The Idiot’s Guide to Hebrish at The Times of Israel

As a non-Hebrew-speaking Ops & Blogs intern at The Times of Israel, I stumble upon a plethora of concepts foreign to my English-tuned ears every day in our varied and fascinating assortment of blog submissions. It’s all part of the deal when diving into a different culture, and a challenge I’ve been glad to take on. Soon after I arrived in Israel, I began adding all unfamiliar words to a Word document and filling in the blanks with definitions. By now, I’ve compiled a rather extensive medley of religious, secular, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Hebrew slang terms.

Keep in mind that I realize these simple definitions barely ripple the depths of the complex roots, etymological history, and linguistic changes behind these words, not to mention their current multiple layers of meaning. Nevertheless, for my purposes, these simple explanations represent a helpful introductory guide to the way I encountered these terms being used in the blogs.

So, without further ado, here is a small sampling of some of the more interesting entries from the glossary. Hopefully you’ll enjoy chuckling at my ignorance or perhaps even discovering a definition you’ve also never encountered before. Many thanks to my Ops & Blogs editors for supplying and explaining some of these definitions!

achdut – unity

ars – short for “arsawat,” derogatory Hebrew slang for a stereotypical low-class young man

asimonim – tokens for Israel pay phones used until the 1990s

apikorus – one who does not have a share in the world to come, from “Epicurus”

baalei batim – laymen

bagrut – Israeli end-of-high school testing requirement for higher education

bal teshuva – return to faith

behatzlacha – good luck

b’rogez – dispute; literally “in agitation”

chizuk – emotional or spiritual encouragement

chometz – leaven, or leavened food

chug – organized after-school activity

eser – perfect ten, perfection

frum – Yiddish for religiously devout, going beyond the minimal requirements of halakha

hamoula – extended clan

hasbara  – Israel propaganda or information aimed at the international community, often western countries, in an attempt to positively portray Israeli political policies and past actions

haval – too bad, what a shame

kacha zeh – that’s how it is

kahals – the local autonomous governments of former European Jewish communities, overseeing religious, legal, and communal affairs

kal vachomer – certainly, all the more so

kapara – forgiveness, atonement, also slang for “darling”

kvel – to feel happy or proud; to burst with pride

leyning – Torah reading

lishma – for the sake of the Name, for the right reason

maharat – female spiritual leader

makolet – Israel convenience store

mashal – lesson, proverb

megillah – scroll, particularly the scroll of Esther; also slang for a tediously long or boring story

mishigas – Yiddish for nonsense

mishloach manot – “sending of portions,” food gifts given during Purim

nachas – Yiddish for joy or pride in children

reformi – slang for a rebellious Jew who does not observe the law

Rishonim – “first ones,” leading Jewish scholars during the 11th to 15th centuries

sababa – cool, great, no problem

saichel – Yiddish for common sense, smarts

tikkun olam – mending the world

About the Author
Ramona Tausz is visiting Israel for the first time, spending the summer as an Ops & Blogs Intern at Times of Israel. She attends Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan.