JHOM - Worry - Introduction JHOM - Worry - Intro

Michele Klein brings her training in psychology and love of all things Jewish to the notion of worry -- the normal, everyday angst that we all feel to varying degrees. She explores the ways in which Jews have experienced, expressed, and coped with it since biblical times right up to the post-9/11 present. The entire Topic of the Month "WORRY" is excerpted from Michele Klein, Not to Worry: Jewish Wisdom and Folklore (JPS 2003).

"We are distressed about the past, perturbed about the present, and frightened about the future," observed a Jewish poet, Jedayah Bedersi "Ha-penini," in Provence, in the early fourteenth century, meditating on human nature.[1]

Is anxiety just in the mind? Meira Grossinger.
Head with Inner Eye, 1999.
Newspaper, net, wire.
68 x 40 x 38 cms

Bedersi used the term mitatzev for his emotion about the past, bahalah for distress about the present, and yirah for trepidation about the future. Elsewhere in his treatise he used also pa-had, eymah, and be'atah — biblical words for fear and strong anxiety. There is a gamut of more than a dozen Hebrew words in the Jewish sources that express apprehensive emotion, the feeling of worry, the sensation of anxiety, as well as the process of becoming fearful. These words are used in different contexts in the Torah, rabbinic texts, and again in modern Hebrew today. They depict long-term and short-lived anguish, situation-specific and diffuse anxiety, and rational and irrational fear. They refer to moral, social, and existential worrying, also fear of suffering and death. The gamut stretches from mild fretting to panic, from trembling anguish to numbing dread.

Some Jews had a special vocabulary for disturbing emotion in the vernacular that differentiated between various anxiety disorders. Thus, for example, in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic, shakikah refers to fear, usually noticed in women with hysterical symptoms, quite different from hatfa, the "snatched heart" experienced by men who have been out alone in the dark. Other Judeo-Arabic words refer to a trembling fear caused by an evil spirit, a disease of the imagination (possibly what we now call "paranoia"), and a panic attack.

Iraqi and Yemenite Jews use hofah for fright; Iraqis also use the word tarkah, and Yemenite Jews use the word fadja, for different anxiety disorders, each calling for its own folk remedy. Iraqi Jews have compared a constant worrier to a chicken in the hen house, constantly afraid of the jackal and the wolf; "Come the jackal, come the wolf" denotes one who lives in constant dread. Yiddish speakers draw on both German and Hebrew, using zorge, angst, and de'agah for anxiety and worry, as well as the more general term for distress and anguish, tzuris.



[1] Jedayah Bedersi (Ha-penini), Be-hinot olam, trans. Tobias Goodman (London: 1806), chapter13. See also chapters 15, 18, and 19 on worry, fear, and anxiety.

sources footnotesMichele Klein, Not to Worry: Jewish Wisdom and Folklore (Jewish Publication Society 2003).
sources Michele Klein has a Ph.D. in psychology and has been researching Jewish customs and folklore for many years. Her previous book (JPS), A Time to Be Born: Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth, won a National Jewish Book Award.



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