Gershon Hepner

Bilingual Punning and Running

The Times of Israel reports on 8/15/22:

Israel wins gold in team marathon event at European Athletics Championships.
Success in Munich comes 50 years after the 1972 Olympics massacre of Israelis in the German city.

Israel took gold Monday in the men’s team marathon event at the European Athletics Championships in Munich, an extraordinary success coming 50 years after the massacre of Israeli athletes in the same city.

Israel’s Marhu Teferi also won a silver medal in the individual runners’ competition, while fellow Israeli Gashau Ayale picked up the bronze.

Along with Teferi and Ayale, who are both Ethiopian-born Israelis, the other members of the gold medal squad were Omer Ramon, Yimer Getahun and Girmaw Amare. On Shabbat Hazon I suggested that Isaiah 1:4 contained a bilingual pun:

ד  הוֹי גּוֹי חֹטֵא, עַם כֶּבֶד עָוֺן–זֶרַע מְרֵעִים, בָּנִים מַשְׁחִיתִים; עָזְבוּ אֶת-יְהוָה, נִאֲצוּ אֶת-קְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל–נָזֹרוּ אָחוֹר. 4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that deal corruptly; they have forsaken the LORD, they have contemned the Holy One of Israel, they are turned away backward.

Ibn Ezra, explaining the word הוֹי, writes:

הוי. יש מפרשים ה”א תחת אל”ף, כמו אדורם (מלכים א’ י”ב י”ח) הדורם (דברי הימים ב’ י’ י”ח) איך (שמות ב’ ו’ ט’) והיך (דברי הימים א’ א’ י”ב), ולפי דעתי שהוא סימן קריאה, ועיקר המלה מגזרת היה, בעבור שמצאנו הוי הוי ונוסו (זכריה ב’ י’) הוי ציון המלטי [שם י”א], על כן אמר אחריו לנוכח על מה תכו:
הוי. Some consider the ה as a substitute for א, and explain אוי ═ הוי, ‘woe;’ comp. אדורם and הדורם, N. pr. (2 Chr. 10:18; 1 Kings 12:18); איך and היך, how (1 Chr. 13:12 ; 2 Sam. 6:9); but I think that it is a sign of the vocative case (derived from the verb היה ‘to be’), and that the passage must be rendered, O sinful people, etc.; comp. הוי הוי ונסו, Ho, ho, flee (Zach. 2:10), הוי ציון המלטי O Zion, deliver thyself (Ibid. 11).13 The second person is, therefore, used in the next verse, Why should ye be stricken any more.

It occurred to me that הוֹי גּוֹי in Isa. 1:4  is homonymous with hoi polloi,  which caused me to wonder whether the author of this verse might have  been making a bilingual anti-Hellenistic pun.
On 8/15/22 I wondered whether Je. 13:23 also makes a bilingual pun, predicting the success of Jewish Ethiopian marathon  runner in Europe::

Jer. 13:23 states:

כג  הֲיַהֲפֹךְ כּוּשִׁי עוֹרוֹ, וְנָמֵר חֲבַרְבֻּרֹתָיו; גַּם-אַתֶּם תּוּכְלוּ לְהֵיטִיב, לִמֻּדֵי הָרֵעַ.

23 Can the Ethiopian change oro, his skin, or the leopard into winning members of the team? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
The word עוֹרוֹ not only means “his skin,” but “Euro,” punningly anticipating for us today the way that Ethiopian-born Jewish marathon runners become חֲבַרְבֻּרֹתָיו, winning members of the team.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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