110 Roots and Puns in ‘Hebrew Matters’
Hebrew Matters: 110 Hebrew Roots. The Roads They Take. The Stories They Tell
By Joseph Lowin (GCRR Press)
I’ve been reading Joseph Lowin’s informative and delightful “About Hebrew” columns in Hadassah Magazine for years, and I’ve often wondered how he comes up with new ideas for every issue. Now, with Lowin’s latest book, Hebrew Matters, we have 110 of his imaginative columns and gatherings of Hebrew roots and words in one volume.
The title itself is a two-pronged pun: The book is dealing with issues and subjects that pertain to Hebrew “matters.” Used as a verb, the title notes that Hebrew is important, significant—this language really matters.
Both readings are correct. And the humorous titles for each pairing of roots, or shoreshim, lure the reader in. For instance, “Goodbye and Good Riddance” deals with the Hebrew root פ-ט-ר, which yields both “opening,” as in the Torah phrase, petter rekhem, “opening of the womb,” and also closing, as in the concluding aliyah to the last part of the weekly Torah portion, the maftir.
To enhance his explanations, Lowin relies on a breadth of Jewish texts, starting with the Bible. He continues through the Middle Ages, with examples from Rashi and Maimonides, and concludes with citations from modern Israeli novelists, language scholars and Israeli slang.
Reading this gem of a book is like compressing time. Normally, a new column shows up once every few months, with each magazine issue. But here, in page after page, the months just fly by.
Curt Leviant recently published a translation of a long-forgotten Sholom Aleichem novel, Moshkeleh the Thief, as well as his 12th novel, Me, Mo, Mu, Ma & Mod; or, Which Will It Be, Me and Mazal or Gila and Me?