Translatable but Debatable - Tachleet תכלית

When I was a kid, we sang Adon Olam in English, pointing out in one of the lines that the Lord of the Universe is “without initial state or end”— that is to say, בלי ראשית, בלי תכלית.  Bli resheet, bli tachleet. If you were to remark today in conversational Hebrew that something is bli tachleet, you’d be saying it has no purpose.

In English too, the word “end” overlaps “purpose” in its meaning.  “To what end does he want this annulment?” asked a divorce attorney about Kim Kardashian’s husband, for example.

But the English language, and the Western world in general, have somewhat retreated from the idea that as it heads toward finality, everything is headed toward fulfillment of a purpose, and that the purpose rests with the Lord of the Universe.  If you ask me (and I know you didn’t), what divides the world’s civilizations from one another these days the belief or non-belief in pursuing a transcendent purpose.  “End” seldom means “purpose” now in English.

From tachleet we get the Yiddish word tachless, which is all about practical, not transcendent, purpose.  One web page lists six spellings (tachlis, takhlis, tachles, takhles, tahlis, tahles — and if they acknowledged that the S at the end may be doubled, it would be twelve) and defines the word as “essence, substance; worth; basics, ‘brass tacks’”  Elsewhere on the web it’s defined as “bottom line, concrete, tangible,” “the heart of the matter,” “nitty gritty.”

An article titled “The Most Important Word in Hebrew,” by Ofri Markus (formerly of the Israel Air Force and Tadiran Telecom but now based in Massachusetts), says:

Speaking “tachless” means speaking to the point – delivering a clear and unambiguous message. Saying “In ‘tachless’…” means “the essence is…”.  In recent years (as a part of a slang trend), Israelis even started saying “tachless” as a stand alone word, meaning “I completely agree with what you just said, you spoke to the point!”

That trend missed me.  I would be more inclined to understand an exclamation of “Tachless!” as “I completely dismiss what you just said.  Speak to the point!”

The word can refer not only to what a thing amounts to, but also what an action amounts to for practical purposes.

Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, by Fred Bahnson, contains this passage:

Now it was 11:25 a.m. — time for tachliss, Sam told me — and the kimchi batch would have to wait.

“What’s tachliss?” I asked.

“Brass tacks. It basically means ‘getting shit done.’”

On a page taken from “the wildly popular,” someone called grend123 complains:

When the news shows Satmar chassidim burning [Israeli] flags, the world sees not a milchemes Hashem [“a battle on God’s behalf”], but a bunch of crazy ‘fundamentalist’ self hating Jews; it sees ignorance, intolerance, and internal disunity in the Jewish people. And don't tell me tachlis; there is no practical gain in flag burning other than to make this chilul [“desecration”].

Recently I had to translate the phrase תצוגת תכלית (t’tsugat tachleet, a tsuga being a presentation).  It seems to be in use as a term for an exemplary job of work, for instance in a Walla article about singer Eyal Golan’s concert at the Caesarea Amphitheater:

אייל גולן בקיסריה: תצוגת תכלית אדירה של הגדול מכולם

Or a Globes article’s description (by Omer Shomroni) of violinist Janine Janson performing with the Israel Philharmonic:

זו היתה תצוגת תכלית מרהיבה של יכולת סולנית, עומק הבעה, ונוכחות בימתית כובשת.

However, I found that on the Internet, source after source after source declares plainly that a t’tsugat tachleet is not the performance that is the culmination or the purpose of someone’s efforts, or that demonstrates what others should aim for, but a mere “lesson introduction.”  A t’tsugat tachleet presents the purpose of a unit of instructional material.  This week we will learn to multiply decimals, or whatever.  A presentation that specifies the goal rather than one that embodies the goal.

Maybe the idea of the t’tsugat tachleet as the perfected achievement comes from instances like pottery class, where the teacher says “Today we're going to make a fluted vase” and holds up a perfect fluted vase.  Or maybe the phrase is simply acquiring a new meaning by being misinterpreted.  I translated it as "object lesson," a phrase that in English happens to have similarly escaped the instructional environment.

I’m sure there’s much more to say about the t’tsugat tachleet in specific, tachlis, and tachleet in general.  Please feel free to add comments in the space below.  But only on that famlily of words, because that is the tachleet of this specific page.  If there’s another word you’d like to raise for discussion, please write me at ]]