Oz Torah: Hip Hip Hooray – Ask the Rabbi.


Q. I have heard that Jews shouldn’t say “Hip Hip Hooray”. Is this true and, if so, why?

A. I must have often joined in when people greeted one another with the shout, “Hip hip hooray” but I don’t intend to ever do it again.

For one thing, “Hooray!” (or its variants, “Hurrah!” or “Huzzah!”) is pure nonsense. It has no accepted etymology (though people have tried to trace it in Hindi and other languages) and was probably invented by some old-time cheerleader. Possibly every language has a rallying-call and this is what English ended up with.

Hebraic ingenuity sees a similarity between “Hooray” and the “Harei” which means “Behold! See!” But does this hold water? Is it sheer imagination? Who knows?

The general view is that the introductory “Hip hip” is the initials of three antisemitic words, “Hierysolima est perdita”, “Jerusalem is lost!” – presumably a Roman or Crusader cry of triumph.

If this is true, we still don’t know how an antisemitic slogan came to introduce a silly greeting which makes no sense of anything.

There is only one historical but nasty possibility, that it links with the 1819 Hep Hep riots in Germany. Any Jew living in those pre-State of Israel days was a ready target for persecution even if (as usual) the prejudice against Jews had no rational basis.

If the phrase really is antisemitic, what a stupid custom it is to endorse the toast to a bride and groom at a Jewish wedding celebration with these words.

The most I can say in its defence is that it might be linked to an old Hebrew phrase, “He’ach he’ach” – “Aha, aha” (Psalm 35:21) or “He’dad” (Isaiah 16:9), again using an “h”. Both might have been shouts of victory in ancient times.


Q. Can criminals be counted in a minyan? Since they have publicly desecrated God’s commandments, wouldn’t counting them in a minyan defeat the notion of a “spiritual quorum” for prayer?

A. Even though a person may, God forbid, be a criminal, they are still duty bound to fulfil the commandments and to assist the community to make a minyan.

One transgression does not excuse another, and indeed praying in a minyan may well turn the person’s thoughts towards repentance; the sages often warn against “closing the door before penitents”.

A fascinating Australian episode which helps to clarify the issue derives from convict Tasmania about 150 years ago.

An example of a numbered convict bench in the synagogue (Hobart Synagogue online gallery)

The president of the Hobart Hebrew Congregation wrote to Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler in London asking whether convicts could be called to the Torah.

It took months for the enquiry to reach London, and months for the answer to come back, but the Chief Rabbi ruled that convicts and “ticket-of-leave” men could attend services and be counted towards a minyan, but should not be called to the Torah or accorded any honours (Max Gordon, “Jews in Van Diemen’s Land”, 1965, p. 90).


Q. Why does the Shema tell us to place God’s words “on”, not “in” our hearts?

A. The Kotzker Rebbe said that people’s hearts are not always open to inspiration, but if the Divine words are on top of our heart they will be ready to enter it the moment it becomes receptive.

The Rebbe of Kalisch said that the Hebrew alneed not mean “upon” but can denote “above”.

If one’s heart desires inappropriate things the Divine words should be above them and exercise firm control.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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