Kliachar yad

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 30, 2008

"This was not a decision I received [in Hebrew, people don't take decisions, they receive them] kliachar yad," said Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, of his long-expected resignation.

Kliachar yad literally means by means of the back of the hand and is a talmudic term referring to the performance of actions in a manner that is different from the normal way of doing things. We usually use the palm of our hand and not the back, so as reference to any type of action that is not the norm, the rabbis use the expression kliachar yad. Therefore, in some cases it is permissible to move forbidden objects on the Sabbath, provided you do it kliachar yad.

In modern Hebrew, the expression means doing something inadvertently or without much thought. Ahad Ha'am, the leader of spiritual Zionism and an advocate for the renaissance of Hebrew as a living language, was one of the first people to use kliachar yad as a modern phrase. Other giants of Hebrew literature added other body parts to come up with the terms kliachar ayin (eye) and kliachar ozen (ear). Hence Bialik speaks of the teachings of others entering his heart, but through kliachar ozen, ie with only passive, distracted listening.

A term originally created to refer to permitted actions on Shabbat and Yomtov has evolved into a term denoting one's mental and emotional state, an example of what makes Hebrew so rich.

Last updated: 12:19pm, October 30 2008