Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Hebrew Freebie

15 of the Tenth Month 5771

Last night at work, a woman ask if she could correct something I said in Hebrew. I could see it coming by the look on her face, when I finished speaking.

It turns out that this woman is a teacher in Ulpan, Israeli, Hebrew language program, designed for the oleh hadash (new immigrant).

She first asked me if I minded if she corrected me. I said no. I explained that as a teacher myself, I often have people trying to get a free English lesson out of me. I tell them that I take NIS 75 an hour for a private English lesson, so they might want to consider speaking to me in Hebrew.

If this professional teacher wanted to correct my Hebrew, I would gladly accept her “freebie.”

She pointed out while giving her some information regarding tonight's activities, I said הלילה. She explained that in this form actually signifies in the middle of the night. When this all took place, it was 8:30 pm, in which case, she said that one should say הערב this evening.

Normally, she told me, she does not mix in this, and does not approach people to correct their Hebrew. However, in this case, she felt that it was חשוב מאוד very important.


Well, her reasoning was that if I ever asked a woman if she was available “tonight,” I should make sure to say הערב, because הלילה would have a significantly different meaning.

Did you get it?

It was kind of odd hearing this from a woman in a sheitel. Nonetheless, she smiled and raised an eyebrow, and I laughed.

But, then she started to recount this incident to her colleagues walking in. I lightly objected by letting her know that she did not have to tell everybody the story. We all laughed, and I just took it in stride, remembering one of the first things taught to me, shortly after getting off the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport 13 years ago.

You simply can not be embarrassed in Israel.

1 comment:

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

In contemporary or colloquial terms, she may be correct. But I don't think an examination of older and more original usages supports her understanding. Erev would be limited to early after sundown, but not several hours later. The best arbiter of such things in my opinion is usually Even Shushan. I think a look in his dictionary will support what I am saying. We have this word already from Tanach and early rabbinic sources. I think it always (or nearly so) means proximal to sundown; but usually not long after. Of course, we have no control over contemporary adaptations; but this is an example of an unnecessary one.

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