I’ll venture a definition: a busybody whose interest and advice is not really well-intentioned, though it purports to be.

A yenta is generally female, but if we assume that a man can be one too, an old-country joke comes to mind.  Two bearded Jews are in close conversation, head to head, when a third man sticks his bearded self between them, cupping his hand to one ear and saying inquiringly,


“Excuse us,” says the original pair to him gently.  “We are having a confidential conversation, talking about our private business.”

“Yes,” says the third man brightly.  “Exactly!”

My question is, why is the third guy interested?  And what’s wrong with his (disarmingly candid) interest?  First, one feels, it is not really their business that interests him.  His “interest” is in the privacy of what is being communicated, not its content.

My feeling is that his is not merely idle curiosity.  It’s a matter of a person who can’t, as they say, “get a life.”  For that person, there can be a further purpose: caricature of yours.

The yenta has a message of her own: nobody has a life.  There is no destination,  no true north when we journey.  At some early point in her own life, she made that premature and misleading “discovery,” and now wants to put its stamp on the privacy of any girl who hasn’t found it out for herself.

“Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you [Moses] brought us out here to die in the wilderness?”

Although, in the Jesus movies, the divine is always there, this ain’t the movies and the God who acts in history is not incessantly visible.  Our lives include dry spells and the times – they can be long – when it seems we are getting nowhere fast.

It is then that the yenta typically appears, to assure us that, viewed from her box seat, we are headed for a brick wall.  If the yenta is a woman, as often and unhappily she is, here are some of the ills and hopes that woman flesh is heir to, which she has already spotted:

  • one’s prolonged, unmarried state;
  • one’s dubitable happiness, if one is married;
  • one’s lethal near relations, with whom one might “make peace,” to one’s own subsequent undoing;
  • one’s weight, in its excess or deficiency;
  • one’s wayward or untimely children
  • one’s childlessness;
  • one’s questionable medical treatments, if one is ill;
  • the boringly predictable details of the lives we live that – before we heard from her — we would have taken to be interesting and significant adventures.



About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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