Making Chozek

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RCK

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Sep 10, 2020, 12:56:51 AM9/10/20
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In response to my latest article, somebody asked why in Yiddish making chozek means to make fun of or laugh at somebody/something. Is that word chozek related to the Hebrew word chazak?

Zei Gezunt & Kol Tuv,

Reuven Chaim Klein

Beitar Illit, Israel

Author of: God versus Gods: Judaism in the Age of Idolatry Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew 

ORCiD LinkedIN | Google Scholar | Amazon



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From: RC Klein <yesh...@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, Sep 9, 2020 at 8:34 PM
Subject: The Strong Ones
To: <whats-i...@googlegroups.com>




The Strong Ones

As Moses passed the torch of leadership to his protégé and successor Joshua, he said to the younger padawan, Chazak V’Ematz — “Be strong and be strong” (Deut. 31:7, 31:23). After Moses’ passing, G-d Himself reiterated that messaging, using this expression four more times when speaking to Joshua (Josh. 1:6–18). Generations later, when King David gave a pep talk to his son and future successor Solomon, he too said, Chazak V’Ematz (I Chron. 22:13, 28:20). What is the deeper meaning of this seemingly redundant expression that uses two words for “strength” — chozek (chizzuk) and ometz (imutz)? What other words in Hebrew mean “strength” or “power,” and how do they differ from the words that opened our discussion?

Rabbi Avraham Bedersi HaPenini (a 13th century Spanish sage) and Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866–1935) explain that ometz refers to an above-normal amount of “strength,” while chozek remains the standard term for “strength.” For example, if a person grew especially weak, but was then nursed back to health and was now “strengethened” to be as strong as a normal person, the word chozek is appropriate. In such a case, the term ometz cannot be applied, because the “strength” in question is not more than that which a regular person possess.

The Vilna Gaon (to Josh. 1:7, Prov. 24:5) explains that chozek refers to outer “physical strength,” while ometz denotes strength “in the heart.” This explanation is echoed by the Malbim in his work Yair Ohr on synonyms in the Hebrew language; but, elsewhere, the Malbim (to Isa. 28:2) seems to take a different approach. There, he explains that chozek refers to a sort of temporary strength. With time, such strength tends to atrophy, slowly, but surely, losing its potency. On the other hand, ometz refers to a more resilient form of strength that constantly recharges itself and never weakens or falters.

In his work HaRechasim LeVikah (Gen. 25:23), Rabbi Yehuda Leib Shapira-Frankfurter (1743–1826) departs from this model and speaks about three types of “strength.” In his assessment, gevurah refers to “physical strength,” ometz refers to the “strength in one’ heart” (i.e. one's spiritual resolve), and chozek refers to the “strength of will” (i.e. courage). To illustrate the difference between the latter two, he explains that chozek is necessary to enter a battle or any dangerous situation without being scared, while ometz is the courage to remain in battle and not run away when things heat up.

The Talmud (Brachos 32b) explains that when G-d told Joshua Chazak V’Ematz, He meant to encourage Joshua in two specific areas. With the word chazak, He intended to motivate Joshua to strengthen himself in Torah Study, while with the word ematz, He meant to encourage Joshua in the performance of good deeds. How does this fit with what we have learned? Rabbi Wertheimer explains that the greater a Torah Scholar one becomes, the more effort he must exert into being able to perform good deeds. Such a person must harness super-human efforts to fortify his will to make sure he continues performing good deeds and does not simply lose himself in the more theoretical world of study. In light of the above, the strength of will required to do this is most appropriately termed ometz.

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740–1814) traces the word ometz to the two-letter root MEM-TZADI, which means “sucking” or “squeezing.” Other derivatives of this root include mitz (“juice”) and metzitzah (“sucking”). Ometz relates back to this root’s core meaning because it refers to a person mustering all his strength and “squeezing” out every last ounce of energy. Red horses are described as amutzim (Zech. 6:3) because they exert so much effort that their blood rises to the surface of their skin as if it was “squeezed out,” and this causes even their hairs to be colored red.

