Truth is a prized quality in Judaism, to the point that Talmud calls it is G‑d’s own signature.1 The Hebrew, and by extension Yiddish, word for truth is emes. Comprising the three Hebrew letters א-מ-ת, it is a composite of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph), the middle letter (mem) and the final letter (tav).

Take a look at the three letters of אמת, and you will see that they each have two feet, providing a sturdy basis upon which to stand. Conversely, the word for untruth, sheker, looks like this: שקר, with each letter precariously perched upon a single leg, ready to topple over.

In light of the important place that truth has in our tradition, we present you with a collection of Yiddish expressions about telling the truth and avoiding falsehood.

The best lie is the truth
Der bester lign iz der emes
דער בעסטער ליגן איז דער אמת

When deciding whether or not to tell the truth, it is important to remember that coming clean, while initially painful, will be much better in the long run.

A liar should have a good memory
A ligner darf hobn a gutn zikorn
א ליגנער דארף האָבן א גוטן זכּרון

A lie which seems innocent can sometimes create a web of untruths and fantasies that becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.

If his word (= promise) were a bridge, people would be afraid to cross it.
Ven zain vort volt geven a brik, volt men meyre gehat aribertsugeyn.
ווען זיין וואָרט וואָלט געווען א בריק וואָלט מען מורא געהאַט אַריבערצוגיין

The worth of a person's promise is determined by his truthfulness. If you have lost faith in a person's word, you can no longer rely on his promises.

Truth floats like oil over water
Der emes shvimt aruf vi beyml afn vaser
דער אמת שווימט אַרוף ווי בוימל אַפן וואַסער

A person may think that he has buried the truth under a carefully constructed lie, but it is merely a matter of time before the truth will surface.

In business there are no buddies
In handlshaft iz nito keyn brudershaft
אין האַנדלשאַפט איז ניטאָ קיין ברודערשאַפט

The unfortunate reality is that even those who are otherwise decent, kind and honest, sometimes become ruthless and crooked when money is involved.

The honest way is the hard way
Erlekh iz shverlekh
ערלעך איז שווערלעך

This little rhyme expresses the fact that it is not always easy to take the moral high road.

The eye with which you look at a person determines his appearance.
Mit vos far a eygn m’kukt eynem on, aza ponim hot er
מיט וואָס פאַר אַ אויגן מ'קוקט איינעם אָן אַזא פּנים האָט ער

Truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes, it pays to look charitably upon others, even if it means glossing over some of their shortcomings. As a result, the person’s behavior will actually reflect the kind eye trained upon them.

A fool fools a fool
A nar nart a nar
אַ נאַר נאַרט אַ נאַר

A fool attempts to fool others around him, but wise people generally see through the untruths, leaving only the fools fooled.

The thief’s hat is on fire
Afn ganef brent dos hitl
אַפן גנב ברענט דאָס היטל

The story behind the expression: A robbery occurred but everyone denied knowledge of the affair. A wise man shouted, “The thief’s hat is burning!” and watched to see who would lift their hand to check for flames on their head. This expression has come to denote someone who denies wrongdoing, but whose own words or actions show otherwise.

Promising and loving both don’t cost any money
Tsuzogn un lib hobn kost nit keyn gelt
צוזאָגן און ליב האָבן קאָסט ניט קיין געלט

A promise is only worth as much as the integrity of the person making the promise. Unfortunately, rash expressions of love may not portend long-term commitment.

Truth has all the finest qualities, but it’s shy
Der emes hot ale mailes, ober er iz a shemevdiker
דער אמת האָט אַלע מעלות אָבער ער איז א שעמעוודיקער

If you were to ascribe human attributes to Truth, you know who he’d be: That painfully shy friend who is wise, kind and caring, but no one takes the time to get to know.

The mirror tells the truth
Der shpigl zogt-ois dem emes
דער שפּיגל זאָגט אויס דעם אמת

We can embellish, airbrush and hide, but there comes a moment when we find ourselves staring truth in the face.

G‑d likes the truth
Got hot lib dem emes
גאָט האָט ליב דעם אמת

It’s not always easy or popular to tell the truth, but we can take comfort and inspiration from the knowledge that truth is prized by G‑d Himself.

Truth does not die but it lives like a pauper
Der emes shtarbt nit, ober er lebt vi an oriman
דער אמת שטאַרבט ניט אָבער ער לעבט ווי אַן אָרימאַן

The truth is eternal and can never disappear, but not everyone pays attention to it.

One mustn’t tell a lie, but neither must one tell the truth
Keyn lign tor men nit zogn, ober dem emes darf men eykh nit zogn
קיין ליגן טאָר מען ניט זאָגן אָבער דעם אמת דאַרף מען אויך ניט זאָגן

There are times when making truth known can do more harm than good.

Everyone loves the truth, but not everyone tells the truth
Yederer hot lib dem emes, ober nit yederer zogt em
יעדערער האָט ליב דעם אמת אָבער ניט יעדערער זאָגט עם

Reading this list we can all appreciate the importance and virtuousness of truth, yet when it comes to practice, how many of us slip up from time to time…?

Where there is truth, there is success
Vu emes, dort iz hatslokhe
וואו אמת, דאָרט איז הצלחה

Truth will lead to success.

Eat bread and salt, and don’t forget the truth
Zalts un breyt zolstu esn un dem emes nit fargesn
זאַלץ און ברויט זאָלסטו עסן און דעם אמת ניט פאַרגעסן

This rhyme was surely inspired by the sages’ teaching that the “way of Torah” includes subsisting on the simple staples of bread and salt.

The truth is in the prayer book
Der emes iz in sider
דער אמת איז אין סידור

The simple Jew of yesteryear may not have been learned enough to open a Talmud, or even a Chumash (Five Books of Moses). But he or she instinctively knew that G‑d was available to him or her through heartfelt prayer, and that the truth of all existence is couched in our traditions.

The truth is the greatest swindle
Der emes iz der grester shvindl
דער אמת איז דער גרעסטער שווינדל

Often that which is peddled as “truth” turns out to be a pack of lies.

Children and fools are sure to tell the truth
Kinder un naronim zogn dem emes
קינדער און נאַראָנים זאָגן דעם אמת

For better or for worse, we are conditioned to repress truth and smooth over differences. At times, it takes a child to say what everyone else is thinking.

A half-truth is a complete lie
A halber emes iz a gantser lign
א האַלבער אמת איז א גאַנצער ליגן

Even if not telling a technical lie, when picking and choosing what to say, one can end up misleading and lying.