Chazer: (KHA-zer) 1) n. pig 2) v. repeat or review

Both meanings of the Yiddish word chazer—“pig” and “review”—have their source in the Hebrew language.

Chazer: The Pig

Chazir (pronounced kha-ZIR) is Hebrew for “pig.” This word appears in the Five Books of Moses when the verses list the non-kosher animals.1 Since pigs are generally detested by Jews, this word appears in many different contexts. Here are some of them:

Chazer Treif: Treif (literally “torn”) is the Hebrew/Yiddish term for something that is unkosher. Thus when you want to say that something is absolutely, unequivocally and entirely not kosher, you could say that it is chazer treif, “as unkosher as a pig.”

Chazer Shtahl: The equivalent of the English term “pigsty,” this is how you would describe the bedroom of a teenager whose mother stopped coming in to collect dirty socks and tissues several weeks ago.

Chazershaft: “Love your fellow as yourself” is described by Rabbi Akiva as the great principle behind the entire Torah. Someone who cannot see the needs of others is compared to a pig, which is so wrapped up in its own needs that it sees nothing beyond his trough of slop. Thus chazershaft, “pigginess,” can be used to describe either selfishness or gluttony.

Chazerei: This is as close a Yiddish term as you can get to the English “junk” or “junk food.”

Chazer Fissel: “Pig’s feet.” Why is the pig so reviled? One classic reason goes back to the biblical verses telling us which mammals are kosher: those who both have split hooves and chew their cud. Now the pig is unique in that it has split hooves but does not chew its cud. Yet the pig spends a lot of its time sprawling out with its split hooves on display, as if to say, “Look at me. I’m kosher!” while it’s really as treif as ever. Thus, chazer fissel, “pig’s feet,” has become synonymous with hypocrisy and ostentatious piety that does not reflect inner sincerity.

Chazer: Review

Yeshivah students engage in discourse at the West Coast Rabbinical Seminary in Los Angeles. (Photo: Mordechai Lightstone)
Yeshivah students engage in discourse at the West Coast Rabbinical Seminary in Los Angeles. (Photo: Mordechai Lightstone)

The root word of chazer, CH-Z-R, also means to “return,” “repeat” or “review.” Chazarah is the noun and chazar is the verb. A basic component of Torah study is returning to a text, studying it again and again until it has been well understood. In fact, in Talmudic days it was common for people to chazer the same subject 100 times. This gave rise to the adage, “He who learns but does not review is like he who sows but does not reap.”

Chazer Baal Peh: Once someone has learned something so well that they know it by heart, Yiddish speakers say that they can chazer baal peh, “review by mouth,” since there is no need for the text anymore.

Chazer Chassidus: In chassidic culture, especially before many chassidic texts were committed to writing, the act of chazeren chassidus, repeating chassidic discourses, was instrumental in spreading the teachings of the chassidic masters. Until this very day, it is common for someone to chazer a discourse in the closing moments of Shabbat, at weddings and bar mitzvahs, and whenever else chassidim gather for inspiration.

Chazer Bochur: I heard this term from an elderly Jew in Hungary, who was reminiscing about his pre-Holocaust childhood, when he had studied in one of the great prewar yeshivahs in the Carpathian mountains. He referred to the young man with whom he would review his studies as a chazer bochur (bochur is Hebrew/Yiddish for “youth”).

Time to Chazer!

Let us chazer what we have just learned. Suppose you were listening to your chazer bochur chazer baal peh, and you knew that he left his dorm room a chazer shtal full of chazerei. You may think of him as a chazer fissel for his act of chazershaft, since in your mind, acting like a chazer is simply chazer treif.

Did you get that? In that case, let’s chazer one last teaching. The fact that chazer means both “return” and “pig” is not just coincidental. Rather, the sages say that the pig will one day return from its unkosher state. When Messiah comes, the pig, the most unkosher among all animals, will be transformed into a kosher animal!2