Jewish Words



Having a mangal, a barbecue, is the traditional way to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, in Israel. There is much fruitful disagreement in Israel about the significance of the day and hence the proper way to mark it. The mangal is a unifying tradition as one of the few Independence Day observances on which most people can agree. The word comes from the Turkish for “small oven” and must have made its way into Hebrew in the Ottoman period. 

A few years ago, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Academy for Hebrew Language unveiled its annual batch of new words, including an authentically Hebrew word for mangal— matzleh, deriving from the word tzli, which means roast.  Well, so far it has not taken off.  People still go to a mangal on Yom Ha’atzmaut and I have heard of no one attending a matzleh; then again, I don’t have any friends in the Academy for Hebrew Language.

But is mangal so very inauthentic?  It does not rate with “Hi” and “Bye” in their shameless intrusion into Hebrew, when there was a perfectly good word to do the job, “Shalom”.  Rather, mangal reminds us of the fact that the Turks used to rule Israel and that their presence, like that of many other former rulers, has left at least a small trace.

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