Hebrew Hear-Say: Where the moo-s takes me

As a vegetarian, Shavuot, with its tradition of dairy meals is my kind of holiday.

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May 27, 2009 15:19
3 minute read.
Hebrew Hear-Say: Where the moo-s takes me

Hebrew Hear-Say logo. (photo credit: )

 
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As a vegetarian, Shavuot, with its tradition of dairy meals is my kind of holiday. It's an association that I can milk ('lahlov') for all it's worth - or at least until the cows come home. In his English-Hebrew 'Idioms Dictionary', Arieh Golan suggested rendering that expression as, 'la'ad' (forever), 'mehayom ve'ad mohrotayim' (from today until the day after tomorrow) or, an option which seems most applicable in this column: 'ad sheyavo hamashiah' (until the Messiah arrives). On the other hand, you don't want to slaughter a sacred cow ('para k'dosha') and here in the Land of Milk and Honey ('Eretz zavat halav u'dvash'), "Holy cow" is almost untranslatable. You cannot sell the cow and drink the milk, as the saying goes, or as they say around here: 'ee-efshar lehenot mishnei olamot' (you can't have the best of both worlds) or 'ee-efshar lirkod al shtei hatunot' - you can't dance at two weddings. Again, an appropriate saying, since Shavuot (and the end of the Counting of the Omer) marks the start of the wedding season: cue for the Parvarim's 'Bakayitz hazeh tilbashi lavan' ("This summer you will wear white"). White, indeed, is the color most associated with Shavuot. And a whole slew of phrases comes to mind (well, that might be a white lie - 'sheker lavan' - and you want to appear whiter than white ('naki michol revav') when you're writing something in the newspaper - 'shahor al gabei lavan' (black and white). Cows ('parot') get too much bad press, in my opinion. (Although not quite so bad as pigs - 'hazirim' - which somehow came to embody the idea of unkosher, while ironically turning into one symbol that both Muslims and Jews can agree on. Don't mention 'basar lavan' - white meat [pork], particularly on Shavuot.) The one favorable phrase that readily comes to mind is 'yoter m'sheha'egel rotzeh linok, hapara rotza lehanik', more than the calf wants to suckle, the cow want to feed it, used when someone wants to give something more than the recipient wants to receive it. While the English epithet "cow" would be best translated as "bitch" ('kalba'), it's still so unpleasant it makes you lose face ('malbin panim'): 'Para' refers to a fat woman, while einei para, cow's eyes, refers to big round, stupid eyes. Urban legend tells of a group of Israeli guys sitting on a London Underground train making rude remarks in Hebrew about a woman who was - how should we put it? - horizontally challenged. The comments became ever meaner, including: 'me-eizeh refet hi ba'a'? (what cowshed did she come from?) to: "'nimkor ota leTnuva vena'aseh ktzat kesef'" (Let's sell her to the Tnuva dairy factory and make some money - talk about a cash cow, 'para holevet'). Over the years, the legend has, of course, grown - as, indeed, has the reported size of the woman and the number of people who swear this happened to a friend of theirs. The punch line, however, remains the same: The woman sat impassively amid the Hebrew insults but as she stepped through the sliding doors when she got off, she looked back over her shoulder and said: "Moooo!" The suitably humbled guys went chalk white ('lavan kesid') before going red with embarrassment. Perhaps the most embarrassing story to do with a cow, on the other hand, is the story of the Golden Calf ('egel hazahav'), an early example of the herd phenomenon, 'tofa'at ha'eder'. Many are still seeking the perfect red heifer ('para aduma') as a sign that the Messiah is on his way. Although, the Messiah, tradition has it, will be riding on a white donkey - 'hamor lavan'). Rare white animals also pop up in Hebrew. Something that is inconceivable is called an 'orev lavan' - white crow - and you can also find, here and there, a white elephant ('pil lavan'). For many years the Tel Aviv bus station was considered a white elephant in the White City ('Ha'ir Halevana'). It's now been replaced by the light rail in the Holy City (no wonder the Messiah needs alternative means of transport). There are, of course, also the occasional white nights ('laila lavan'): these can range from anything from a night without sleep during an army exercise to the round-the-clock culture festival in Tel Aviv to the traditional Shavuot eve all-night studies ('tikkun leil'). After this you can't see the whites of someone's eyes ('lirot lo et halavan ba'einayim'), but rather the reds of his eyes. You just take it one at a time, 'para para'. liat@jpost.com

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