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    Folk greetings – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. You recently said that phrases such as “Well over the fast” are somewhat strange. Do they really have no historical origins?

    yom kippur well over fastA. Though I attributed these and other phrases, including “Please God by you”, to Anglo-Jewry, they seem to derive from the Yiddish-speaking environment in old Eastern Europe.

    On the eve of the Yom Kippur fast, for example, there was a common phrase, Ihr zolt hob’n a gring’n tonis – “You should have an easy fast”. I still argue, however, that this ignores the real purpose of the day, which is not to think so much of the stomach but of the soul.

    The “Please God by you” greeting, which is the despair of unmarried people at a wedding, is also from eastern European origins and is part Hebrew, part Yiddish – Im yir’tzeh HaShem bei dir – “If God wills it, (there should be joy) by you”. (Those who don’t know what Im yir’tzeh HaShem means have been known to abbreviate the phrase to Mitcham bei dir).

    “By” has come into English as the result of Yiddish influence, producing phrases like “It’s all right by me” and “By Judaism that’s acceptable”. In what some people call “Yeshivish” the word is now very common, e.g. “You’ll eat by me this week!”

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