Rabbi Dr. Asher Weiser (editor of the Mossad HaRav Kook edition of Ibn Ezra’s commentary to the Pentateuch) argues that the word ometz is related to the similar word otzem (“strength”). He establishes this connection by noting that the ALEPH of ometz is interchangeable with the AYIN of otzem, and the other two consonants switch places by way of metathesis.

How does otzem mean “strength”? Rabbi Yehuda Leib Edel (1760–1828) explains that otzem/etzem refers to growth in the sense of added quantity (see Ex. 1:8, 1:20, Deut. 7:1, Joel 2:2, Ps. 35:18). In other words, otzem refers to “strength through numbers.” From that import, the word expanded to refer also to “inherent strength,” i.e. added quality, not just quantity. Alternatively, he explains that otzem in the sense of “strength” is borrowed from the word etzem (“bone”) because the bone is physically the strongest component of one’s anatomy.

Rabbi Moshe Shapiro (1935–2017) notices a common theme among all words that contain the two-letter string AYIN-TZADI. The word eitz denotes a “tree,” which contains within itself everything that will be created from it. In fact, this relates to the self-referential word etzem (“self”), which contains the sum total of all of one’s potential. We encounter this idea again in the word atzuv (“sad”), which describes a person who retreats into himself and fails to expand outwards; the same is true of the atzel/atzlan (“lazy” or “indolent” person) who keeps all his potential bottled up inside of him and does not bother to act on it. Otzer (“stop”) similarly refers to holding something back from further expanding, thus keeping its potential for growth locked up inside. The Hebrew word for “advice” (eitzah/yoetz) similarly uses this two-letter combination because an honest advisor can only offer his counsel to the extent that he grasps the entirety of the situation—the etzem of what is being considered. In line with this, Rabbi Shapiro explains that otzem refers to one’s potential strength that is pent-up within him but has not yet been outwardly expressed. [Rabbi Pappenheim offers a similar exposition on the biliteral root AYIN-TZADI.]

Rabbi Aharon Marcus (1843–1916) writes that a tree is called eitz because of its “hard” or “strong” trunk. He further writes that atzuv is related to eitz in the sense of “wood,” because it is a “dry” emotional state in which one is bereft of life and happiness. In a fascinating twist, Rabbi Marcus connects the words otzem and eitz to oz — all of which mean “strong/hard”— by noting the interchangeability of TZADI and ZAYIN.

Rabbi Wertheimer compares the word oz/izuz in the sense of “strong” to the word az, which also means “strong” or “bold.” He explains that the AYIN-ZAYIN combination refers to the strength of one’s spirit/resolve in that he cannot be easily dissuaded or deterred by others. A person's oz is so palpable that it can be physically reflected in his face (see Ecc. 8:1), and it is therefore poetically called a “garment” in which a person dresses (see Prov. 31:24).

When Moses sent spies to scout out the Holy Land before the Jews’ attempt at conquest, he asked them to examine whether the Canaanites were “strong (chazak) or weak” (Num. 13:18). But, when the spies returned, they said that the Canaanites were “strong” (Num. 13:28) using a different word—az. Rabbi Wertheimer accounts for this word-switch by explaining that the spies were originally charged with determining whether or not the Canaanites were physically strong (chazak). Instead of doing this, they decided to examine the Canaanites’ psychological resolve, concluding that they were so strong-willed and motivated to fight, that their determination could be seen on their faces (az/oz).

Interestingly, Rabbi Naftali Hertz (Wessely) Weisel (1725–1805) writes that the primary meaning of oz always refers to Divine supernatural powers/abilities (in contrast to gevurah, which can also refer to powers/abilities within the normal course of nature). Rabbi Yehuda Edel cites Weisel, and adds that this is what it means when it says, “G-d gives oz to His nation” (Ps. 28:11). In other words, He elevates the Jewish People above the rules of nature to the realm of the supernatural. According to this, it only in a borrowed sense that oz can refer to anything that is “strong” or “powerful.”

