Jewish words

Zemirot

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

When strolling through the Jerusalem streets on a Shabbat evening, one often hears pouring out of windows the sound of people singing zemirot, traditional songs sung during festive meals.

Zemirot comes from zemer, meaning to sing or make music. According to the Midrash (Song of Songs Rabbah 8) the custom of Israel is that when they eat and drink and are joyful, they occupy themselves with songs and praise [of God]. The Talmud (Megillah 12b) describes Shabbat as a day for discussing the Torah and words of praise.

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Zivug

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

A zivug is a life partner. In modern Hebrew today ben or bat zug is the politically correct term for ones significant other, equivalent to partner in English.


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Lashon Nekiyah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Whereas last weeks word, leshon sagi nahor, referred to speaking in opposites as a type of euphemism, lashon nekiyah, clean language, is a form of speech that avoids all direct reference to anything deemed rude.

I was reminded of this term when collecting my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter from her nursery. In response to my question, Did you use the toilet today? I was told by her teacher that they called it the beit hakiseh, which literally means the house of the chair, lashon nekiyah for the toilet..

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Leshon Sagi Nahor

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Sagi Nahor in Aramaic is a great light. The Talmud uses the expression to refer to a blind person, as in Rabbi Sheshet was a sagi nahor (Talmud Berachot 58a). In truth, Rabbi Sheshets eyes lacked light, and therefore sagi nahor is an ironic usage and a euphemistic way of referring to a disability.


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Panim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Panim, which means front, or face, is itself a multi-faceted word. You might have once had your cheeks squeezed, while a Yiddish-speaking relative admires your zeiser ponim, sweet face.

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Yirat Shamayim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Yirat Shamayim, fear of Heaven, is a basic spiritual quality required in Judaism. Yirah means literally to fear, tremble or revere. Shamayim, meaning skies or heavens, is also a reference to God, as in English.



The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) likens someone who knows Torah but lacks yirat Shamayim to a palace treasurer who holds the inner keys to the treasure but does not have the outer key; ie what he has is useless.


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Isru Chag

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

The day after a Yomtov is known as Isru Chag. In Israel it is another day for the holiday atmosphere to linger, another day off from school and nursery and another excuse for government offices to not quite return to normal functioning.

The Jewish-words blog, balashon, has an interesting exploration of Isru Chag, to which I am indebted. The phrase occurs in Psalm 118:27 (part of Hallel): Bind the holiday offering (Isru Chag) to the horns of the altar with cords.


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Maaseh Merkavah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Maaseh Merkavah is the most hidden and esoteric part of Judaism. It means literally the story (or work or discipline) of the Chariot, from the verb rochev, to ride.

Maaseh Merkavah is concerned with interpreting the vision of the angelic chariot that opens the book of Ezekiel, beginning I was among the exiles by the river Kevar, the heavens opened and I saw visions of God.

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Girsa DYankuta

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009



Girsa dyankuta means the things one learns with ones mothers milk. This is the literal translation. Girsa comes from the Aramaic, meaning to read or learn, especially by heart. Yankuta is a child who is nursing, from yonek, the Hebrew word which means to suckle.



The Talmud tells a story on the value of girsa dyankuta (Shabbat 21b).The sage Abbaye learns a halachah and is saddened that he did not know it before. Why the Talmud asks? He knows it now. Because it would never be part of his girsa dyankuta.


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Medinah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009



In modern Hebrew, medinah means state, a sovereign land, and is used to refer to state of Israel, Medinat Yisrael. It appears numerous times in the Book of Esther, for example (8:17): In every medinah and every city . . . there was gladness and joy among the Jews.


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