Jewish words

Midresh

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Rabbi Julian Sinclairs dip into the dictionary

Midrash, a unique Jewish literary genre, is the collective name for the stories and interpretations that have grown up around the Torah. Many are so famous they are sometimes thought of as Torah, e.g. Abraham smashing his fathers idols, or baby Moses reaching for the bowls of gold or coals.

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Mah Nishtanah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Mah Nishtanah, meaning what is made different, is a phrase known to anyone whos been to the first 10 minutes of a Seder night.

It has even entered common usage as an ironic way of questioning unusual behaviour; to someone whos habitually late but for once turns up on time, you might ask Mah Nishtanah?

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Geulah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Geulah, meaning redemption or deliverance, is what we celebrate on Pesach. On the last days of Pesach, we especially mark the redemption of Israel from the Egyptian armies at the Red Sea.

Literally gaal means to cover or protect (See Job 3:4). Galut, exile, the opposite of geulah, comes from the root meaning to uncover. Galut is the uncovering, or denuding, of the land of Israel of its inhabitants.

Geulah also refers to the ransoming or redeeming of property that used to be yours. The English word redemption also has this dual financial and spiritual meaning.

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Glidah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Glidah is the modern Hebrew word for ice- cream. I always thought it was somehow related to the Italian gelato. It turns out that this was a misconception. Avshalom Kors radio programme on the Hebrew language informed me that glidah is from the identical ancient Aramaic word meaning ice.

The Torah describes the manna that fell in the desert as having been fine and flaky, like frost on the ground (Exodus 16:14). The Aramaic translation of Onkelos renders the word for frost as glidah.

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Shekel

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

The New Israeli Shekel (NIS for short) became Israels official currency in 1985. The government created the NIS by knocking three zeroes off the old shekel prices of everything following runaway inflation.

The shekel replaced the lira, around 1980. The lira which derives from the Latin for pound, was a hangover from the British Mandate.

Shekel has deep roots in Hebrew. The verb lishkol means to weigh, an essential act in all business transactions. (It also means to consider or deliberate.)

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Kadimah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Kadimah as everyone knows is the largest party in Israels governing coalition. By all accounts, the naming of the party was pure smoke and mirrors, the creation of a brand by marketing strategists with a keen sense of what would sell to the Israel public.



Kadimah in modern Hebrew means forward, or come on, lets do it. It is what commanders say leading their troops into battle, and also how bus drivers tell you to move down inside the bus. It has an action-oriented, go-ahead sound to it.


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Nogeia bdavar

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Nogeia bdavar, is how you say in elegant Hebrew that someone is biased or interested in a matter in such a way as might affect their judgment. For example, obviously he shouldnt be on the search committee for the job he wants hes nogeia bdavar. Nogeia is also used to mean relevant, as in that question is simply not nogeia to the subject.

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Shnorrer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

A shnorrer is a beggar or freeloader in Yiddish. Fundraisers and, occasionally, rabbis are professional shnorrers, persuading others to stump up for good causes. Shnorrer is often used disparagingly, as in your family will do anything to shnorrer an invitation for a free meal.


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Ish eshkolot

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

An ish eshkolot in modern Hebrew is a Renaissance man. You can often hear it used today in the context of lamenting the lack of them, the dearth of great scholars at home in the worlds of Torah, science and general culture and who are able to combine the best of each sphere.

The phrase comes from eshkol, which is a bunch, as in a bunch of grapes. The prophet Micah bemoans the state of the Jewish people when he says, There is not a bunch (eshkol) to eat (Micah 7:1).

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Dat

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

When Queen Vashti refused to entertain the men (was she an early feminist or a leper with a tail the commentators are divided) at Ahasueruss party, he consulted his advisers, who were versed in dat and precedent (Esther 1:13). Dat means law and appears 20 times in Megilat Esther. Haman, when making the case for the Jews destruction, tells the King that their dat is different from those of any other people (Esther 3:8).

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