The Wisdom of Yiddish Proverbs: 2022

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsYiddish, which originated in Central Europe in the 9th century, represents a mellifluous melting pot of many languages–Aramaic, Hebrew, Czechoslovakian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russion, to name a few. Moreover, the language gave rise to proverbs that passed on wisdom from one generation to the next via a rich oral tradition. And as Hanan Ayalti notes in his introduction to Yiddish Proverbs, “The proverb is the unwritten testimony of a people. It expresses its view, as the case may be, on life and how human beings of all sorts live it, on God, and the world, good fortune and bad, youth and old age; it reflects deep-rooted expectations and disappointments. The Yiddish proverb here thus reveals the soul of the Jewish people of the Eastern European world.” Bookshelf presents some pearls of Yiddish wisdom that are treasured and, of course, timeless:

A nasty tongue is worse than a wicked hand.

A friend is got for nothing, an enemy has to be paid for.

A word to the good is enough, but even a stick won’t help the bad.

A man should live if only to satisfy his curiosity.

A fool takes two steps where a wise man takes none.

Better a bad peace than a good war.

A lock is meant only for honest men.

Better one old friend than two new.

Talk too much and you talk about yourself.

A man is what he is, not what he used to be.

Life is the greatest bargain; we get it for nothing.

Money buys everything except sense.

If you have learning, you’ll never lose your way.

Learning cannot be bequeathed.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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Read related posts: Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

For further reading: Yiddish Proverbs by Hanan Ayalti (Shocken Books, 1963)

2 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Yiddish Proverbs: 2022

    • Hi Isabella: When I was a student in boarding school, a Jesuit professor was fond of saying, “locks are only for honest people.” He explained that a criminal will enter a house, for example, regardless of any barriers. It is only the honest person who views the lock and understands and respects that it represents a barrier, a boundary against any temptation or actual attempt to enter the house. We could extrapolate from this: laws are for honest people. Honest people follow the law, the criminal disregards the law; white collar criminals, along with the rich and powerful, often believe that they are above the law. Cheers. Alex

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