Paschal Agonsi

11 Hebrew Words You Should Know

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According to Wikipedia, Biblical Hebrew refers to the spoken language of ancient Israel flourishing between the 10th century BCE and the turn of the 4th century CE.

Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language within the Afroasiatic language family. It was natively spoken by the Israelites and remained in regular use as a spoken language by their longest-surviving descendants, the Jews and Samaritans, before dying out after 200 CE.

Today, many Hebrew words have entered the English language. For example: Hallelujah (praise God ), amen, mammon (money), satan and even abracadbra. Here are 13 Hebrew words that you should know.

1. Shalom (shah-LOME) שלום

Perhaps the best-known Hebrew word today is shalom, which means “peace” or “well-being.” It also can be used for both “hello” and “goodbye.”

2. Todah (toe-DAH) תודה

Hebrew for gratitude or acknowledgement, this is the modern word for “thank you.” In Temple times, a Jew who felt grateful for G‑d’s salvation from danger would bring a korban todah, a “sacrifice of gratitude.”

3. Torah (toe-RAH) תורה

Literally “guide” or “instruction,” the Torah refers to the Five Books of Moses which contain G‑d’s instructions. More broadly, Torah refers to the entire corpus of Jewish spiritual scholarship.

4. Mitzvah (mitz-VAH) מצוה

Literally “commandment,” mitzvah refers to any of the 613 commandments in the Torah, especially giving charity. Since a Jew is obligated to follow the commandments after reaching the age of majority, a boy’s 13th birthday is his “bar mitzvah” and a girl’s 12th birthday is her “bat mitzvah.”

5. Ahavah (ah-hah-VAH) אהבה

This is the Hebrew noun for “love.” The Torah speaks extensively about love: Ahavah of Isaac toward his wayward son, Esau; ahavah of Jacob toward his wife Rachel; ahavah between G‑d and His people; ahavah we are to have for each other; and ahavah we are enjoined to extend to “strangers” (converts).

6. Shabbat (Shah-BOT, or SHAH-boss) שבת

The progenitor of the English word “sabbath,” Shabbat refers to the Jewish day of rest. Observed from Friday afternoon until Saturday evening since our Exodus from Egypt, Shabbat is celebrated with special prayers, candle-lighting (on Friday afternoon), feasting, and resting.

7. Kodesh (CO-desh) קדש

Kodesh means “set aside” or “sacred.” Shabbat, the holiest day, is referred to as Shabbat kodesh. Kodesh is also the root of Kaddish (the prayer in which we sanctify G‑d’s name), Kiddush (the prayer in which we proclaim the holiness of Shabbat).

8. Hashem (hah-SHEM) השם

The Torah contains many names for G‑d. Jews have historically refrained from using these names in conversation, instead referring to the Creator as Hashem, which means “the name.” Bonus: The word baruch (bah-ROOKH) means “blessed,” so if someone asks you how you are doing (or whenever you want to report good news), you can preface your answer with baruch Hashem, “blessed be G‑d.”

9. Imma (EE-mah) אמא

The Torah refers to Eve, the first woman, as aim kol chai, “the mother of all life.” Aim is the root word of imma, the Hebrew equivalent of “mommy.”

10. Abba (AH-bah) אבא

Abba is the Hebrew equivalent of “daddy.” In Judaism it is actually a mitzvah to refer to our parents by these honorifics, rather than by their given names.

11. Kosher (kah-SHER) כשר

The Hebrew word kosher literally means “fit.” The laws of kosher define the foods that are fit for consumption for a Jew (as well as the ritual items that are fit to be used), but the word has come to refer more broadly to anything that is “above board” or “legit.”

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