Lo naim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 25, 2010

When inquiring of an estate agent whether I could visit a certain property, I was told that the owners had had a family emergency and that it would be lo naim for the agent to trouble them.

Lo naim means more than "unpleasant" and has no exact English equivalent. Lo naim covers the whole jumble of feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment, compassion and even anger.

Instead of saying "It would put me in an awkward position," Israelis opt for the more personal, "lo naim li", whose closest translation is, "It would make me feel icky inside."

Not only does Hebrew have a dignified expression for that icky feeling, it comes from the Bible.

Naim comes from noam. Citing the verse (Proverbs 9:17) "And bread eaten secretly is noam (sweet)", the Metzudat Zion explains noam as a type of pleasantness or happiness marked by sweetness.

The ways of the Torah are noam according to Proverbs (3:17)- and this has halachic ramifications. Maimonides (Hilchot Malachim 10:12) writes that Jews must aid and care for non-Jews because the ways of the Torah are noam.

The Torah must never be used to exclude others or cause them pain - something certainly lo naim.

Last updated: 2:07pm, February 25 2010