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The Chosen | Study Guide

Chaim Potok

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The Chosen | Glossary of Jewish Terminology


abba: Abba means father or, more closely, daddy, in Hebrew. Reuven calls David Malter "abba."

apikoros/apikorsim: An apikoros is a person who derides Jewish text. An apikoros is worse than a nonbeliever, because he (it is a masculine word) deliberately does not observe Jewish law even though he is learned in it. Apikorsim is the plural of apikoros.

Ark: The Ark holds the Torah. It is lit by the Eternal Light, or a light that does not get extinguished.

blatt: Blatt literally means "leaf." Danny Saunders studies two blatt, or four pages, of the Talmud a day. Reuven is happy to get through one page.

Eretz Yisroel: Eretz Yisroel is the traditional name for the Jewish homeland.

gematriya: Gematriya is a kabbalistic tradition in which the letters of a word correspond to numbers. Words are then given a numerical value and assertions about the words and their meanings. Reb Saunders tests Reuven by getting his gematriya wrong; he "accidentally" miscalculates the value of a word.

goy/goyim/goyishkeit: Goy is the Yiddish word for gentile. When Reb Saunders says, "Goyishkeit they will bring into the land, not Torah," he means that a secular state will bring assimilationist, non-Orthodox understandings of law into a land that he believes should only be governed by God.

Haganah: The Haganah was a Jewish defense force that opposed the terrorist policies of the Irgun. However, post–World War II, it did blow up rail lines and ships used to deport Jewish immigrants to Palestine. The Haganah became the Israeli Defense Force. In The Chosen, Reuven cuts classes one day to pack boxes of supplies for the Haganah.

Hasidim: A Hasid (singular) is a member of a sect of ultrareligious Jews that began in Poland in the 18th century as a response to the orthodoxy and conservatism of the eastern European Jewish community. The movement originally emphasized heart and joy, and is now considered the most orthodox and conservative strain of Judaism.

Irgun: The Irgun were a militarized group of nationalists that seceded from the World Zionist Organization. They considered the British to be illegal occupiers of Palestine, and were prepared to use violence in their quest for a Jewish state. David Malter is anguished by their use of violence and their assassination of British officers.

Kabbalah: The books of Jewish mysticism are called the Kabbalah.

Kaddish: The Kaddish is a hymn in praise to God. It can also mean the mourner's Kaddish, which is said only by mourners who, even in grief, still praise God. The Kaddish is said at different parts of the service, including the end.

kosher: Kosher food complies with Jewish dietary laws. Reuven is told it's okay to eat the food in the hospital because it is kosher. Danny will not dine at the Malters' home, however, because while they keep kosher, their understanding of the laws of kashruth may differ from his father's.

Mincha Service: This term refers to afternoon prayer.

Mitnagdim/Mitnaged: The Mitnagdim were named by Hasidim. Mitnagdim means "opponents" in Hebrew. They were traditional, Orthodox Talmudists, led by the Vilna Gaon—Rabbi Elijah of Vilna, who purportedly was a great Talmudic scholar and spent 18 hours a day in study.

momzer: While Reuven is playing second base, a batter from the other team deliberately knocks him down. Sidney Goldberg, Reuven's friend, calls the batter a "momzer": Yiddish vernacular for "bastard."

nozuf: A nozuf is person whom God hates. Reb Saunders distinguishes between a nozuf and a tzaddik.

nu: Context determines what nu means. Reb Saunders uses it to begin sentences, as "So." It can be used to join sentences, to ask a question, or to give a speaker time to think of the next word. There is no equivalent word in English.

Pirkei Avot: Danny finds a mistake in his father's quotation from the Pirkei Avot, which is a part of the Talmud. It means "Ethics" or "Chapters of the Fathers" and is a guide for ethics and interpersonal relationships. It is studied between Passover in the spring and the Jewish New Year in the fall.

pilpul: David Malter uses this term to describe empty, nonsensical arguments over small points of the Talmud that have no practical application.

Shabbat: Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, or Sabbath. It is a nonworking day, one that is devoted to family and study. Observant Jews will not turn on a stove or a light, for instance. Shabbat runs from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown. Its end is marked by a service called Havdalah. Chaim Potok describes the quiet Shabbat that Reuven and David Malter spend upon Reuven's return from the hospital.

shamashim: This term refers to bodyguards.

shiur: A shiur is a Talmudic study session led by a rabbi.

shlepper/shlep: This term refers to someone who moves slowly or awkwardly or someone who is inept.

shul: Shul is the Yiddish word for synagogue. Danny invites Reuven to his father's shul.

smicha: Smicha is Hebrew for "rabbinic ordination."

shtibblach: A shtibblach (or a shteibel) is a "small room" or a place of communal Jewish prayer that lacks the formality of synagogue. Reuven describes the shtibblach in Williamsburg.

Talmud: The Talmud refers to the 63 books of Jewish law and commentary that religious Jews study. Reuven and Danny spend mornings studying the Talmud in school, on Shabbat with Reb Saunders, and in college with Rav Gershenson.

tefillin/phylacteries: Tefillin, with which Reuven prays in the hospital, consists of two small leather boxes on straps. Each box holds four sections of the Torah, inscribed on parchment. The boxes are strapped on the left arm and on the head. The use of tefillin comes from Deuteronomy, which says, "You shall wear them as a sign upon your hand and they shall be ornaments between your eyes."

tractate Sanhedrin: The Sanhedrin was the court in ancient Judaism. The tractate is a book of the Talmud.

tzaddik: A tzaddik is the leader of a Hasidic community, like Reb Saunders.

tzitzit: These are long fringes on a prayer shawl. They are traditionally put on any four-cornered garment worn under clothing. The fringes are reminders of God's presence—much like a string tied around a finger that acts as a reminder. Reuven sarcastically tells Danny to "rub your tzitzit for good luck."

yeshiva: A yeshiva is a Jewish parochial school. Typically, half the day is spent on Jewish subjects and half on traditional school subjects.

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