Jewish words

Chazakah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

Chazakah is a presumption, particularly of occupation or ownership. You could say colloquially, "I have a chazakah to that parking space; I park there every day", or "I've been hanging my washing in front of your window for 11 years and you haven't said a word, you can't suddenly tell me to take it down now because it's an eyesore; by now I have a chazakah."

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Chazan

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

Chazan today means a prayer-leader-cum assistant rabbi, a professional who leads services on behalf of the community. In some shuls they still wear canonicals. Chazanut is the quasi-operatic musical art of chazanim, which reached its apogee in nineteenth-century Europe. It either moves you to tears and transports you to great spiritual heights, or bores you rigid, depending on your taste.

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Chatan

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

The time-honoured tradition of the Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereshit giving a kiddush on Shabbat Bereshit echoes a custom from the Middle Ages when those two dignitaries would make a feast for the community. (Like most of the Simchat Torah celebrations that we have today, this originated a mere 600-700 years ago.)

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Chavruta

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008

Study with a chavruta, or partner, is a hallmark of traditional Jewish learning. Together you break your heads on the texts. Two minds applied to a problem are almost always better than one.

Each checks and corrects the misconceptions of the other, questioning and sharpening the other's ideas, while the necessity of articulating one's thoughts to another person brings greater clarity than learning alone. Indeed, the Talmud goes so far as to say that one who learns Torah alone becomes stupid! (Berachot 63a)

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Charedi

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 4, 2008

Charedi is the self-definition of those groups of Orthodox Jews who tend to live in enclosed communities, carefully regulate their interaction with the secular world and strive assiduously to learn Torah and fulfil mitzvot.

Charedi is preferable to the mainstream media's name for such Jews, "ultra-Orthodox," with its implication of having completely gone off the deep end.

Indeed in the mouth of some news outlets, the term "ultra-Orthodox" seems to me to have a whiff of "Der Sturmer" about it.

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Chamsa

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 4, 2008

The chamsa, a hand-shaped good-luck amulet, is the cool souvenir to bring back from Israel these days. Chamsas are everywhere, from the rear-view mirrors of taxi drivers, to the trendiest jewellery shops. Though more common among Sephardi Jews they are crossing over to the Ashkenazi community, too.

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Chazal

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 4, 2008

Chazal is an acronym for Hachamenu zichronam levrachah, "our Sages of blessed memory," and is used to refer to the sages of the Oral Law. Chazal lived as early as the era preceding the Maccabean revolt and up until the Arab conquest of the Mediterranean.

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Chalutz

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 4, 2008

In the days of the chalutzim" is an expression one often hears in Israel. It evokes images of young people in shorts draining swamps, planting oranges and dancing the hora after a day's work in the fields.

Chalutzim are pioneers, those who lead the way. After the Russian pogroms of 1881, a movement arose encouraging young people to move to what was then Palestine to cultivate the land and prepare the way for the less robust populations to make aliyah later on. This movement was called Hechalutz, the pioneer.

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Challah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 4, 2008

Challah, the plaited white loaf that we eat at Shabbat meals, is among the best known Jewish religious objects. Last time I was in New York, I passed a café on Broadway advertising bacon and eggs with challah rolls. As usual the US is far ahead of us in catapulting cultural Judaism, shorn of its religious roots, into the mainstream.

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Chalifah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 4, 2008

Chalifah means a suit in modern Hebrew. Traditionally a very un-Israeli item of clothing, globalisation has made suits far more visible, sometimes even worn with ties.

The word is used twice in the story of Joseph, both times in the context of Israelites who need to be made presentable in Egyptian society. First, Pharaoh's servants bring Joseph a new suit of clothes when he emerges from several years prison looking, presumable, pretty grungy (Genesis: 41:4).

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