Yom Kippur and Hebrew Slang
Yom Kippur (יום כיפור, “Day of Atonement”) is known as one of the most reflective and serious days of the Jewish calendar. It can also be one of the most joyous, when seen as an opportunity to clean the slate and start afresh. As we prepare ourselves for this meaningful holiday, how is it connected to an opportunity to learn some Hebrew slang?
Using the word כַּפָּרָה (kapara, literally “atonement,” the same word as in יום כיפור, Yom Kippur), we will look at how a word can hold a completely different meaning than its literal translation. Yalla, let’s begin!
LIKE A COW
Yom Kippur is a day where many Jews focus on trying לְכַפֵּר (l’kaper, “to atone”) or do כַּפָּרָה (kapara, “atonement”) for the previous year and the mistakes they have made. One tradition of Erev Yom Kippur is kaparot. HIstorically, the tradition meant using a live chicken and passing it around your head while reciting a short prayer about atonement. The chicken would then be killed to provide a meal to a poor family who would not otherwise be able to afford food to eat, so they could gain sustenance before the 25-hour fast. Today, most people who practice this custom use money instead of a chicken, and the money is then given immediately to tzedakah to provide food for a family in need before Yom Kippur.
Yet along the way, in recent years, the word kapara has become widely known with a different meaning altogether! Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean (thanks, Microsoft translate):
Neta Barzilai, the 2018 winner of the Eurovision song contest, widely uses the slang kapara (כפרה). Thus, in tweeting his congratulations on her win, Prime Minister Binyamin “Bibi’ Netanyahu used it, too. Microsoft translated that word as “a cow.” Bibi was not intending on this hilarious and horrific mistake in translation; Though to be fair, Microsoft made their mistake based on truth. Para does indeed mean cow, thus k’para would mean “like a cow.”
However, the slang phrase kapara is a term of endearment, roughly translating as “darling.” It is generally attached to a preposition:
When saying it to a male – kapara alecha – כַּפָּרָה עָלֶיךָ
When saying it to a female – kapara alayich – כַּפָּרָה עָלֶיךְ
When saying it to a group of men or a mixed group of men and women – kapara aleychem – כַּפָּרָה עֲלֵיכֶם
When saying it to a group of women – kapara aleychen – כַּפָּרָה עֲלֵיכֶן
Note that where you emphasize the syllable is different depending on your meaning. When referring to atoning, כַּפָּרָה is pronounced ka-pa-RA. When using the slang version, כַּפָּרָה is pronounced ka-PA-ra.