When the Psalmist exhorts the reader to “Give oz to G-d” (Ps. 68:35), this does not literally mean that a mere mortal can actually strengthen G-d. Rather, it means that when the Jewish People follow G-d’s will, then He showers them with more abundance, as if they had given Him more energy (see Eichah Rabbah §1:33). Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (1873–1936) offers a powerful insight related to this idea. Obviously, we cannot actually power G-d; yet, He gives us the opportunity to feel like we are doing so in order to teach us a lesson. When you do a favor for somebody, then you should allow him to do something else for you in return, just so that the beneficiary of your favor does not feel forever indebted to you for doing him that favor. In the same way, when G-d does us the ultimate favor of giving life and sustaining us, He also gives us a chance to feel like we can do something for Him in return by following the Torah and giving Him oz.

The word takif is the standard Aramaic translation for chozek and oz in the Targumim. It is also a Hebrew word that appears in the Bible (see Est. 9:29, 10:2, Ecc. 4:12, Dan. 4:27). Rabbi Pappenheim traces the word takif to the two-letter root KUF-PEH, which means “complete circle.” Other words derived from this root include hakafah/haikef (“circumference,” “encircle”) and kafah/kafui (“frozen,” because first the outer perimeter that surrounds the liquid freezes first, and only afterwards does the rest of it freeze over). Interestingly, Rabbi Pappenheim relates the word kof (“monkey”) to this two-letter root, but admits that he does not know how to explain the connection.

Rabbi Pappenheim further explains that chozek refers to strength in one’s ability to withstand being overpowered by another, while tokef refers to strength in the sense of one’s ability to actually overpower others.

Rabbi Pappenheim’s etymology of the word takif is reminiscent of his explanation of the word chayil (“strength”), which he similarly traces to the two-letter root CHET-LAMMED (“circular motion”). Accordingly, tokef/takif refers to a level of strength/potency whereby one can totally surround and overpower another.

Rabbi Edel explains that when we describe God as takif, this invokes His all-encompassing (i.e. all-around) power/sovereignty. The Aramaic expression matkif commonly found in the Talmud refers to one sage “attacking” or “overpowering” another sage’s position with a persuasive argument.

Rabbi Shlomo of Urbino (a late 15th century Italian scholar) writes in Ohel Moed (his lexicon of synonyms) that there are 36 words in Biblical Hebrew for “strength” or “power”! Although Yonah Wilheimer (1830–1913) — the Viennese publisher of the 1881 edition of Ohel Moed  — notes that this is somewhat of an exaggeration, it remains true that we have only scratched the surface of this topic… 

To be continued…    

Kesivah V'Chasimah Tov! 

May all of Kllal Yisroel have a Good and Blessed Year!

Reuven Chaim Klein

Beitar Illit, Israel

Author of: God versus Gods: Judaism in the Age of Idolatry Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew ORCiD LinkedIN | Google Scholar | Amazon

Binah T. Gordon

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Sep 10, 2020, 9:49:03 AM9/10/20
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Chushĭvĕr reb Klein,

Chozek and chazak are one and the same word. The vowel differences are Ashkenazi Hebrew, specifically the varieties which realize proto-Yiddish vowel 12 as /o/ i.e. stereotypically Litvish.
  1. To begin with, the kumets vowels historically shift to /o/ (or /u/ in my variety).
  2. There is also the stress shift, followed by reduction of unstressed vowels.
  3. The spelling with <e> is simply a common way of transliterating unstressed vowels. (I prefer to symbolize the underlying value and add a breve accent for clarity.) It is underlyingly still kumets.
Chozĕk is actually less familiar a pronunciation to me than chăzak, which is the word we use at the end of a seyfĕr toyrŭ. That word is vowelled differently, so it's not relevant to your question, but I include it in case anybody should object, "No! We say chăzak!"

/a ˈksivə vaˈχsimə toʏvə/

Binah Gordon
Op woensdag 9 september 2020 om 23:56:51 UTC-5 schreef Reuven Chaim (Rudolph) Klein:

Sarah Benor

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Sep 10, 2020, 9:53:03 AM9/10/20
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My understanding is that the Yiddish word in question is actually חוזק khoyzek, not chozek. I don't know how it came to mean making fun.

