Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Phrase of the Day: Talmid Chacham

For your post-Tu B'Av pleasure...

Doesn't every man want to be a Talmid chacham? I know every woman wants to marry one. Even more than they want to marry the Old Spice Guy. (Old Old Spice Guy Isaiah, not New Old Spice Guy Fabio.)

Talmid chacham just means Torah scholar. An illustration of such a man is below.

Now the hardest part: the plural of Talmid chacham is Talmidei chachamim. Say that three times fast.

And before you ask, Talmud tavlin means "Torah is the spice for life" (according to my Twitterverse). Clever, right?


  1. Well, you're partially correct. Talmid Chacham is used to mean Torah scholar, but that's wrong grammatically. Talmid Chacham is smichut, basically the Talmid of a Chacham (a student of the wise).

  2. @Anonymous What is the grammatical error? "Chacham" can be an adjective modifying a singular male noun. This phrase need not be in smichut.

  3. Meant to say singular masculine noun.

  4. Actually there's a lot of ink spilled on what the precise meaning (and origin) of talmid chacham is. It may mean "student of the wise," but it also may mean "wise student." Don't forget that you can't necessarily look for standard (i.e., biblical) grammatical forms in rabbinic Hebrew.

    The best explanation I've heard is in R. Elijah Bahur's Tishbi, where he speculates that the development of the term parallels the development of the Greek term "philosopher." Purportedly Greek sages were originally called "sophos," that is the wise ones. Eventually they began to feel that they weren't as wise as their forbearers and besides it's arrogant to call yourself wise, so they were called philo sophos, or "lovers of the wise." Similarly in his view Jewish sages originally were called chachamim, wise ones, as we can see in rabbinic literature, but later generations saw this as arrogant and only accepted the title "talmidei chachamim," students of the wise for themselves.

  5. It's a clear case of usage trumping whatever it originally meant.

    I have actually seen the phrase "talmid chachamim," suggesting that being a "talmid chacham" is in specific reference to having a Rav Muvhak, a specific person who taught you the majority of what you know.

    I wanted to post saying thank you for linking to the video, that was possibly the funniest thing ever.