Jewish words

Tam

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Tom is an increasingly popular Hebrew name. Actually it is not Tom, short for Thomas, but Tom, a variant of the Hebrew word tam. This enables people to give their children an English-sounding name (which is considered cool in certain Israeli circles) that is nonetheless still Hebrew.

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Ud Meah vesrim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Ud meah vesrim means until 120 (bis hundertzwanzig in Yiddish). You say it on someones birthday, 21 today, ud meah vesrim.

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Baruch shekevanta ldaat gedolim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

In the beit midrash, a student suddenly yells, Ive got it. I think I can explain the Gemara! She then does so, brilliantly. Her fellow students are amazed, Wow, did you come up with that yourself?

Well, yeah, kinda, is the modest reply. Her teacher also congratulates her by saying, Baruch shekevant ldaat gedolim and tells her that her interpretation is identical to the one of the great medieval commentators.

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Tzimmes

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Tzimmes is classic Ashkenazi Jewish food. It is a sweet, diced carrot stew that usually includes raisins or prunes and is flavoured with honey and cinnamon. Sometimes it also contains meat, particularly brisket. It can be eaten all year round but is a special delicacy on Rosh Hashanah when we traditionally eat sweet foods, as an omen for a sweet year.

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Gam zu ltovah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Gam zu ltovah literally means This too is for the good, but it does not have a precise colloquial English equivalent. The closest is every cloud has a silver lining.

You usually say it in the face of some small or large setback. It might be spoken as an expression of faith; eg in exasperation you watch the train pull out of the station and, attempting to console yourself, mutter Gam zu ltovah. Alternatively, it could be said when you find some confirmation of your faith, for example on finding an old friend or a

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Svivah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Svivah is the Modern Hebrew for environment. Aichut Hasvivah, environmental quality, is the name of the government ministry that tries feebly to protect the svivah. It comes from the word savav, to go around or turn.

Interestingly, this is exactly the same verbal picture that underlies environment, which also means what surrounds us, from the French word viron, meaning circuit.

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Dont hock my chinik

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Dont hock my chinik is one of my favourite Yinglish expressions. I first encountered it in yeshivah where we had a rabbi who would regularly urge us not to hock his chinik about what Rashi said on the Gemara but instead to look at the text of the Talmud itself.

You could also hock someones chinik about buying a new sofa, getting your child into the right school, your opinion of the rabbis sermons or anything else about which one may take an obsessive, and potentially annoying, interest.

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Gedol Hador

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Literally the Great of the Generation, the term gedol hador refers to the intellectual giants of the religious world. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was a gedol hador. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, leader of the Sephardic community, is a living gedol hador.

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Heter Mechirah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Heter mechirah is a term which has been much in the news recently. It is a halachic device at the heart of arguments in Israel over the shmittah, sabbatical, year.

Heter means a leniency or loophole, from the word matir, to release or untie. Mechirah is a sale. The heter mechirah allows Jewish farmers in the Land of Israel to sell their land during the shmittah year. Doing so permits them to continue farming where otherwise they would have to let the land and themselves rest in the seventh year, as required by Leviticus chapter 25.

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Hakarat Hatov

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

The duty to acknowledge kindness received from another is called hakarat hatov. Lehakir means to recognise or familiarise oneself with something; tov, goodness.

The obligation to be makir tov is not merely to remember to say thank you, but to actually take time to recognise the benefit one has received from another. We are commanded not to despise the Egyptian for you were a stranger in his land (Deuteronomy 23:8). We owe a debt of gratitude even to our oppressors for the small kindness they may have done for us.

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