Posts Tagged ‘Jewish calendar’

How to Spell “Tu biShvat”

January 18, 2011

Although there are many different conventions for Hebrew transliteration in general — e.g., the various ways to spell Hanukkah — using apostrophes in “Tu biShvat” indicates a misunderstanding of sh’va na’ versus sh’va nah (“mobile” or “voiced” sh’va versus “resting” or “silent” sh’va). This is a matter of correct dikduk (Hebrew grammar), not convention.

I am on a mission to correct this in the English-speaking Jewish world because so many Jewish organizations get this wrong!  They mistakenly use apostrophes and frequently mistransliterate the holiday’s name as “Tu b’Shvat” or, even worse, with two apostrophes, as in “Tu b’Sh’vat.”  Another incorrect transliteration uses ‘e’ instead of apostrophes, resulting in “Tu b’Shevat,” “Tu beSh’vat,” and the like.  These are all wrong, for the same reason.

When you spell Tu biShvat in Hebrew, there’s no voiced sh’va anywhere.  This is because:

  1. Hebrew words can never have two sh’vas in a row at the beginning of a word.  In the middle, yes.  At the end, yes.  But at the beginning, no.
  2. In the situation where you have a word whose first vowel is a sh’va — such as Sh’vat (a Hebrew month), Y’rushalayim (“Jerusalem”), b’heimah (“beast,” “a large domesticated mammal, potentially kosher”), sh’mot (“names of”), etc. — and then you want to add a prefix whose vowel is also a sh’va, a couple of things happen:

a) The sh’va that was at the beginning of the original word changes from sh’va na’ to sh’va nahTherefore, the sh’va under the shin in “Sh’vat” changes from being voiced to being silent.
b) The sh’va that would have been under the prefix changes into a hirik. This phenomenon happens every time.
c) If the original word happened to start with a yud, such as in Y’rushalayim, not only do (a) and (b) occur, but also (c) the sh’va that was under the yud disappears altogether.

Thus, the proper pronunciation of our upcoming Hag ha-Ilanot (“Festival of the Trees”) is, divided into syllables, “TOO-BEESH-VAT.”  There’s no voiced sh’va, so there shouldn’t be any apostrophe in the transliteration.

Likewise, “in Jerusalem” is “BEE-ROO-SHA-LA-YEEM.”  Once again, the sh’va is no longer in the word once the prepositional prefix is added.

If you have contact with the English-speaking Jewish world in any way, please help me with this mission by politely correcting the transliteration wherever you come across it.  If anyone gives you any trouble, just send ’em to me.

Warning: Although Wikipedia gets it right, their detailed information is not for the faint of heart.  But if you love L’shon ha-Kodesh (“the language of the Holy”) as much as I do, you’ll have a field day.

Note: I have deliberately left actual Hebrew lettering out of this post to make it easy to copy and forward by email.  Please share!

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Last Night of Hanukkah: “These Candles”

December 8, 2010

Finally, a translation of “hallalu”!

It means “these.”

In traditional Jewish practice HaNeirot Hallalu is recited immediately after lighting the Hanukkah candles.  The first two words of this paragraph-long prayer — which occur twice there in the exact same form — are usually translated as “these candles.”

That second word, hallalu, is tantalizingly similar to Hebrew words meaning things like “shine brightly” and “sing praises.”  However, as we discussed in my Advanced-Intermediate Hebrew class last night, the word doesn’t fit grammatically with these meanings, or with any Hebrew verb or adjective.

According to Klein: halah = m. & f. pronoun THAT. [Formed from the definite article ha… plus the deictic element …l. Compare with hallalu.] So “hallalu” is the plural pronoun, translated THESE.

Question: Why doesn’t the prayer use the more common plural demonstrative for “these,” i.e., “ha-eileh”?
Answer: I don’t know.

Still, it was extremely satisfying to find the correct translation.  It was fun looking up the English word “deictic,” too.

After lighting the candles and reciting the blessings, and also after reciting HaNeirot Hallalu, it is traditional to sing songs such as Ma’oz Tzur, Mi Yimaleil, S’vivon, etc.

The Moon and the Month

October 18, 2010
The Moon as seen by an observer from Earth. So...

Look upward and see the almost-full moon.   When the moon becomes completely full, you’ll know it’s the 15th of the current Jewish month.   Right now we’re in the month of Heshvan.

Or, just remember that in the Jewish calendar the new moon is always the new month.  In fact the Hebrew noun for “month” is HOdesh, and the Hebrew adjective for “new” is haDASH. Their shared linguistic root is perfectly obvious.

The new moon/month is always occasion for a Jewish holiday.  It’s called Rosh Hodesh in Hebrew, literally “head of the month.”   (Recall that Rosh haShanah means “head of the year.”)

Paradoxically, the English word “month” comes from the English word “moon,” and yet they are not (any longer) tied together.   Can you look up at the sky and be able to tell that it’s October 18?

Tishrei 30: Everything You Do Matters

October 8, 2010

Have you ever stopped to think that everything you do matters?

Today is the last of our 60-day spiritual journey.  Today’s theme for contemplating, journal writing, and awareness, is “Everything You Do Matters.”  Quoting from Rabbi Jacobson:

“In Jewish mystical thought, space, time, and matter are understood to be forces of Divine energy — sparks that fell to earth at the time of Creation, which became embedded in all aspects of existence; these sparks must be elevated in holiness for the world to achieve perfection as per the Divine plan.

