Jewish words

Techines

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Techines (not to be confused with techinah, the crushed sesame-seed paste that is often eaten with hummus, which is spelt with a tet, not a tav) constituted a revolution in Jewish womens spirituality.

From the 16th century until our great- grandmothers generation, Jewish women would pour out their prayers and find consolation through the techines collected in immensely popular books.

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Keneinahora

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

When I was small, elderly relatives used to invoke the word keneinahora to qualify certain cheerful or optimistic statements, eg Shes a clever girl, keneinahora, or Spurs won again on Shabbos, keneinahora.

It was a long time until I realised that keneinahora actually meant something.

It is a Yiddishised running-together of kein ayin hara. Kein means no or without in German and Yiddish, whilst ayin hara refers to the evil eye in Hebrew.

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Gushpanka

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Gushpanka means hechsher, an imprimatur or seal of approval, especially one coming from an authority figure whose endorsement is highly valued. You might speak of Rabbi X giving his gushpanka to a book, or a food product.
Because the word sounds inherently funny to British ears, gushpanka is also used ironically. Rabbi X might then be giving his gushpanka to something that does not in fact require rabbinical approval, such as a political party or a football team.

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Tetzaveh

By Rabbi Nancy Morris, March 5, 2009

“Take the vestments, and clothe Aaron with the tunic, the robe of the ephod” Exodus 29:5

I’m sure many of us struggle with the seemingly endless Torah descriptions of the Tabernacle, and the rigid rules and hierarchy of its associated priesthood. Despite their almost complete irrelevance to the way we now practise Judaism, the weekly sidrah for a good part of the year concerns itself with the priesthood and Tabernacle.

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Chatzi Hamalkut

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 5, 2009

In the coalition negotiations after Israel's general elections, Bibi Netanyahu made strenuous efforts to tempt Tzipi Livni to join a unity government. He offered her party a large number of cabinet positions and the vice premiership - or, in the media's shorthand, chatzi hamalchut- half of the kingdom.

The unnoticed implications of such an expression seemed lost on both reporters and politicians who have been using it constantly in recent weeks. Chatzi hamalchut comes from Megillat Esther.

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Achsania

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 26, 2009

Achsania is the talmudic term for lodgings. It derives from the Greek ephonia, which means the quarters designated for troops.

The Talmud offers many pointers on how to treat your achsania. For example, one should always begin any speech with shevah shel achsania — praise for the hosts (the owners of the lodgings). In modern Hebrew, shevah shel achsania is an expression for the obligatory words of tribute one must say in order not to come off as a boor.

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Nudnik

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 18, 2009

Nudnik is a Yiddish word that has entered modern Hebrew. It describes a common and even respected modus operandi in Israeli society. A nudnik is someone who is constantly asking you for something or otherwise taking up your time.

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Shkediyah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 12, 2009

These days throughout Israel one sees the small pink blossoms of the shkediyah tree, the first tree in Israel to wake from its winter slumber. The shkediyah is the almond tree, and its fruit is called a shaked.

The Bible uses the shaked as a metaphor for swiftness and vigilance. In Jeremiah 1:11-12, God asks Jeremiah what he sees, Jeremiah answers, “I see the branch of a shaked. God said to me, ‘You have seen right, for I am shoked to bring my word to pass.’” God is going to be swift or watchful to bring about Judah’s retribution.

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Ezrach

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 5, 2009

When explicating the laws against chametz on Passover, the Torah concludes that these rules are binding both to the stranger (ger) and the ezrach. An ezrach, in modern Hebrew is a citizen, and in the Bible it is often paired with ger to refer to two different kinds of residents.

A ger is an immigrant. When Abraham entreated the Hittites to sell him a plot for the burial of Sarah, he described himself as a ger, an immigrant entirely at the mercy of the natives.

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Gaon

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 29, 2009

Gaon is the modern Hebrew for genius. In the Bible, gaon means glory or arrogance, depending on the context. We are told (Isaiah 24: 14), “Exult in the glory (gaon) of the Lord!” But, that God (Proverbs 8:13) “hates pride, arrogance (ga’avah, gaon)”. Indeed, gaon derives from ga’avah, and most biblical references are negative, reflecting biblical disdain for a hypertrophied ego.

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