Sign In Forgot Password

"What's your Hebrew name?"

04/06/2021 11:23:59 AM


Chevre (Friends),

For many of us, especially those of us who are not regular religious service attendees, the importance of knowing our Hebrew name doesn't usually surface as one of our priorities on any given day. But, when someone we love is ill, or has unfortunately passed, this same question becomes important. In past generations, our ancestors knew their Hebrew names (or more likely, Yiddish names), because that was the name they went by in their daily life. But, as in many of our relatives' cases, when they moved to Canada, or the United States, they adopted English names, and their Hebrew/Yiddish names were relegated to ritual use only.

In recent past generations, more families attended religious services more frequently, so children knew their (father's) Hebrew name, by hearing it over and over, when he was called for an honor at the Torah. A lot started to change in the mid-1980's, when more and more women (in the Conservative movement), started to be counted in minyanim, started to take their places as lay-leaders, or clergy. If families were still attending services on a regular basis, and that started to fall away in the late '80s and early '90's, families were more aware of the women's Hebrew names as well.

What is your Hebrew name? My Hebrew name is officially HeHazzan Leah bat Tzvi Hersh haKohen v'Sima. For decades, I only knew my father's Hebrew (Yiddish) name, and was told that my mother's Hebrew name was Sarah. But, it wasn't until I was almost at ordination and was simultaneously making change of residence arrangements for my mother, that I saw a copy of my parents' ketubah, and I saw that my mother's name was Sima! I don't know why it mattered to me so very much, but it did. I discussed the situation with the Head Rabbi of the Academy for Jewish Religion, the seminary I attended, and I decided to adopt the new information in my name. It is what is on my smicha document and it is how I am called to the Torah.

Your Hebrew name is your personal Hebrew/Yiddish name (Sarah, Ya'akov, Mindel, Hersh) ben (son of, if you identify as masculine) or bat (daughter of, if you identify as feminine) your parent's or parents' Hebrew names. Some people have only one parent with a Hebrew name, others have two parents with Hebrew names. If you don't have this information at your fingertips, I'm going to suggest that you make it a priority to find out. Not for me. For you. The last thing you're going to want to worry about, and ironically, one of the things that becomes very important to people, is to have the correct information for a prayer for healing, or for a burial. Better to gather the Hebrew/Yiddish names of your loved ones, now, before there's an emergency. 

You may not be planning on being called to the Torah for an honor anytime soon. But, there are essential moments of ritual that traditionally use a person's Hebrew/Yiddish name. If it's one less thing that will burden you emotionally, to have that answer, then I strongly encourage you to lovingly pursue the list of names that will matter to you and your loved ones. Type it, save it, share it, and, before you need it for an emergency, use your Hebrew name proudly. And, teach your children how to use their Hebrew names.

As a side note, I want to say that if you cannot find the answers you're looking for, don't feel that G-d won't hear prayers using your loved one's English name. Ritual is accommodating, of course. But, as we lose more and more of our precious rituals, we have the opportunity to do a little research to preserve something that, at certain moments, has proven to have great meaning to a great many people.





Wed, October 20 2021 14 Cheshvan 5782