Yiddish Proverbs

By | December 3, 2013

Sayings of Yiddish origin

By day they’re ready to divorce, by night they’re ready for bed.

Beware of still water, a still dog, and a still enemy.

Better to hear curses than to be pitied.

Better to die upright than to live on your knees.

Better the best of the worst than the worst of the best.

Better ten times ill than one time dead.

Better ruined ten times than dead once.

Better an ounce of luck than a pound of gold.

Better an ounce of happiness than a pound of gold.

Better an honest slap in the face than an insincere kiss.

Better a thief for a neighbor than an overzealous rabbi.

Better a slap from a wise man than a kiss from a fool.

Better a Jew without a beard than a beard without a Jew.

Before you start up a ladder, count the rungs.

You reproach your daughter, but you mean your daughter-in-law.

You never lose a false coin.

You find everything when you are spring cleaning.

You do not fall because you are weak; you fall because you think you are strong.

You can’t put “thank you” in your pocket.

You can’t measure the whole world with your own yardstick.

Yiddish is a High German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken in many parts of the world. It developed as a fusion of different German dialects with adstrats of Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic vocabulary and some traces of vocabulary from the Romance languages. Yiddish orthography uses the Hebrew alphabet.

The Yiddish Alphabet

Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazic Jews or simply Ashkenazim, lit. “The Jews of Germany”), are a Jewish ethnic division who coalesced as a distinct community of Jews in the Holy Roman Empire around the end of the 1st millennium.The traditional language of Ashkenazi Jews consisted of various dialects of Yiddish.They established communities throughout Central and Eastern Europe, which had been their primary region of concentration and residence until recent times, evolving their own distinctive characteristics and diasporic identities. Once emancipated, weaving Jewish creativity into the texture of European life , the Ashkenazi made a “quite disproportionate and remarkable contribution to humanity”, and to European culture in all fields of endeavour: philosophy, scholarship, literature, art, music and science. The genocidal impact of the Holocaust, the mass murder of approximately 6 million Jews during World War II, devastated the Ashkenazi and their Yiddish culture.

More Yiddish Proverbs and Sayings:

You can’t make cheesecakes out of snow.

You cannot hold your head high with your hand out.

You can wash your body but not your soul.

You can throw a cat whoever you want; it always falls on its feet.

You can make the dream bigger than the night.

You buy yourself an enemy when you lend a man money.

You are ushered in according to your dress; shown out according to your brains.

Words should be weighed, not counted.

Women can keep only one secret — their own.

With time even a bear can learn to dance.

With money in your pocket, you are wise, handsome and you sing well too.

Who wins first, loses last.

Who talks a lot, talks about himself.

Who dances at the wedding, weeps at the funeral.

When you have left a country, you have left everyone.

When the time comes for you to live, there aren’t enough years.

When the ox just stumbles, they all sharpen their knives.

When one must, one can.

When luck joins in the game, cleverness scores double.

When God wants to punish an idiot, He teaches them a few words of Hebrew.

When Dame Fortune calls, offer her a chair.

When both parties are right, it’s a bad day for “right.”

When a thief kisses you, count your teeth.

When a son gives to his father, they both weep.

When a poor man eats a chicken, one or the other is sick.

When a mother calls her child bastard, you can take her word for it.

When a miller fights with a chimney sweep, the miller gets black and the chimney sweep gets white.

When a fool has the cow by the horns, the wise man can milk it.

When a father gives to his son, they both laugh.

What’s left over from the thief is spent on the fortune-teller.

What you save is, later, like something found.

What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t invent with your mouth.

What value is a needle without an eye?

What use is wisdom when folly reigns?

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.

What good is honor when you’re starving?

What can you do with a good cow that gives a lot of milk and then kicks the bucket over?

What a man thinks up for himself, his worst enemy couldn’t wish for him.

What a fool can spoil, ten wise men cannot repair.

Weeping makes the heart grow lighter.

Walk straight and you will not fall.

Ugliness is the only guardian angel a woman has.

Two burdens: to Moses water, to God the world.

True poverty does not come from God.

Treat me as a rabbi, but watch over me as a thief.

Too nice can cost a lot of money.

Too humble is half proud.

To fall off a good horse is at least worthwhile.

To every answer you can find a new question.

To be rich is not everything, but it certainly helps.

They have a strong love bond; he with himself and she with herself.

There’s plenty of time to bemoan bad fortune once it arrives.

There is nothing new under the sun — and that’s why there remains such a mess.

The wolf is not afraid of the dog, but he doesn’t like the sound of his barking.

The wise man, even when he holds his tongue, says more than the fool when he speaks.

The way you prepare the bed, so shall you sleep.

The ugliest life is better than the nicest death.

The truly rich are those who enjoy what they have.

The talk of the day is the dream of the night.

The soldiers fight, and the kings are heroes.

The schlemiel lands on his back and bruises his nose.

The rich man who is stingy is the worst pauper.

The rich man doesn’t pay, the debtor does.

The rabbi drinks the wine and asks the others to be happy.

