Jewish words

Maiseh

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Maiseh, (or maaseh in Hebrew) is Yiddish for a story. Its best known when conjoined with the Yiddish word for grandma in the phrase bubbamaiseh, meaning a folktale of doubtful veracity (though my grandmother, if shes reading, should not take this as in any way impugning the truthfulness of her stories).

The Hebrew maaseh literally means act or deed, and comes from the word for making or doing. Maaseh Bereishit is the story or act of Creation.

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Mechayeh

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

If you walk into an air-conditioned room, or taste iced water on a hot day, you might say Ah, what a mechayeh, meaning literally, something that has brought you back from death to life, and colloquially, something relieving or refreshing.

(One could think that the phrase reflects our penchant for dramatic self-expression, where others might simply say, that was nice.)

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Naches

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Naches is another of those Jewish words with no precise English equivalent. The historian Paula Hyman defines it as a unique mix of pride, joy and gratification.

When those we care about, usually children and grandchildren, achieve something remarkable (and usually public, like getting into Oxford, or appearing on Pop Idol) we say that we schep naches from them. (Schep, not schlep, remember.)

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Machatonim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Machatonim is a word that, so far as I know, has no equivalent in any language except Hebrew/Yiddish. The parents of the people your children marry are your machatonim (the male is your mechuten, and the female your machatonister).

They have an official status. Theyre not just the couple who happen to be the parents of the boy/girl your child happened to marry, whom you will only see at the grandchildrens britot and weddings, if then.

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Kishke

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Kishke is a great Ashkenazi delicacy. You can eat it on its own, or use it to beef up the cholent for Shabbat. Its one of those items of Jewish cuisine, like jellied calfs foot (pcha), the origin of which youre probably better off ignorant.

For those who need to know the truth, kishke is cows intestine stuffed with mincemeat, rice, vegetables and flour.

Kishke is Yiddish, but other eastern European languages have a similar word for intestines: kiszka in Polish and kishka in Ukrainian or Russian.

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Makom

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Makom means place. A place humming with Jewish activity is known as a makom Torah.

If, heaven forbid, you receive a disapproving frown when you sit down in shul, it may be that you have inadvertently occupied someones makom kavuah, regular place. (Of course, you should never receive, and still less, give disapproving frowns for any reason in shul)

A surprising and interesting use of the word makom is as a name of God. Mitzvot such as Shabbat and kashrut, which do not directly involve other people, are known as mitzvot bein adam vMakom, mitzvot between people and God.

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Madrich

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Madrich, according to the dictionary means guide, trainer, educator. It can also be a guidebook, or a telephone directory.

In the world of Jewish youth movements, a madrich is a youth leader. The word also has the connotations of role model, inspiration and general font of wisdom.

The madrich not only leads and runs tours, camps and programmes, but also inducts his or her charges (chanichim) into the ideology and mythology of the movement.

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Targum

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Targum means translation. The best-known are Onkeloss Aramaic translation of the Torah, and the Targum Yonatan of the books of the prophets.

Traditionally, the public Torah-reading on Shabbat would be accompanied by verse-by-verse translation into the Aramaic vernacular, rendered by a functionary called the torgaman, the official translator.

Until recently, this was still the practice in Yemenite communities.

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Halavai

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Halavai, or vlavai is a talmudic expression used colloquially in frum circles and by secular Israelis to mean if only or would that it were so. One might say it feelingly as in halavai, that he should meet a nice Jewish girl, or wistfully as in halavai, that I could spend more time learning Torah or, ironically, as in halavai, that we should all be so clever.

Halavai comes from the word lu (spelled lamed vav) meaning may it be so. (Remember the campfire song by Naomi Shemer Lu Yehi?)

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Sinat chinam

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Sinat chinam means groundless hatred. (The verb soneh means to hate, as in the command lo tisnah at ahicha blevavecha, do not hate your brother in your heart, Leviticus19:17)

Chinam comes from chen, grace. Sinat chinam is therefore hatred that is gratis. It refers to the internecine strife which is unfortunately too common in Jewish communities, whether between Reform and Orthodox, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, the rabbi and the chazan, the president of the shul and the board.

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