The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM -

KAVACHOL is a phrase used col­lo­qui­ally to­day to mean “as if” or “as though it were pos­si­ble”. It can be meant lit­er­ally, as in “the baby sounds as if she’s re­ally talk­ing, kavachol.” Or it can be meant sar­cas­ti­cally, ap­prox­i­mat­ing to the Amer­i­can “as if,” or “yeah, right”, or the Bri­tish, “if pigs could fly”. In this sense, you might say, “He re­ally thinks he’ll go to the gym at 6 am each morn­ing, kavachol.”

Kavachol is a rab­binic phrase, from the pre­fix k’ mean­ing “like” and the verb ya­chol,” to be able or ca­pa­ble. It is used most of­ten in al­le­gor­i­cal or metaphor­i­cal state­ments about God. The rab­bis will say some­thing of God that can­not lit­er­ally be said and then add “ kavachol,” “as if it were pos­si­ble. A fa­mous midrash says that when the Jewish peo­ple went into ex­ile, the Shechi­nah (Divine Pres­ence) went with them, kavachol. The Shechi­nah is not lo­cated in any par­tic­u­lar place, but the rab­bis used the fig­ure of speech to ex­press their sense of God’s com­fort­ing close­ness to the Jewish peo­ple even in times of trou­ble.

This use of kavachol is a way of guard­ing against the dan­ger of an­thro­po­mor­phism, as­crib­ing hu­man at­tributes to God. We want to try and say some­thing about God, but at the same time ad­mit that the lan­guage we use will al­ways far short of com­mu­ni­cat­ing what we wish to.

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