“May you lose all your teeth, except for one and may it ache” is a Yiddish curse. Notice no need for vulgarity, only a wince-inducing image. In Hebrew, and Yiddish by extension, there is an absence of vulgar words. For instance, in Yiddish the male reproductive organ is described with a euphemism that translates as “jewel.” In modern colloquial Hebrew, vulgar words for cursing are borrowed from other languages, particularly from Russian and Arabic. And yet, cursing abounds in the Bible (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28) and defines Psalm 109.
Some examples of curses from Psalm 109: “May his children wander aimlessly and beg and scavenge amidst ruins; may the creditor seize all that he has and may strangers plunder his assets; may no one extend to him kindness and no one be gracious to his orphans” (verses 10-12). Jewish commentators are bothered by the focus not just on the foe, but on his children. Some say that the words are just repeating the curses of the foe back at him, for which the Psalm also has evidence.
This morning’s Psalm is dedicated to Rabbi Michael Beals, Tustin High grad and rabbi of Wilmington, DE.