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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Read more at Forward

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

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas