Jewish words

Jerusalem

September 19, 2008

Jerusalem has more than 70 names. That's not a myth or a midrash. You can actually count them. Some of them were names given by the different nations that have courted and conquered Jerusalem over the centuries, Hierosylima (the Greek prefix hiero means holy), Aeolia Capitolina (Capital City in Latin), Al Quds, meaning "The Holy" in Arabic.

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Klezmer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 12, 2008

Nowdays, klezmer is a trendy form of Jewish music, a cornerstone of the Jewish culture revival. Its current popularity contrasts sharply with the image of the wandering musician of Eastern Europe eternalised in the classic Yiddish song, "Yidl Mitn Fidl" (Yidl With The Fiddle), which describes two wandering klezmorim, Yidl and Arye, travelling on a hay-wagon in rough weather and coming to the conclusion that "life is a joke!", "Dos lebn iz a shpas!"

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Cardo

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 4, 2008

The Cardo was the main shopping street in Roman Jerusalem. An impressive stretch of it was excavated in the 1970s. The dig was guided by the sixth-century Madaba mosaic map, discovered in a church in Transjordan 1897. The Cardo is a prominent feature on the map and predicted exactly where the ancient street would be found. Today you can now walk around its original pillars and colonnades.

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Sprauncy

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 28, 2008

Sprauncy (pronounced "shprauncy") is one of those unusual Jewish words that appears to be a genuinely original invention of British Jews. American Jews have never heard of it. Neither have most English non-Jews.

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Karich

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 22, 2008

Karich is the modern Hebrew for sandwich. It is based on korech - the stage in the Seder when we eat bitter herbs between two pieces of matzah. The word korek derives from karach, which means to encircle, embrace or surround. Since this moment in the Haggadah is the closest thing to sandwich we have in Jewish liturgy, the revivers of Hebrew thought it would be an apt neologism.

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Nachamu

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 15, 2008

Nachamu is the name given to the Shabbat after Tishah b'Av. The name comes from the haftarah from Isaiah 40 that begins with the word, "Nachamu, nachamu ami", "Comfort, comfort My people". After the three weeks of mourning for the tragedy of the destruction of the Temples that culminate in Tishah b'Av, comfort is very much needed.

Nachamu does not mean only, or precisely "comfort, but its different meanings shed light on what comfort is.

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Magevet

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 8, 2008

Magevet, which means towel, is a prosaic word but it provides us with a brilliant example of the development of modern Hebrew. As with all Hebrew words, magevet has a three letter root - ngv or negev. Towels dry you off, making you as dry as the Negev desert.

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Sheitl

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 1, 2008

Sheitl is a prominent word in "Yinglish" and refers to a woman's wig, worn for religious purposes as a form of head-covering. Sheital in German means hair (it is an older and rarer word than haar); it also means top or summit. The biblical origin of the requirement for a married woman to cover her hair is Numbers 5.18.

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Malach

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 25, 2008
Malachi is an angel in Hebrew. It derives from the verb lech, to go and literally means a messenger - angels are supernatural beings that know and carry out God's will. Angel is from the Greek word angelos, which also means messenger.

Angels appear in the Bible to Hagar in the desert (Genesis 16:9) to Abraham telling him not to follow through with sacrificing his son Isaac (Genesis 22:11). They feature in Jacob's dream of the ladder stretching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it and appear to Moses, Balaam and Joshua.

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Sandak

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 18, 2008

The sandak (sandek in Yiddish) is the person who holds a baby boy on his knees during a circumcision. To act as sandak is a great honour. There is a tradition of appointing one of the child’s grandfathers as sandak (though steady hands are certainly an asset for the position).

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