The pen wounds deeper than an arrow.

The nearer to the synagogue, the farther from God.

The longest road is the one that leads to your pocket.

The longer the blind live, the more they see.

The less souls, the more joy.

The innkeeper loves the drunkard, but not for a son-in-law.

The heaviest burden is an empty pocket.

The heart of a man may be compared to a sausage; no one can tell exactly what’s inside.

The heart is small and embraces the whole wide world.

The heart is half a prophet.

The girl who can’t dance says the band can’t play.

The gatekeepers are worse than the directors.

The door of success is marked “push” and “pull.”

The doctor has a remedy for everything but poverty.

The crow flies sky high and lands on a pig.

The complete fool is half prophet.

The cold strengthens you more than hunger.

The best horse needs a whip, intelligent men need advice, and devout women need a man.

Talk too much and you talk about yourself.

Stupid solutions that succeed are still stupid solutions.

Spare us what we can learn to endure.

Someone who can hold on to his money is worth more than the one who earns it.

Some people are electrifying; they light up a room when they leave.

Small children won’t let you sleep, bigger children won’t let you live.

Sleep faster — we need the pillows.

Sins hide not in your sleep but in your dreams.

Silence is the fence around wisdom.

Shrouds are made without pockets.

She who wants to marry her stepfather regrets it in bed.

Send a fool to close the shutters and he’ll close them all over town.

Seek advice but use your own common sense.

Provide for the worst; the best can take care of itself.

Protest long enough that you are right, and you will be wrong.

Pride can live in the dung heap.

Prayers go up and blessings come down.

Pearls around the neck, stones upon the heart.

Parents can give their children everything except good luck.

Parents can give everything but common sense.

Over the bottle many a friend is found.

One should not send a cat to deliver cream.

One old friend is better than two new ones.

One is certain only of death.

One God and so many enemies.

One does not live on joy or die of sorrow.

One chops the wood, the other does the grunting.

One chops the wood and the other shouts “Oh, my back!”

One ass calls the other a pack animal.

Once it was the parents who taught their children to talk; now the children teach their parents to keep quiet.

Nothing tastes bitterer than the truth.

Not only that the rich man is rich, but he has such good checks too.

Not everyone who sits in the seat of honor is master.

Not all nice things are dear, but those that are dear are nice.

No choice is an option.

No blessing is bestowed on a secret.

Never try to be more foolish than the jester.

Never approach a goat from the front, a horse from behind, and a fool from both sides.

Necessity can break iron.

Mothers-in-law are fine so long as they are deaf and blind.

Money buys everything but good sense.

Mix with your neighbors, and you learn what’s doing in your own house.

Men would not be richer for being miserly; generosity does not make a man poorer.

Men will give away their last shirt to become millionaires.

Men don’t build on strange ground.

Many complain of their looks, but none of their brains.

Make sure to send a lazy man for the Angel of Death.

Make new friends, but don’t forget the old ones.

Lovers do not need much room.

Lovers and thieves always look for darkness.

Love me a little but long.

Love is like butter — it’s good with bread.

Lose an hour in the morning, chase it all day.

Look for cake, and lose your bread.

Look down if you want to know how tall you are.

Life is the biggest bargain — we get it for nothing.

Life is just like a dream — but don’t wake me.

Lend everyone your ears, give a hand to your friends but give your lips only to a woman.

Laugh and everyone sees it, cry and no one sees it.

It’s not as good with money as it is bad without it.

It’s never too late to die or get married.

It’s good to hope, it’s the waiting that spoils it.

It’s astonishing how important a man becomes when he dies.

It is heavy to carry, but you cannot throw it away.

It is better to be in hell with a wise man than in heaven with an idiot.

Interest on debts grows without rain.

In the mirror everybody sees his best friend.

In life, each of us must sometimes play the fool.

If you’re out to beat a dog, you’re sure to find a stick.

If you’re fated to drown, you may die in a teaspoon of water.

If your friend becomes your enemy, he will be your enemy for life.

If you want your dreams to come true, don’t sleep.

If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at the people he gives it to.

If you stay at home you won’t wear out your shoes.

If you start thinking of death, you are no longer sure of life.

If you pray for another, you will be helped yourself.

If you have nothing to lose, you can try everything.

If you find your friend on the sofa at home with your wife, you had better sell the sofa.

If you eat your bagel, you’ll have nothing in your pocket but the hole.

If you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.

If you can’t bite, better not show your teeth.

If you are lucky, even your ox will calve.

If you are bitter at heart, sugar in the mouth will not help you.

If we cannot do what we will, we must will what we can.

If we all pulled in one direction, the world would keel over.

If two people say he is drunk, the third one should sleep.

If triangles had a God, He’d have three sides.

If things are not as you wish, wish them as they are.

If the rich could hire others to die for them, the poor could make a nice living.

If the pupil is smart, the teacher gets the credit.

If the father marries the aunt, he’s an uncle.

If the eyes didn’t see, the hands wouldn’t take.

If the bride can’t dance, she blames the musicians.

