Jewish words

D'Oraita

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

The word doraita, is often used colloquially to mean very serious. You might say, half-jokingly, that parking on a double-yellow line or sitting in your fathers chair are issurim mdoraita. (In fact the latter actually is.)

The Aramaic oraita means Torah or instruction, and derives from the Hebrew or, which means light. Therefore a law originating doraita means a law that is based directly on the Torah.

Laws of rabbinic origin are called drabbanan, from our rabbis. These are also binding and the rabbis authority to make them is rooted in the Torah (see Deuteronomy 19:17).

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Kivnei Maron

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

According to Unetaneh Tokef, the moving liturgical poem of the High Holy Days, we all pass before God, kivnei maron, as a shepherd examines his flock passing his sheep beneath his staff, so... every living soul...



The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 18b) offers three different meanings for kivnei maron: like sheep passing before their shepherd; like those who ascend the steep, mountain pass, Beit Maron and must climb single file; and like the troops of the house of David. All three explanations refer to being counted as individuals.


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Kinat Sofrim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Kinat sofrim, literally the envy of scholars, is the Torahs phrase for healthy competitiveness around learning Torah.



The word kinah, jealousy, denotes a character trait that is generally regarded as negative. Envy of someone elses possessions or situation in life is a feeling that the mussar (ethics) writers counsel us to get over.


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Mussar

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Mussar is the name of the renewal movement that sprang up within traditional Judaism in the 19th century to focus people on inner workaimed atimproving their character. The name means received teachings from the verb moser, meaning to transmit or pass on.

Its founder, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810-83), stressed the need to set aside time for careful self-examination of ones traits and behaviour. The busy man does evil wherever he turns, heonce said. He also recommended meditation and acquiring a mussar chavruta, a friend and confidante with whom to work together on self-improvement.

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Zeide

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

On becoming a Jewish grandparent today, you have to decide how you want to be addressed. (Or more accurately, on becoming a grandparent of children who are able to address you, but of course that is almost immediately in the case of your grandchildren, right?)

There is a range of possibilities. You can go for the conventional, English Grandma and Grandpa, the Germanic Oma and Opa, the modern Hebrew Saba and Savta (if you are lucky enough to have Israeli grandchildren, they will probably call you this without consulting your opinion), or the full-bloodedly Yiddish, Bubbe and Zeide.

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Semichah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Semichah is the Hebrew term for rabbinic ordination. It derives from lsmoch, meaning to touch or lean against something. The first person to receive semichah was Joshua: [Moses] took Joshua . . . and he laid his hands upon him and gave him a charge (Numbers 27:22).



The ritual of semichah symbolises both the transference of knowledge and authority from teacher to student and the readiness of the teacher to rely or lean on his students capabilities. In Talmudic times, semichah was a requirement for judging legal cases and could only be granted in the Land of Israel.

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Hefker

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Hefker is a legal status which means that an item has no owners and that anyone is free to claim it. My daughters nursery teacher asked me if I agreed that any property left behind at the end of term be declared hefker. This was to save the teacher from chasing up the owner of such insignificant items such as nappy wipes, which otherwise she would have been legally obligated to do.



Hefker comes from the verb pakar, which in Mishnaic Hebrew means to set free. Any object declared hefker is set free of its owners.


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Techeilet

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Part of the biblical commandment of wearing tzitzit (a four-cornered fringed garment) is to attach a blue thread to each corner (Numbers 15:38). Techeilet refers to the dye used to make the threads and derives from an ancient Semitic word for purple shell. Techeilet was manufactured from the chilazon, which in modern Hebrew means a snail but in ancient Hebrew might have a referred to a variety of shellfish.

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Shecheyanu

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Shecheyanu is the shorthand for one of the best known Jewish blessings, shehecheyanu vkiyimanu vhigayanu lazmam hazeh, who has kept us alive and sustained us and enabled us to reach this moment.


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Nicht Shabbos Geret

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009



Nicht Shabbos Geret is what you would say of something that is not halachically suitable to be spoken about on Shabbat. Of course, it should be said gently, if at all. For example, someone remarks, I heard youre selling your car. You answer (optionally tapping the side of your nose), Nicht Shabbos geret. (Theres a famous joke along those lines, the punchline of which is I sold it already, nicht shabbos geret.)

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