All posts by Philip

Deciphering Jewish Gravestones

My 2011 article on Jewish gravestone symbols has long been one of the most popular posts on this web site. In that article, I discuss the symbols found on Jewish gravestones, but not the text. I wrote in the first paragraph that I will likely write about the text at some point in the future. Unfortunately, I waited nine years to do so, but here’s a look at some of the Hebrew text you might find on a Jewish gravestone, and how to decipher it.

We should get some terminology out the way. We’re talking about Hebrew inscriptions on gravestones. In Hebrew we call the grave a קבר kever, and the gravestone itself a מצבה matseva (lit. monument). There isn’t a particularly good Hebrew word for epitaph (the inscription), it’s just הכתובת על המצבה the writing on the gravestone. We do use the word הספד hesped for eulogy, and you can think of some of the inscription to be a eulogy. As this is intended as an introduction to this topic, I’ll simply use the English terms most of the time.

For those who want to print this out, I’ve created a parallel version that will print nicely, and you can download it as a PDF.

As this is a long article with lots of sections, I’ve added a table of contents below that will let you jump to a particular section if you want. The sections generally follow the order that these items would show up in the inscription.

Continue reading Deciphering Jewish Gravestones

US Rabbinical Guide to Female Jewish Names from 1939

Adding to my recent series of Jewish given name lists (see my Names page for links to all the articles on names) is this list which comes from a US-published guide for pulpit rabbis. The book, called Hamadrikh (ְהַמַּדְרִיך), was initially published in 1939, and later revised in 1956. For decades it served as a unique guide to rabbis on how to perform specific rituals, with lists of prayers for things like marriage, circumcision, redeeming the first born, bar mitzvahs, dedicating a new torah, a new synagogue, laws related to visiting the sick, adding a name, the dying, etc. One important section deals offers templates for inscriptions to be used on gravestones. It’s likely many of the gravestones inscribed in the subsequent decades in the US followed the templates present in this book.

Excerpt from Hamadrikh
Continue reading US Rabbinical Guide to Female Jewish Names from 1939

US Rabbinical Guide to Male Jewish Names from 1939

Adding to my recent series of Jewish given name lists (see my Names page for links to all the articles on names) is this list which comes from a US-published guide for pulpit rabbis. The book, called Hamadrikh (ְהַמַּדְרִיך), was initially published in 1939, and later revised in 1956. For decades it served as a unique guide to rabbis on how to perform specific rituals, with lists of prayers for things like marriage, circumcision, redeeming the first born, bar mitzvahs, dedicating a new torah, a new synagogue, laws related to visiting the sick, adding a name, the dying, etc. One important section deals offers templates for inscriptions to be used on gravestones. It’s likely many of the gravestones inscribed in the subsequent decades in the US followed the templates present in this book.

Excerpt from Hamadrikh
Continue reading US Rabbinical Guide to Male Jewish Names from 1939

Female Jewish Names in Poland from 1866

After my posts listing the names from the 1928 Polish booklet Spis Imion Żydowskich (Pre-War Male Jewish Names in Poland and Pre-War Female Jewish Names in Poland), I was sent an email by Yaniv Reginiano pointing out that there is an earlier Polish book on Jewish given names from 1866, titled Imiona przez Żydów polskich używane (Names used by Polish Jews), that is available from the same digital archive. I’ve taken a look at it, and decided to post the names here as well. It’s a bit different than the 1928 booklet, but still very useful. I recommend taking a look at the original book through the link above to see how it’s organized. The table below, however, will let you search and sort the entries.

This page contains the female names. There are 193 female names listed here. For male names, see Male Jewish Names in Poland from 1866.

Excerpt from Imiona przez Żydów polskich używane

One way to use this list, besides searching for names you might have found in a document or on a gravestone, is to find the canonical name. For example, if you are looking for a relative that you found in a document listed as Serla or Soja, and are looking for their birth record, it’s useful to know that those names derive from Sara.

Continue reading Female Jewish Names in Poland from 1866

Male Jewish Names in Poland from 1866

After my posts listing the names from the 1928 Polish booklet Spis Imion Żydowskich (Pre-War Male Jewish Names in Poland and Pre-War Female Jewish Names in Poland), I was sent an email by Yaniv Reginiano pointing out that there is an earlier Polish book on Jewish given names from 1866, titled Imiona przez Żydów polskich używane (Names used by Polish Jews), that is available from the same digital archive. I’ve taken a look at it, and decided to post the names here as well. It’s a bit different than the 1928 booklet, but still very useful. I recommend taking a look at the original book through the link above to see how it’s organized. The table below, however, will let you search and sort the entries.

This page contains the male names. There are 316 male names listed here. For female names, see Female Jewish Names in Poland from 1866.

Excerpt from Imiona przez Żydów polskich używane

One way to use this list, besides searching for names you might have found in a document or on a gravestone, is to find the canonical name. For example, if you are looking for a relative that you found in a document listed as Nuchem, and are looking for their birth record, it’s useful to know that the name derives from Menachem.

Continue reading Male Jewish Names in Poland from 1866