Dic­tio­nary of Jew­ish Words

Joyce Eisen­berg and Ellen Scolnic
  • Review
By – October 24, 2011
Dic­tio­nary of Jew­ish Words is essen­tial­ly an expand­ed reprint of the Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Society’s 2001 vol­ume, The JPS Dic­tio­nary of Jew­ish Words, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in their Desk Ref­er­ence Series. The use­ful sec­tion at the back of the book, called Cat­e­go­ry Lists,” has been increased by some 100 items. While many of the cat­e­gories, for exam­ple East­ern Euro­pean Jew­ry,” eth­nic groups,” Shavuot,” Yom Kip­pur,” and Zion­ism” have remained untouched, the one on Israel” has right­ful­ly been great­ly expand­ed and total­ly reor­ga­nized in a user­friend­ly man­ner. The book is not with­out its blem­ish­es, how­ev­er. For exam­ple, the way the Hebrew let­ter khaf is translit­er­at­ed leads one to believe, incor­rect­ly, that the cov­er­ing of a sukkah is pro­nounced skakh, rather than skhakh. There are incon­sis­ten­cies between the Guide prop­er (“B’not Mitz­va”) and the Cat­e­go­ry List (“Ban­ot Mitz­va”), the lat­ter of which is emphat­i­cal­ly and cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly wrong. The book’s claim that the bedeken cer­e­mo­ny, as prac­ticed at tra­di­tion­al wed­dings, is attend­ed only by the imme­di­ate fam­i­ly and the wed­ding par­ty” is con­tra­dict­ed by this reviewer’s recent expe­ri­ence, where the cer­e­mo­ny is wit­nessed by all the guests, and is even accom­pa­nied by trum­pets and danc­ing. In brief, if you’re look­ing for a reli­able guide to Jew­ish life as expressed in its vocab­u­lary, you will have to look for some­thing a bit more authoritative.
Joseph Lowin, Hebrew lan­guage colum­nist for Hadas­sah Mag­a­zine, is the author most recent­ly of a book of lit­er­ary analy­sis, Art and the Artist in the Con­tem­po­rary Israeli Nov­el (Lex­ing­ton Books, 2017).

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