Jewish words


By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 25, 2008

Herut is freedom and what we celebrate on Passover. Herut is a rabbinic term linked to the biblical horim, which commentators translate as “ministers” (See I Kings, 21:8), people with power. Herut is the opposite of powerlessness, slavery.

Bnei Horin (ben horin in the singular) means free people. In this case, bnei means “those who have acquired”, not “sons of”.

Significantly, the Hebrew word for freedom derives from the word for minister, someone who is expected to use his or her power responsibly and for the benefit of others (or am I just being naive?).


Leil Shimurim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 18, 2008

Translated as “night of vigil”, leil shimurim is the Torah’s description of the night God brought out the children of Israel from Egypt. After the original leil shimurim, we are told, “That same night is the Lord’s, one of vigil [shimurim] for all the children of Israel throughout the ages” (Exodus 12.42). Just as God protected us on that night long ago in Egypt, we are obligated to observe a leil shimurim through taking part in a seder.



By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 11, 2008

Miluim, army reserve duty, is one of the remarkable characteristics of life in Israel. After completing regular army service at age 21, most people are called up for a round a month of miluim until they hit age 40. (Until recently it was 55.)



By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 4, 2008

The Israeli yeshivah Merkaz Harav was the subject of worldwide media attention last month after eight of its students were shot to death by a Palestinian terrorist as they studied Talmud.

Not many reporters remarked on the name of the yeshivah. Harav means simply “the rabbi”. Rav comes from the biblical Hebrew word meaning large or great (see Genesis 25:23). A rav is a master and also a teacher of Torah.


Bikur Cholim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 27, 2004

Bikur cholim means "visiting the sick." The root "bakar" means "to examine, distinguish" or "search," from which it comes to be used of "asking after someone's health," or "visiting" people who are unwell. It is also related to the word "boker," meaning "morning, light" or "salvation."



By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 1, 2003

People sometimes think that that Chasidic means simply "extremely religious," or refers to Jews with a lot of black in their wardrobes.

In the "Blues Brothers," when Aretha Franklin says to her husband, "There are two honkies out there dressed like Chasidic diamond merchants," she's referring to their suits and hats, not to their spiritual personalities.

Being Chasidic is about much more than simply appearances. Chasidism is a Jewish revival movement which was started by Israel Ba'al Shem Tov in the 18th century.