Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Phrase of the Day: Yasher Koach

You'll hear this Hebrew phrase a lot. You may also see/hear it as "yishar koah."

It literally wishes the person strength. "May you have strength!"

In short, it means something along the lines of "Good job!" It congratulates someone who has had the merit of performing a mitzvah or some other good Jewish task. Most often, it is said by many people at once when someone has finished giving a Jewish talk (a drash or d'var Torah). It is also said man-to-man with a handshake for those who have fulfilled a mitzvah during a synagogue service, such as reading the Torah, carrying the Torah, or receiving an aliyah. As a practical matter, for synagogue mitzvot, it is normally said to men. Women can certainly wish a man "yasher koach," but there probably wouldn't be a handshake. If you are not shomer negiah, you still shouldn't offer your hand to a man if you don't know whether he is shomer negiah or not. (See The Most-Thought Yet Least-Asked Question: Are you shomer negiah? and Awkward Moments: When You're Not Sure Who's Shomer Negiah.)


An interesting piece on the history of the phrase: From the Sources by Eliezer Segal

7 comments:

  1. By the way, if you get an aliyah or other honor in shul and people say Yasher Koach to you, the proper way to respond is to say "Baruch Tihiyeh" ("You shall be blessed").

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  2. I think if you are offering congratulation to a female you say Yasher Koacha but somebody with greater knowledge of grammar should weigh in here.

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  3. To a woman it's "yashar kochech".

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  4. kind of cool that a woman by the name of Sarah, our great matriarch, gives us the correct spelling!

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  5. If it's "Kochech" for a woman, why isn't it "koch'cha" for a man? Isn't Ko'ach simply the word for "strength?" Isn't it the "Yashar" that needs to change from masculine to feminine?

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  6. The grammatical Hebrew pronunciation is "Yishar kocha-cha". This is recorded in a Talmudic commentary on Moses breaking the first tablets of law, which says he did so to protect Benei-Israel from severe punishment for blatantly breaking the new law. In response, the Divine voice calls out this phrase -- literally "Straight (right is) your strength!"

    The final "cha" is the suffix for masculine "your". Therefore, the feminine version is "Yishar kochach" -- the final "ach" is the suffix for feminine "your". The word "Yishar" is unchanged because it refers to "koach" strength (a masculine word), not to "your" (masculine or feminine).

    Please note, that most Ashkenazi congregations use various Yiddish pronunciations: Yasher ko'ach, Yasher koich, Sh'koich, et cetera -- all being mainstream, clear pronunciations. I do not know Yiddish grammar, and those who do know it may want to chime in -- but these Yiddish expressions may be unchanged when addressing a woman, since they already end with "-ch". This is what I usually hear in synagogs when congratulating women (as well as men).

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  7. And the response to a woman who has offered a yasher kochech or yasher koach would be ... baruch tihiyi (TEE-hee-YEE)

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