Sarah Bunin Benor


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Alexandre Beider

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Sep 10, 2020, 12:17:14 PM9/10/20
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Please, find below the text from my book "Origins of Yiddish dialects" (Oxford University Press, 2015) concerning this "difficult" Yiddish word (the most important sentence is the last one, I put it in the bold face):
---------------------------
The principle of simplicity, also called Occam’s Razor, is applicable in any domain of science. It asserts that, ceteris paribus, the smaller is the number of independent hypotheses included in a theory, the greater is its logical probability. StY khoyzek ‘mockery; simpleton’ can be taken as an example. This etymology contains several independent hypotheses. Indeed, one needs to explain: (1) introduction of a vowel between /s/ and /k/; (2) change of the initial /h/ to /x/; (3) intervocalic voicing /s/ > /z/; (4) lengthening /o/ > /o:/ in open syllables (with later diphthongization /o:/ > /oj/); (5) spelling of this word as if it were of Hebrew origin. Of these processes the fourth one is regular in Yiddish and the third one is standard in German. The last one is partly conventional and could be due to folk etymological link with or contamination by Hebrew חֹזֶק ‘strength’. However, the first two processes would be unique if this etymology is accepted. Note that OHG /sk/ gave rise to MHG /š/ (compare MHG hosche < OHG hosc) and we also find /š/ in corresponding NHG and Yiddish words. Among the examples are: OHG fisc-MHG visch-StY fish ‘fish’, OHG frisc-MHG frisch-StY frish ‘fresh’, and OHG fleisc-MHG vleisch-StY fleysh ‘meat’. As a result, the etymon hosc would normally give StY *hosh, a form that phonetically is very different from khoyzek. In other terms, Weinreich’s hypothesis violates the classical Neogrammarian principle of the regularity of the phonetic change. If to the above we add the facts that: (1) the etymology of no other Yiddish word is related to OHG, (2) the earliest reference to this word is known only in the 19th century[1], and (3) no reference is known outside of Eastern Europe, it becomes clear that the etymology in question should be rejected according to the Occam’s razor. The actual etymon should be in some way related to the Hebrew root חזק ‘to strengthen, reinforce’ with the semantic change that remains to be explained.


[1] Weinreich (WG 3:322) points to the 19th century reference, but considers the earliest reference to be present in a dictionary of “German-Jewish” language (actually describing SWY) where it appears as cheisik and is translated to German as “Belustigung” ‘amusement’ (PhilogLottus 1733:15). Note that (1) the root does not use the diphthong /ou/ (that in the Yiddish dialect in question corresponds to StY oy), but either /aj/, or /ej/; (2) the meaning in StY is different. As a result, this reference can be unrelated to StY khoyzek, but represent a variant (possibly, errroneous) of StY kheyshek ‘desire’ (from Hebrew חֵשֶׁק), that appears in the same book as cheischik “Lust” ‘desire’ (PhilogLottus 1733:36).

Best,
Alexander Beider

Alexandre Beider

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Sep 10, 2020, 12:23:12 PM9/10/20
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Excuse-me, in my previous message the 2nd sentence was lost during my Copy/Paste procedure. I added it below (in red)

Le jeudi 10 septembre 2020 à 18:17:00 UTC+2, Alexandre Beider <albe...@yahoo.fr> a écrit :


Please, find below the text from my book "Origins of Yiddish dialects" (Oxford University Press, 2015) concerning this "difficult" Yiddish word (the most important sentence is the last one, I put it in the bold face):
---------------------------
The principle of simplicity, also called Occam’s Razor, is applicable in any domain of science. It asserts that, ceteris paribus, the smaller is the number of independent hypotheses included in a theory, the greater is its logical probability. StY khoyzek ‘mockery; simpleton’ can be taken as an example. Weinreich (WG 3:322) suggests—following Harkavy 1928:225—the OHG (Old High German) hosc ‘mockery’ as its etymon. This etymology contains several independent hypotheses. Indeed, one needs to explain: (1) introduction of a vowel between /s/ and /k/; (2) change of the initial /h/ to /x/; (3) intervocalic voicing /s/ > /z/; (4) lengthening /o/ > /o:/ in open syllables (with later diphthongization /o:/ > /oj/); (5) spelling of this word as if it were of Hebrew origin. Of these processes the fourth one is regular in Yiddish and the third one is standard in German. The last one is partly conventional and could be due to folk etymological link with or contamination by Hebrew חֹזֶק ‘strength’. However, the first two processes would be unique if this etymology is accepted. Note that OHG /sk/ gave rise to MHG /š/ (compare MHG hosche < OHG hosc) and we also find /š/ in corresponding NHG and Yiddish words. Among the examples are: OHG fisc-MHG visch-StY fish ‘fish’, OHG frisc-MHG frisch-StY frish ‘fresh’, and OHG fleisc-MHG vleisch-StY fleysh ‘meat’. As a result, the etymon hosc would normally give StY *hosh, a form that phonetically is very different from khoyzek. In other terms, Weinreich’s hypothesis violates the classical Neogrammarian principle of the regularity of the phonetic change. If to the above we add the facts that: (1) the etymology of no other Yiddish word is related to OHG, (2) the earliest reference to this word is known only in the 19th century[1], and (3) no reference is known outside of Eastern Europe, it becomes clear that the etymology in question should be rejected according to the Occam’s razor. The actual etymon should be in some way related to the Hebrew root חזק ‘to strengthen, reinforce’ with the semantic change that remains to be explained.

