Jewish words

Psik Reisha

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Psik Reisha is a Talmudic expression meaning an inevitable consequence. Its main application is to the laws of Shabbat. To understand the concept requires a little background.

A permitted action on Shabbat that may possibly lead to a forbidden consequence is permitted. For example, it is ok to walk across grass on Shabbat, even though you might thereby inadvertently detach grass with your feet.

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Olam

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Olam has a diverse set of meanings, including, world, existence, lifetime and eternity. As is often the case in Hebrew, the etymology of the word suggests the link between its different senses; olam comes from alam, a verb meaning to hide or conceal. The underlying theological idea is that whether in time or in space, the olam is that which conceals the presence of God in the world. Olam haba is the world to come. Considering the diverse and undetermined nature of Jewish teaching about olam haba, it is a remarkably common phrase.

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Yiddishkeit

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Yiddishkeit is best translated into English as Judaism. However, it is a much frummer word than Judaism. The latter is what you study in university Jewish studies courses, as well as being what more traditional British Jews would call their religion. But whereas Judaism suggests images of reverend ministers in canonicals, Yiddishkeit evokes the teeming vitality of the shtetl, the singsong of Talmud study emanating from the cheder and the ecstatic spirituality of Chasidim. One reason to use Yiddishkeit rather than Judaism might be to evoke that Eastern European world.

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Shedim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Shedim are demons. People in the circles I move in dont really believe in them except as figures of speech. You might say the shedim came and made my chicken soup overboil. (Chasidic sources say shedim are particularly intent on spoiling ones preparations in the last moments before Shabbat. I can well believe it.) In the Bible, shedim means foreign gods (eg Deuteronomy 32:17.) The word is related to the Akkadian sedu, meaning demon.

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Pirsumei Nisa

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Pirsumei nisa is the frequently repeated talmudic phrase for what we do on Chanucah. It means publicising the miracle. Pirsumei means to reveal or divulge, and comes from the word paras, meaning spread, as in a tablecloth. (In modern Hebrew, pirsomet is an advertisement.) Nisa is Aramaic for ness, miracle, which also means banner. The underlying connection between banners and miracles is that the latter flag up the usually hidden workings of God in the natural order. Pirsumei nisa is the guiding principle of many Chanucah practices. Lighting the menorah is for pirsumei nisa.

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Mi Sheberach

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

A mi sheberach is the prayer said in shul, blessing a particular person or group. The name comes from the opening of the prayer, which means May the One who blesses. The first mi sheberach appears in the Machzor Vitri (13th century). This is the prayer that we still say for the wellbeing of the community, especially its leaders and machers. In Ashkenazi communities the custom emerged of saying individualised mi sheberachs for those called up to the Torah. This practice also continues.

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Mishnah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Aparadox of Judaism is that it contains libraries of written books recording and elaborating the Oral Law, Torah Shebeal Peh. But oral means not written. This paradox dates back to the Mishnah, the first layer of Oral Law to be codified in written form, during the second century CE. Before the Mishnah, the Torah Shebeal Peh, originating at Sinai, was transmitted and developed orally from teacher to student.

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Shalom bayit

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Shlom bayit, the proper Hebrew pronunciation of shalom bayit, is a key concept in traditional Jewish marriage. Literally meaning peace or harmony in the home, it also refers to any practice or behaviour likely to promote those ends. You might say for example, We tried not to go out separately in the evenings during our first year of marriage for shlom bayit or, I had to give up mud-wrestling when I got married a shlom bayit issue. Shlom bayit is already prominent in rabbinic sources.

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Siyyum

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Siyyum means conclusion or finishing, (deriving from the verb som, meaning to place) which comes to mean a marker. The word sprang to prominence last month with the Siyyum Hashas, the culmination of the seven-and a-half-year Daf Yomi cycle, when tens of thousands of Jews round the world celebrated completing the Babylonian Talmud.

Its common to hold a siyyum also to mark more modest achievements in Jewish learning. People will often break open a bottle of schnapps and a box of biscuits after shul on a weekday morning to celebrate completing a tractate of Talmud.

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Keriah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Keriah, tearing ones clothes, is one of the most distinctive Jewish mourning practices. It can also seem one of the strangest. As a rabbi, it can be pretty uncomfortable to try to persuade an unprepared and traumatised mourner to rip their clothing at the graveside. As the mourner, it must be far more so.

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