Boris Gelfand was just narrowly edged out by Anand in their match's rapid tiebreaks, and I thought I'd ask an oddball question related to him.

The bishop chess piece is known by several different sorts of names in different languages. For instance, while in Icelandic it is referred to as a "biskup," which is their equivalent of bishop, in German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish the piece is called by those languages' respective equivalents of "runner." In Romanian it is termed a "nebun," or crazy person, and in French it is called a "fou," or fool/jester. (See this Wikipedia entry for more detail.)

Some languages, such as Russian and Turkish, use their terms for "elephant" to refer to the bishop piece, which harkens back to the Indian roots of chess in shatranj and chaturanga. Now as it turns out, "gelfand" is the Yiddish word for an elephant, and this got me wondering how the bishop is named in Yiddish. Despite my best googling, which turned up useful references like this one, I surprisingly found no answer to this question, and I don't know any Yiddish-speaking chess players. And since Yiddish is a fusion of Hebrew, German, Slavic languages and Romance languages, it's tough to guess which sort of bishop name it would end up with.

So, getting to the point, can anyone tell me:

Is the bishop referred to as a "gelfand" in Yiddish?

  • 4
    In any case Yiddish "elephant" is העלפאַנד HELFAND, not GELFAND. (In German, final D is pronounced T; possibly "(h)elfant" was 'corrected' at some point to "helfand".) But in Russian initial H becomes G (also some non-initial H's, e.g. alcohol = алкоголь ALKOGOL'), so possibly the word is pronounced GELFAND in some Russian dialect of Yiddish. Apr 19, 2016 at 19:41
  • 3
    @ETD It can also be called זקן, "zokn," literally meaning "elder"
    – SAH
    Apr 8, 2018 at 21:59

1 Answer 1


Well, just when I was writing the question up, I finally found the answer -- no -- so I am answering my own question. Way down at the bottom of this web page, it gives the Yiddish name for the bishop (once transcribed from the Hebrew alphabet) as "der Loyfer," which is like the German name "der Läufer." So, assuming this is a reliable source (and it's the only one I could find), the Yiddish bishop is a runner, not an elephant. It's just not Gelfand's day I guess.

  • Also, I think in some early versions what is now "rook" had a piece that was an elephant (with the typical mini-castle on top, as was used in warfare centuries ago). Not bishop. Jul 15, 2022 at 22:09

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