Jewish words

Davar

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

In the first of a weekly series, Cambridge University students' chaplain Rabbi Julian Sinclair takes a look at the meaning of key Jewish words and phrases.

Davar means "word," and it also means "thing." This fact reflects a deep facet of a Jewish world view.

Words are the creative energy of the world. God spoke, and through words brought the universe into being.

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Cohen

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

A Cohen is one of the class of priests among the Jewish people. Membership is hereditary, via the father. A slew of common Jewish surnames (Cohen, Kagan, Kahane etc) are variations of Cohen and usually indicate that the holders are Cohanim.

Cohen simply means priest in biblical Hebrew (as well as in Canaanite and Ugaritic). However, Chief Rabbi Sacks has argued persuasively that the primary meaning of Cohen was teacher. Just before the Torah is given, God promises that Israel will

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Chutzpah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

"Chutzpah" was a famous Jewish word even before Professor Alan Dershowitz wrote a book with that title a couple of years ago.

Dershowitz made an argument for being the sort of assertive, confident, in-your-face Jew he believes one can and should be in the United States today. The book, and its insouciantly Jewish title, tell all you need to know about the differences between American and British Jews.

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Chupar

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

Chupar is widespread Hebrew slang, from nursery school to corporate boardrooms.

In school or kindergarten it means an unexpected treat; chocolate coins, Bamba peanut snacks and anything else likely to grease the wheels of juvenile cooperation.

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Chupah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

A chupah is the canopy made of cloth and poles under which a Jewish couple gets married. It has also become synonymous with the wedding ceremony itself, (as in "Chupah 4pm... Carriages 11pm," both being ancient words with a venerable place on Anglo-Jewish wedding invitations, though chupahs seem to have long outlived carriages in their practical usefulness.)

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Chumrah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

A chumrah is a voluntarily assumed restriction more stringent than what is required by Jewish law. For example, drinking only chalav Yisrael, supervised milk, is a chumrah according to most authorities. In a country like Britain, with high standards of food regulation, the chances of milk being tampered with are negligible.

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Chok

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

A chok is a law. It is related to the word chakak, that means to engrave in stone, which in ancient times was how one promulgated laws. Chok also means boundary, as in Proverbs (8:29), "When He assigned the sea its limits [chuko]."

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Chiddush

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

Ein beit midrash bli chiddush, there is no house of study without innovation, runs a popular saying. Original interpretation is essential to the process of traditional Jewish study.

The proudest achievement of a yeshivah student is to arrive at a chiddush, a new addition to the accumulated knowledge of the generations. Rabbis publish their most treasured insights in books of chiddushim, novellae which present original twists of argument and interpretation.

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Cheshbon Nefesh

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

Taking a cheshbon nefesh is one of the religious practices recommended at this time of year. It means an "accounting of the soul." We examine the credit and debit columns of our spiritual lives, where we've made a profit, so to speak, and where a loss, where we've built up capital, and where we've depleted it.

With the balance sheet before us, we can draw up a viable business plan to stay spiritually solvent in the coming year.

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Chen

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

"But Noah found chen with the Lord" (Genesis 6:8)

Noah's chen, translated as "favour", exempted him from the diluvian fate of his contemporaries, but what does chen mean? It also means grace and beauty, as in "Chen is deceptive; beauty is illusory" (Proverbs 31:30). One senses that chen is a type of attractiveness that might be superficial or unearned. Indeed, in Yiddish, machen chen means to flirt.

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