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Learn Hebrew: Dogs

Learn Hebrew: Dogs

The Jewish canine corps.


For sheer joy and love, there may be no better pet than "man's best friend" – the dog. The word kelev ( dog) is mentioned 33 times in the Bible. In most cases it is vowelized differently, in reference to Kalev ben Yefune – one of the 12 scouts who were sent by Moses to report on the land of Israel. The other cases refer to dogs.

The Talmud says that a person should not raise a dangerous dog in his house. If the dog barks, that could scare neighbors and even cause damage to someone who is frightened easily.

Interestingly, animals in general, and dogs in particular, "speak" different languages across the globe. For example, English-speaking dogs say "ruf ruf," whereas in Hebrew a dog barks (hav hav).

Rabbi Eliyah Dessler learns from here a deep lesson in interpersonal relations: Even though a dog is loyal, its bark of “hav hav” literally means “give me, give me.” This is in contrast to a human relationship, where loyalty is based not on an expectation that the other will “give to me,” but rather the opposite – the relationship is strengthened every time that I give to the other.

Dog Proverbs

Translation: A barking dog does not bite.
Transliteration: Kelev novey'ach lo noshech.
Meaning: Loud threats often don’t materialize.

Translation: Here the dog is buried.
Transliteration: Po kavur ha’kelev.
Meaning: This is the real explanation of the issue.

During the 1970s, an Israeli pop band called Kaveret ( Behive) wrote and performed a comic song entitled "Po Kavur Ha'kelev." Listen to it here.

Related Vocabulary Words

Translation: to bark
Transliteration: linvo'ach

Translation: barking
Transliteration: ni’veecha

Although dogs obviously don’t speak any particular language, they respond to commands that contain certain sounds and inflections. Recently the New York Times published an article about a police dog in Montana who was originally trained by the Israeli Defense Forces. The problem is that the dog, Miky, would only respond to commands in Hebrew. Even though the officer in charge, John Fosket, was given a list of Hebrew commands and expressions, the dog didn’t respond. That’s because the police officer (who is not Jewish) wasn’t pronouncing the words properly – particularly the unfamiliar Hebrew “ch” sound. A local rabbi came to the rescue, and now all is well – the Israeli dog is helping to keep things safe in Montana.

Translation: Sit!
Transliteration: Shev! (m), Shvi! (f)

Translation: To the ground!
Transliteration: Artza!

Translation: Heel! (literally: To my foot!)
Transliteration: Ragli!

Click here for more Hebrew dog commands.

Hebrew Word Search

See if you can find all the words in the puzzle below:

December 26, 2009

Article 12 of 15 in the series Learn Hebrew

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 7

(6) dennis crinion, August 19, 2013 1:02 PM

just a comment

re dog ,kelev .I think like heart is very apt .

(5) Anonymous, January 10, 2010 6:22 PM

Dog speak

I once read about a German shepherd (raised in Germany)that was given to an American police force. The handler had to learn commands in German to get the dog to respond.

Barbara, July 7, 2016 7:46 PM

I think I would have taught the dog English. :)

(4) Anonymous, January 4, 2010 5:15 PM

Dogs can be taught to "read"

My sister in Colorado has trained companion dogs for people with disabilities for years. REcently, she has trained Delta, a standard poodle how to "read." Delta now recognizes at least seven words on flashcards and responds accurately to the commands. (She really doesn't read in the sense that we do, but recognizes what we call morphemes, the shape of the words.) This is iimportant, as Delta will eventually help a mobility-impaired person by being able to go into another room and fetch things like the newspaper, keys, gloves, etc. She can also sit, lie down and speak in response to the flashcards. I admire Delta for her ability to learn, but I am in awe of my sister for her patient teaching of this skill.

(3) helen porath, December 28, 2009 12:21 PM

Rose-eager to learn": " Kalev" is a different word.

A Jerusalem-born acquaintance explained to me the meaning of her surname, "Kalev": It has nothing to do with dogs. It comes from the Hebrew word, "Lev", meaning "heart". "K' " means, "like". Therefore, "Like, or,as, from the heart."

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