Isaac L. Bleaman

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Sep 10, 2020, 4:38:31 PM9/10/20
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Yes, the word in Yiddish is חוזק "khoyzek." So "making fun of" somebody is "חוזק מאַכן פֿון" him.

Reuven Chaim Klein asks: "Is that word chozek related to the Hebrew word chazak?" It appears the answer is no.

If you look up "khoyzek" in Yitskhok Niborski's dictionary of Semitic-origin words in Yiddish, you'll see:
Screen Shot 2020-09-10 at 7.08.40 AM.png
"mockery, joking (in fact, this word does not come from Hebrew)."

In his History of the Yiddish Language, Max Weinreich refers to "khoyzek" as a "quasi-Hebrew" word, saying that it comes from Germanic.

"Quasi-Hebrew" because Yiddish speakers reanalyzed (and spelled) the word as if it came from Hebrew.

Leyzer Burko's dictionary (https://yiddishdialectdictionary.com/khes-%d7%97%d7%aa/) lists the etymology as:
A pseudo-Hebrew word. Perhaps actually from OHG hosc, MHG hosche ‘mockery’

So it would be more closely related etymologically to this Old English word (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/husc#Old_English) than to anything in Hebrew.

Isaac L. Bleaman
Assistant Professor, Department of Linguistics
University of California, Berkeley
https://www.isaacbleaman.com


Isaac L. Bleaman

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Sep 10, 2020, 4:38:35 PM9/10/20
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Isaac L. Bleaman
Assistant Professor, Department of Linguistics
University of California, Berkeley
https://www.isaacbleaman.com

YWOTW

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Oct 18, 2020, 8:06:22 AM10/18/20
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I am not a linguist, but from the little I can tell about the origins of חוזק = khoyzek, it seems that no one so far has conclusively succeeded in identifying its etymology -- not even the great Max Weinreich (as discussed by Alexander Beider and Alexis Manaster Ramer). Many, however, have written that it is unrelated to Hebrew חזק, as pointed out by Isaac Bleaman (though contra Beider). In addition to Bleaman's sources, see Marvin (Mikhl) Herzog, Paul (Hershl) Glasser, et al. in the various Mendele posts archived here: 1, 2, 3. (Cf. Aharon Megged's attempt to connect hozek with khoyzek here.)

One theory that I have not seen quoted in this thread but which is mentioned by Maurice Samuel on p. 256 of In Praise of Yiddish, citing Dov Sadan, is that Khoyzek was the name of a demon [in Jewish folklore]. Alternatively, Ruth von Bernuth describes Khoyzek as "a foolish Jewish stock character from eastern Europe" in How the Wise Men Got to Chelm, p. 170. (Note that she believes, p. 253 n. 84, that the etymon is Hebrew, not German or Slavic.) Wherever the name for this demon/fool came from, it became the source of a number of Yiddish expressions in which חוזק is personified, suggesting, again, that this is a proper noun (Khoyzek) rather than a common noun ("strength, might" a la Hebrew חזק).

Of course, one could argue the opposite: that the demon/fool got his name from the common noun. Perhaps this was so. Until more evidence is assembled, we probably won't be able to make a determination one way or the other about the origins of this mysterious word.
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