Yiddish Word of the Week
Churbn - חורבן


Churbn - חורבן \CHUR-ben\ Noun:
1. Ruin, devastation (especially of the Temples in Jerusalem), destruction, desolation, havoc, catastrophe. 2. The Holocaust.

Pronunciation: Click here and here to hear native Yiddish speakers use this word in conversation about the Destruction of the Beys Hamikdesh (the Temple in Jerusalem) and Tisho Bov (the Ninth of Av, when the Destruction is commemorated), which is coming up this week on Wednesday night.  You may notice that the word is pronounced in these interviews closer to churbm than to churbn. This happens a lot when Yiddish words end in בן- : because the lips close in order to pronounce the “b” sound and stay closed for the “n” sound, the “n” often comes out sounding more like an “m.”

Synonyms: tzeshterung (צעשטערונג), fartilikung (פארטיליקונג), and tel (תל).

German equivalent: der Ruin, die Destruktion, die Vernichtung; der Holocaust.

Etymology: This is a Hebrew word which shares a root with the word cherev (חרב) - sword. Its most common use is in reference to the destructions of the two Temples in Jerusalem, but it has, since then, been used for other terrible tragedies throughout Jewish history.  In particular, it is often used in reference to the Holocaust. The choice of this word as the Yiddish word for the Holocaust is, in my opinion, very telling. It signifies to me a tendency in Jewish historical memory to associate our greatest tragedies with those first destructions, long ago, which are seen as the sources for the rest of the tragedies that we have suffered in Exile. This tendency actually has its sources in one of the kines (elegies) we say on Tisho Bov, in which the author states that Tisho Bov is essentially the universal day of mourning over all Jewish catastrophes throughout history. In fact, because of this, there was considerable opposition on the part of some Orthodox Jews, in the early years of the State of Israel, to the establishment of a Holocaust Memorial Day separate from Tisho Bov. For more on that topic, click here (lecture by R. Dr. Jacob J. Schacter) and here (Tom Segev’s book, The Seventh Million - see the note on page 440). (Thanks to Dr. David N. Myers for pointing this out this latter source.)

Derivatives of churbn: choruv machn (חרוב מאכן) - to destroy; machriv zayn (מחריב זיין) - to devastate; choruv - ruined (חרוב); and churvoh (חורבה) - ruined building.

Churbn in a sentence: Af Tisho Bov, baveynt men dem churbn Beys Hamikdesh mit kines un tonis (אויף תשעה באב, באוויינט מען דעם חורבן בית המקדש מיט קינות און תענית) - On Tisho Bov, one mourns the Destruction of the Temple with elegies and fasting.

May the time soon come when we no longer have to use this word of destruction, but instead use only the language of peace.

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