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

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria