Jewish words

Machzor

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 2, 2010

Machzor is a cycle, deriving from the root chazar, to return. New olim to Israel who studied at the same ulpan might ask each other which machzor (year group) they were in to see if they were there at the same time.

The most well-known machzor is the prayer book for the High Holy Days. In fact, all prayer books for specific festivals are called machzorim, for they contain the prayers that we say cyclically around the year.

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Taharah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 26, 2010

Taharah is purification, from tahor, meaning pure. In addition to the ritual context of taharah, there is also a spiritual form that is the culmination of repentance and the goal of Yom Kippur.

"For on that day He will forgive you, to purify (letaher) you from all of your sins - you will be purified (titharu) before the Lord." What kind of taharah is Leviticus 16:30 talking about?

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Chayal

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 19, 2010

The modern Hebrew word for soldier is chayal, coined by Eliezer Ben Yehuda. However, the biblical term for solider is ish tzavah, a man of the army (eg Numbers 31:21).

Just as the biblical ish adamah, man of the earth (Genesis 9:20), gave way to one word, Aramaic terms ikkar and haklai, to designate a farmer, Ben Yehuda sought a one word term for soldier. He looked to the root ch-y-l.

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Bagel

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 12, 2010

The roll with a hole is of course one of the iconic Jewish foods. Brought from Eastern Europe around the turn of the century, its presence in English was first noted in 1919. The word comes from Yiddish beygl, sometimes written beigel, from Middle High German boug, meaning "ring, bracelet" and related to the Old High German biogan "to bend" and the Old English beag, meaning "ring." According to New York Times columnist William Safire, the Yiddish beigel was shortened and anglicised to bagel around 1932.

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Tachanun

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 4, 2010

Tachanun is the name for the personal, penitential prayers said after the morning and afternoon Amidah on week days. Tachanun is also called nefilat apayim, falling on the face, because that is how it is done — we rest our face on our left arms when we say these prayers. The word itself comes from the verb to plead or beg: the root is chen, grace; in Tachanun we are asking for grace in God’s eyes

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Tinok Shenishbah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 28, 2010

Tinok shenishbah means a small child who was kidnapped by non-Jews. It is an important concept in discussions of the responsibility of non-observant Jews for their lack of observance.

One of the classic sources is in Talmud Shabbat 67b-68a. The Mishnah there speaks about a case in which someone "forgets the fundamental principle of Shabbat", meaning, at first glance that there is such a thing as Shabbat at all.

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De'ah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 22, 2010

Deriving from ye'da (knowledge), de'ah in today's Hebrew means opinion. Thus you might find yourself agreeing with a ma'amar de'ah - an opinion piece - you read in the newspaper.

In the Bible, de'ah means knowledge. Isaiah prophesies, "For the land will be filled with de'ah of God" ((11:9). Elsewhere, Isaiah laments the absence of anyone interested in learning de'ah: "Whom shall I teach de'ah?" (28:9). Here, it seems that de'ah implies a consciousness of God. Because society has become hedonistic and idolatrous, Isaiah has no one to whom to teach God's message.

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Etnachta

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 15, 2010

"This is a perfect place to have an etnachta from our hike and have lunch." So might a tour guide in Israel suggest a short break in the itinerary. Etnachta is an Aramaic word deriving from the word nach, meaning rest.

Etnachta is one of the biblical cantillation symbols first developed in talmudic times and codified by the 10th century. Like all of the cantillation symbols, an etnachta is a form of punctuation. The specific role of this wishbone-shaped symbol is to divide a verse into two parts. When coming across an etnachta, one pauses, rests.

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Shulchan Aruch

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 8, 2010

Anyone who travels in Orthodox communites will have heard the phrase, "but it says in the Shulchan Aruch" spoken as an appeal to ultimate authority.

The Shulchan Aruch is accepted today as the authoritative code of Jewish law. It was compiled by Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575), the great kabbalist and scholar who lived in Safed. Shulchan Aruch means "set table", as in all ready to eat. The name reflects Rabbi Caro's intention that the book would lay out the whole corpus of currently relevant halachah in an easily digestible form.

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Chibah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 1, 2010

Chibah means affection or love. It is related to the word chaviv, beloved, which is most famously used in the phrase acharan, acharon chaviv, usually translated as something like "save the best until last". Hebrew purists will point out that it really means, "the last, best thing, coming behind two other things": when Jacob places Rachel behind Leah and the maidservants, preparing for his encounter with Esau, the commentators say that Jacob is practising acharon acharon chaviv.

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