Why Traditional Jewish Women’s Names Don’t Derive from Hebrew

Among Jewish communities that had not yet experienced assimilation into their surrounding societies, most men had names of Hebrew or Aramaic origin. By contrast, a majority of women had names originating in some other language. As Alexander Beider explains, this had nothing to do with differences in how the sexes interacted with non-Jews:

There are over 2,700 male names in the Bible, but only about 50 female names. Try as we might, the names Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah, Esther, and Miriam are clearly insufficient to cover all Jewish women. It thus became necessary to use additional names, some of which appeared in the Middle Ages and were based on Hebrew: the names Ḥayah (life), M’nuḥah (calm), and Neḥamah (comfort) all took root among Jewish women from Central Europe. The name Simḥah (joy) was common in Spain, France, and Germany. But a large bulk of female names were based on vernacular languages.

Whatever country you examine, female names used by Jews have positive meanings. In northern France and England, whose Jewry originated in northern France, we find in sources from the 13th and 14th centuries names like Bellassez (very beautiful), Douce (sweet), and Fleur (flower). In Czech lands during the 14th through 16th centuries, Jewish women had names such as Dobra (good), Radochna (glad), and Vesela (joyful). In medieval Western Germany, Yiddish female names [were created], like Eydl (noble), Freyde (joy), Hinde (doe), Reyzl (rose), Sheyne (beautiful), and Zelde (happiness). . . . In both medieval Spain and in the Ottoman Empire after their 1492 expulsion, Sephardi women bore names such as Alegria (joy), Buena (good), Clara (light), Delicia (delight), and Esperanza (hope). Those Sephardi Jews who landed in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya adopted Arabic names, such as Aziza (beloved), Djamila (beautiful), Djohar (gem), and Zohra (flower).

In all of these communities and across disparate languages, female given names have meanings associated with the notions of beauty, luck, joy, light, and majesty. Certain names are derived from the words designating gems, flowers, or birds. A large majority of these names . . . were not created by Jews but borrowed by them from local Gentiles. For example, in medieval Europe, both Slavic and German non-Jewish women mainly received names from the same category. Yet, at the end of the Middle Ages, Christians of these regions underwent a major change [in their naming habits], abandoning names with pleasant meanings for names of Latin, Greek, Romance, and Hebrew origins with religious connotations, usually names of Christian saints or biblical figures.

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More about: Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Jewish language, Names

 

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times