The Joys of Yiddish - Chutzpa

the canopy top used today. It was set up inside the synagogue, or in a courtyard, or out of doors.

In American synagogues, the chuppa is often a canopy of greens and flowers.


Of the chuppa, Sholom Aleichem once wrote: “You enter it living and come out a corpse.”


Nuptial canopies are, of course, found in many cultures. The Greeks used a thalamos or bridal bower; the Brahmans use a twelve-pole canopy; in Spain and Scotland, newlyweds pass under a bower of leaves or boughs. In Sweden, bridesmaids hold a covering of shawls over the bride, to ward off the evil eye. (In many cultures, the wedding couple is protected from the evil eye by covers, cloths, enclosures.) In Tahiti, the couple is surrounded by, or rolled into, a mat.


The chuppa, in short, is not unique to Jews, nor was it invented by the Isrealites. But it symbolises the home and its very special, central meaning in Jewish life – as life’s hub, life’s refuge, life’s temple.


See Apendix: Weddings.


chutzpa (noun)


chutzpadik (adjective)


Pronounced KHOOTS-pah; rattle that kh around with fervor; rhymes with “Foot spa.” Do not pronounce the ch as in “choo-choo” or “Chippewa,” but as the German ch in Ach! or the Scottish in loch. Hebrew: “insolence,” “audacity.”


Gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible “guts”; presumption-plus-arrogance such as no other word, and no other language, can do justice to. 


The classic definition of chutzpa is, of course, this:

Chutzpa is that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.


A chuzpanik may be defined as the man who shouts “Help! Help!” while beating you up.


In Paris, a plump Brooklyn touristeh entered a fine linen shop and, fingering a lace tablecloth, asked the proprietress the price thusly:

  “Combien pour cette tishtoch (tablecloth)I

Cinquante francs, madame.”

Cinquante francs?” echoed the American. “Mais, c’est une shmatte (rag)!”

The Baleboosteh drew herself up in high dudgeon. “Une shmatte, madame? Quelle chutzpa!


A woman, feeling sorry for a beggar who had come to her door, invited him in and offered him food. On the table was a pile of dark bread – and a few slices of challa. The shnorrer (beggar) promptly fell upon the challa.

“There’s black bread, too,” the woman hinted.

“I prefer challa.”

“But challa is much more expensive!”

“Lady,” said the beggar, “it’s worth it.”

That, I think, is chutzpa.


And if you need one more example, regardez this:

A chutzpanik, having dined well in a restaurant, summoned the proprietor, to whom he said as follows, “My friend, I enjoyed your food, but to tell you the truth, I haven’t a penny to my name. Wait: Don’t be angry! Hear me out. I am, by profession, a beggar. I happen to be an extremely talented shnorter. I can go out and within an hour shnorr the entire amount I owe you. But naturally, you can’t trust me  to come back. I understand. You’ll be well-advised to come with me and not let me out of your sight for a minute, right? But can a man like you, a well-known restaurateur, be seen in the company of a man who is shnorring? Certainly not! So, I have the perfect solution. I’ll wait here – and you go out and shnorr until you have the cost of this dinner!”

That, certainly, is chutzpa.


“The bashful go to Paradise,” said Judah ha-Nasi, twenty centuries ago, “and the brazen go to Purgatory.”






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