I’ve been lifting weights like a madman lately, trying to work off the winter’s tsholnt before bikini season hits, and so far all I’ve got is a kileh, the most-beloved Yiddish word for “hernia.” Old school Yiddish-speakers will be quick to tell you that the two afflictions that once characterized Yiddish and were apparently endemic to its speakers, are the hernia and hemorrhoids, which both enjoy a prominence in the language far out of proportion to their seriousness as diseases.
In older slang, the hernia was known as zeks-in-ZEKHtsik, “sixty-six,” and appeared in this guise in many smart-aleck idioms and low-level curses, such as Ikh’l dir gebm zeks-un-zekhtsik (“I’ll give you sixty-six”), that are becoming ever more obscure. Sixty-six is the gematria, the numerical value of the letters in the Hebrew phrase kee lo which means “because to him,” as in the well-known Passover song, “Ki lo no’eh, ki lo yo’eh, Because it is becoming to Him [God], because it is fitting for Him,” where the first two words of each phrase would be pronounced in Ashkenazi Hebrew as kileh: Kileh noo’eh, kileh yoo’eh, “a hernia is becoming, a hernia befits.”
A hernia is treated with a brokh-gartl––a rupture-belt or truss. In the days when the Jewish Daily Forward was really a daily, ads for these products used to occupy a prominent place in its pages, much to the delight of young readers everywhere, especially during the pre-Passover sale period.
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week. Below are some items for sale from eBay for those of you with an interest in Yiddish.
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