Chapter 2 Glossary

Judenrein: “Cleansed of Jews,” (German). Nazi term for an area from which all the Jews had been liquidated.

Levayah: Funeral (Hebrew). (Before the war, Reb Rivele would have been mourned with a large funeral, but in occupied Poland this was impossible.)

Apikorsim: Plural for Apikores (Greek), a word for someone who openly and purposefully contradicts the rules of the Torah. Learn more.

Hol Hamoed: “Weekdays of the Festival” (Hebrew), refers to the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot, on which the rules governing holidays are lightened and some work is permitted. Learn more.

Three souls that reside within every being: There is a principle in the Zohar that the human soul is composed of three elements—the nefesh (animal instincts), the ruach (the moral aspect of the soul, which distinguishes between right and wrong), and the neshamah (the higher spirit that distinguishes humans from other animals, allows us to enjoy the afterlife, and allows us to recognize the existence and presence of God). Learn more.

Shalosh Seudot: Yiddish for “The third meal,” The meal customarily eaten on Saturday afternoon, in order to fulfill the commandment to eat three meals every Sabbath. Learn more.

“Hadrat panim”: “Majesty of countenance,” or “regal bearing.”

Tikkunim: Mystical prayers and ceremonies designed to have theurgical effect. Example:

Vilna Shas: An edition of the Talmud printed in 1880 in Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania) in the late nineteenth century.  It is still considered the standard edition of the Babylonian Talmud. Learn more.

Poskim: Plural for Posek, a rabbi who is an authority on Jewish law. Also can refer, as it does here, to the volumes containing their writings.

“Shanks” of sefarim: Shelves of books.

Halakah: Jewish law, including the written and oral Torah. Learn more.

Verfluchte Juden: Damn Jews (German).

Yeshiva at Baranowicze: “Baranowicze was an important center of orthodoxy in Poland, largely on account of Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman (1875–1941), the dean of the Ohel Torah Yeshivah, which had an enrollment of more than 400 students. The Riga-born Rabbi Wasserman had studied in the Volozhin and Telz yeshivot and was influenced in particular by Rabbi Israel Meir Ha-Kohen of Radun (known as the Hafez Hayyim, 1838–1933), one of the greatest Orthodox thinkers of his age. Wasserman came to Baranowicze at the end of World War I, after stays in several communities. As an anti-Zionist he forbade his students to read newspapers other than those published by Agudat Israel. Nor would he even allow them to participate in the Oneg Shabbat gatherings in the local synagogues, lest they be exposed to Zionist influences.” Source.

Isaiah Chapter 1: “The ox knows its master and the ass…”: Isaish 1:3 “An ox knows its owner, an ass its master’s crib: Israel does not know, my people takes no thought.” (The Jewish Publication Society, A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text)

Apitropes: Guardian (Greek).

Shake more intensely: A practice called shuckling, some Jews rock back and forth while praying as an expression of intensity.

Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob, Leah and Rachel: The patriarchs and matriarchs who were the founders of the Jewish faith. Their stories are told in the book of Genesis.

Bereshit: Literally, “In the beginning” (Hebrew). This is the first word of the Bible, and gives the first book of the Torah its name.

Ibn Ezra: An 11th Century Spanish commentator who wrote a commentary on the Bible. Learn more.

Ramban (Nahmanides): A 12th century Spanish Rabbi who wrote a famous commentary on the Torah, among other works. Learn more.

Ralbag (Gersonides): A Medieval Jewish philosopher and Biblical commentator with a scientific, rationalist perspective. Learn more.

Seforno: A 16th Century Italian Jewish commentator. Learn more.

Rambam (Maimonides):  A 12th Century Rabbi who was born in Spain and lived in Egypt, the Rambam wrote some of the most important books of Jewish law and philosophy. He was also a respected doctor. Learn more.

Spinoza: A 17th century Jewish Dutch philosopher.  He believed that all of nature is one substance, and that God is this substance. He was excommunicated by the Jewish courts of his time, a verdict that still stands. Learn more.

Maimonides: See Rambam.

Tohu Va-vohu: A reference to the first lines of Genesis: “When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void (tohu va-vohu), with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping the water—God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” Tohu Va-vohu is the confusing emptiness that existed before God created the universe. (Translation from The Jewish Publication Society, A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text)

Metempsychosis: Greek term for transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation. Learn more.

Zelem Elohim: “The image of God” (Hebrew). According to the Torah, God created human beings in God’s own image. There are various philosophical consequences of being in “The Image of God,” including the responsibility to behave in a way that lives up to this image. Learn more.

Neshome: Soul.

Ferworfene: Related to the German verwerfen, to reject. Used here to mean “far-flung,” “out of the way. ” Learn more.

Akshan: One who is stubborn.

Naddan: Dowry.

Marrano: Term applied to Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism under the Spanish Inquisition but continued practicing Judaism in secret (now considered an offensive term). Learn more.

Mumar: A Jew who abandons the rules of the Torah, or converts to another religion.

Meshumad: “A Jewish person who, of his own free will, forsook Judaism and embraced another faith; in short, an apostate” (The New Jewish Encyclopedia, Ed. David Bridger, Berhman House, Inc., 1976, p. 317).

Violate 610 of the commandments: The Torah is said to have exactly 613 commandments.

Feierberg’s Whither: A Hebrew novel published around 1900 that “dramatized the hopelessness of Jewish life in eastern Europe at the time, thus presaging Zionism.” (The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia, Ed. Mordecai Schreiber, Shengold Books, 1998, p. 84)

Spinoza’s Ethics: Spinoza’s controversial text in which he asserts that God, Nature, and the Universe are all the same, the ideas for which he was excommunicated. Learn more.

One comment

  1. Your glossary is a treasure unto itself. You manage to express the vast Jewish vocabulary enmeshed in every word of his unique panoply of ideas from disparate worlds periods and look-out points [tatzpiyot]. I hope it becomes standard text in Holocaust Studies as it deserves. I certainly hope it comes to the attention of educators.

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