If someone throws stones at you, throw back bread.

If praying had helped, he could have hired someone to do it.

If only one race has to be chosen, why the Jews?

If one soldier knew what the other thinks, there would be no war.

If one link has broken so has the whole chain.

If it were God’s will, you could shoot with a broom too.

If it must always be better, it can never be good enough.

If I try to be like him, who will be like me?

If I dealt in candles, the sun would never set.

If God were living on earth, people would break His windows.

If God wants people to suffer, he sends them too much understanding.

If charity cost nothing and benevolence caused no heartache, the world would be full of philanthropists.

If all pulled in one direction, the world would keel over.

If a man is destined to drown, he will drown even in a spoonful of water.

If a link is broken, the entire chain breaks.

If a Jew cannot be a shoemaker, he will dream of being a professor.

I can’t sing but I am a musicologist.

I can find good in my boss but he is at loggerheads with me.

Hope for miracles, but don’t rely on one.

Hire staff but do it yourself.

Hell shared with a sage is better than paradise with a fool.

Hell itself can be no worse than the road that leads to it.

Heaven and hell can both be found on earth.

Health? Very nice! But where will we get potatoes?

He, who stands by his point of view, must be ready to suffer hunger.

He, who runs away from the fire, falls in the water.

He who marries for money earns it.

He who has children will never die of starvation.

He who comes for the inheritance is often made to pay for the funeral.

He who can’t endure the bad will not live to see the good.

He that lies on the ground cannot fall.

He that can’t endure the bad will not live to see the good.

He avenged himself on fleas, and burned up his bed.

Half-truth — whole lie.

Good news always comes from far away.

Gold’s father is dirt, yet it regards itself as noble.

Golden dishes will never turn black.

God will provide — ah, if only He would till He does!

God sends burdens… and shoulders.

God is a father, happiness is a stepfather.

God gave burdens, also shoulders.

God created a world full of little worlds.

God could not be everywhere and therefore He made mothers.

Go quickly but don’t fall off my step.

Give me, Lord, my daily bread, I will get my own brandy.

From the black earth there grows the finest grain.

From success to failure is one step; from failure to success is a long road.

Experience costs blood.

Everything ends in weeping.

Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.

Every worm has its hole.

Every seller praises his wares.

Every pot will find its lid.

Every poor man has a dry throat and wet boots.

Every man knows that he must die, but no one believes it.

Even a ball of wool has a beginning.

Either it doesn’t help or it isn’t needed.

Eggs may be smarter than the chickens, but it doesn’t take long for them to stink.

Each child brings his own blessing into the world.

Dying while young is a boon in old age.

Don’t throw a stone into a well from which you have drunk.

Don’t settle in a place where the doctor has gout.

Don’t call a man honest just because he never had the chance to steal.

Don’t be scared when you have no other choice.

Don’t bargain with God.

Don’t ask questions about fairy tales.

Don’t approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back or a fool from any side.

Doctors and gravediggers are partners.

Do not show a stick to a dog that has been beaten.

Dear God: You do such wonderful things for complete strangers; why not for me?

Come for your inheritance and you may wind up paying for the funeral.

Charm is more than beauty.

Attractiveness is better than beauty.

As the sheep are shorn, the lambs shiver.

As the fat man gets thinner, the thin one is already dead.

An un-kept promise leads to a bad life.

An imaginary ailment is worse than a disease.

An animal’s end is slaughter.

All women are heirs to Mother Eve.

All of us are crazy in one way or another.

All dumb people have a lot to say.

After nine months the secret comes out.

A wounded soul is difficult to heal.

A wise man hears one word and understands two.

A thief’s end is hanging.

A snake deserves no pity.

A penny is a lot of money, if you have not got a penny.

A nation’s treasure is its scholars.

A man too good for the world is no good for his wife.

A man should stay alive if only out of curiosity.

A man should go on living — if only to satisfy his curiosity.

A man comes from the dust and in the dust he will end–and in the meantime it is good to drink a sip of vodka.

A man cannot jump over his own shadow.

A lock is meant only for honest men.

A lie can take you far away — but with no hope of return.

A lazy messenger is not short of excuses.

A jest is half a truth.

A hero is someone who can keep his mouth shut when he’s right.

A half truth is a whole lie.

A guest for a day is welcome the whole year.

A good man, but his mad dog won’t let you speak to him.

A good friend is often better than a brother.

A golden key will open every lock.

A friend you get for nothing; an enemy must be bought.

A fool will jump into the bath and forget to wash his face.

A fool who can keep silent is counted among the wise.

A fool says what he knows, and a wise man knows what he says.

A flatterer must not lose his temper.

A farmer should not ride the king’s horse.

A deaf man heard how a mute told that a blind man has seen how a cripple walked.

A clock that stands still is better than one that goes wrong.

A cat loves fish, but won’t risk its claws.

A boil is fine as long as it’s under someone else’s arm.

A big crowd, but not a human being in sight!

A bad peace is better than a good war.

“For example” is not proof.

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