmas in the language of their church – be it Coptic, Ge’ez, Syriac, Greek or whatever – or in another vernacular. But Israel was founded as a secular state and Modern Hebrew, being synthesised for the express purpose of becoming the official language of the said secular state, must, ergo, be a secular language. Hebrew may once have enjoyed the status of being a solely liturgical language but, for good or ill, that ceased to be the case when modern Hebrew came into being.

    I am Jewish and have never been offended by anyone saying Merry Christmas to me; admittedly, nobody has ever said it to me in Hebrew (I wouldn’t know how, anyway), but if they did, I think I’d be more tickled than offended.

    “if you say Happy Easter, or Merry Christmas in Hebrew you pretty much burn to death in the spot if you’re a Jew.”.

    Well, on the plus side, they probably speak Yiddish at home. Anyway, Simon, I’m assuming you’re not a Jew and I doubt your post is going to incite many Jews to take up wishing each other Merry Christmas in Hebrew.

    Merry Christmas!
    Nadolig Llawen!
    Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus!

    I wonder what language Somali Christians (a very small minority nowadays) wish each other Merry Christmas in.

    P.S. I looked up the Hebrew. The name for Christmas translates as ‘birth festival’, which seems suitably non-comittal to me – no mention of whose birth. It’s a handy way of wishing your Christian neighbours a happy festival without acknowledging any particular religious significance yourself.

  3. So I ran the experiment — I’m Jewish and I just pronounced the Hebrew phrases for Merry Christmas and Happy Easter. Not only did I not burn to death, I didn’t even feel much warmer. Looks like your correspondent is wrong.

    Incidentally, as an Jew (in the United States) I’ve had the pleasure of celebrating Christmas many times, having been invited to friends’ houses and gone to Christmas masses with them. We repay the favor by inviting our goyishe friend to celebrate a Passover seder with us. Simon, please don’t let a crank with an email account spoil the fun we have here. If someone bothered to look up “Merry Christmas” in Hebrew and said it to me I’d get a big kick out of it. I’d probably also explain that it’s more considerate to use “my” holiday in “their” language, i.e. “Happy Hannukah”, than use “their” holiday in “my” language but it would still be fun.

    Merry Christmas,

  4. Several years ago I’ve read in a newspaper that on Christmas, the Pope comes out and says “Merry Christmas” in multiple languages, including Hebrew. However, he speaks (spoke?) not modern but Ashkenazi Hebrew, so he said: “Chag Moilod mevorech”.

    Also, heads up for not succumbing to political correctness. (I say that as a Jew.)

  5. The technical term for your correspondent is That Sanctimonious Jerk Who Makes the Rest of Us Look Bad.

  6. On a vaguely related note: I saw a guy today wearing a t-shirt saying: “ייִדיש לעבט” (Yiddish is alive), which made me smile. Just thought I’d share that.

  7. As a Muslim we don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter but we are allowed to congratulate and even send gifts to Christians (and others) – and these two phrases got their equivalents in Arabic as well. Pretty much sure no offense in that.
    People tend to mix between Hebrew as a language and Judaism as a religion (and “Israelite” as an ethnicity). The two or three of them do not correspond to each other in terms of logic, but in terms of common history, as much as does Arabic is related to Muslims, but not every Muslim is an Arab essentially. And then, who owns the language to prohibit its uses for common good?

  8. We should all feel happy and to wish non Americans a happy 4th of July, non-Jews a Happy Hanukkah, non-Christians a Merry Christmas, people with a different calendar a Happy New Year on January 1st.

    If a Japanese acquaintance tosses me a bag of beans with a smile on February 3rd, I should point my finger at him and yell “I’m not Japanese”? I don’t think so. Please wish me greetings or blessings of any type on whatever day is special to you, and my thanks.

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