This is why the little things you do in life are sometimes more important than the big things — the journey is sometimes as or more important than the final destination: going to work, people you meet on the way there, the cup of coffee you drink while waiting for the bus, the piece of paper you throw in the trash can — all are changed by your actions.”

I wish I could remember this wisdom more constantly.   It’s not that I don’t believe it — it seems powerfully true.  But sometimes when things are hard, or I have to make difficult choices, I forget that everything I do matters.  When I’m fortunate enough to remember (or read about it!), life feels better.  More complicated, perhaps, but in a good way.  It really does require stopping to think about.  I hope it matters that I’m posting this today.

It’s a new moon.   Tishrei is over.  Heshvan is beginning.*  Time to move on, and try to remember: every little thing matters.

Hebrew vocabulary:

*Heshvan = a month of the Jewish calendar

mar = bitter

This new month is sometimes called Mar Heshvah, which means “bitter Heshvan,” because it has no holidays in it.

(or Mar Heshvah, which means “bitter Heshvan, because it has no holiday

Sh’mini ‘Atzeret: Remember, remember!

September 30, 2010

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

The seasonal, agrarian rhythm of the Jewish festival holidays is based on the weather and climate of the land of Israel, not New England.  I know this.  Nevertheless, in seven years of annual dwelling in my own sukkah, it always seems so windy on Sh’mini ‘Atzeret.

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

Because this is our challenge today: to distill all our new insight and energy into the rest of the year, now that the Tishrei holiday season is almost over.  To take the spiritual shelter of the sukkah into ourselves, and remember.

Remember the soul-searching of Elul, the wake-up call of the shofar. Remember the Melting Heart of Tashlikh, remember teshuvah, the return to our Purist Selves.  Remember Forgiveness.  Remember Joy.  Remember getting back together, with Gd and with each other.

The flimsy structure of the sukkah, with its skhakh-roof  full of holes, reminded us of our vulnerability in life, that even our solid-seeming homes can’t ultimately protect us.  As we read in Kohelet (the Hebrew name for the Book of Ecclesiastes), “Ha-kol havel!” Everything is vapor, vanity, futility.  As if to underscore this point, the electric power is going on and off, my digital clocks are all blinking.  Wake up!  Pay attention!   The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory for the Boston area.    There’s rain and thunder and a dramatic WIND.

The season is changing.  The energy is shifting.  Remember, remember!

More Jewish Holidays!

September 29, 2010

Three more holidays in our Jewish New Year Holiday Season:

Tishrei 21, which ended at sundown tonight, was Hoshana Rabba (“the Great Hoshana”), which was the final day for waving the lulav and etrog.

Tishrei 22 began at sundown tonight, initiating the holiday of Sh’mini ‘Atzeret (“the Stopping of the Eighth,” i.e., the eighth day, and truly the end of, Sukkot), a less-famous Jewish festival.  Among other observances, we say goodbye to the sukkah until next year.

Tishrei 23 is when we celebrate Simhat Torah, which means, literally, “the joy of the Torah.”  We read from the very end, then rewind the scroll all the way back to the beginning and read from there.

It is truly a holiday cycle.

Hebrew grammar:

Simhat is the s’mikhut (construct) form of simhah. The noun modifies the next noun.

Simhah = joy

Simhat = joy of…

Taste of Hebrew: Sukkah

September 26, 2010

Sukkah = hut, booth, “tabernacle,” shelter

Sukkot = plural of sukkah. The name of the holiday we’re in the middle of.

Sukkoh = his sukkah

Homework: See if you can find sukkoh (“his shelter”) in Psalm 27.

Tishrei 15: The Jewish Camping Holiday

September 22, 2010

Dining
al fresco.

Friends, mosquitoes,
Crickets
Homemade hallah
Homegrown tomatoes
Singing
Looking up through the pine boughs at the full moon, and, later, at the stars.
Delicious evening air.
No TV, no radio, no NPR.  Just crickets.
It’s camping in the back yard.  It’s Sukkot!

Elul 15 – Full Moon, Full Reflection

August 26, 2010
Fullmoon

Image by Αλεξάνδρα via Flickr

Today is the full moon of Elul.

The full moon reflects the light of the sun.

Everything we see is a reflection of ourselves.  “You are what you see.  And you see what you are.”

It’s Day 16 in our 60-day spiritual journey, and we face some hard questions:

1. Do you recognize your own flaws when you see them in others?

2. Do you see the goodness around you?

The Thirteen Attributes of Divine Compassion radiate during Elul — even when we’re immersed in mundane activity.  It’s the power of Elul.

In exactly two weeks, at the new moon, the Jewish New Year begins, with Rosh haShanah, literally “the head of the year.”

Jewish New Year Cards – Quiz #1

August 24, 2010

NYcard1-frontThis pretty picture appears on the front of a typical greeting card you might send or receive for the Jewish New Year (in Hebrew: Rosh haShanah).

Quiz:  What are the images in this photograph?   What is the significance of each image?

(Come back soon for answers to this and upcoming quizzes about the Jewish New Year.)