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Sefaria’s First Dictionary

We’re excited to announce a new dictionary feature now live on Sefaria!

Adding a lexicon has been a long-standing goal for our team. Expanding Torah’s accessibility is chief among our priorities and translation can be one of the biggest hindrances to learning. This feature represents the beginning of a bigger project to collect word definitions here at Sefaria. Though only available right now for Hebrew Tanach, we are working on adding definitions for multiple languages – Hebrew, English, and Aramaic – with myriad options for varying translation sources.

Interestingly, while our current Hebrew dictionary clearly benefits English speakers, this feature can also be helpful to Hebrew speakers as well. To explain: while it is clear that the Talmud may be inaccessible to Hebrew speakers due to its Aramaic parlance, there is a common misunderstanding with regards to Tanach itself. Biblical Hebrew is not always interchangeable with Modern Hebrew, and this can make it difficult even for fluent Hebrew speakers to easily navigate through a text.

An illustration of this for the curious amongst our readers: In Judges 7:13 one finds the word צליל “Tzlil” (cool fact: this is a “Hapax Legomenon” or singularly occurring word in the Bible). In modern Hebrew, “Tzlil” means sound; in the book of Judges, it is referring to a type of bread.

Other examples abound; the famous חשמל in Ezekiel 1:27 means electricity in modern Hebrew but nothing of the sort in the Bible; the word אקדח (pistol, gun) in Isaiah 54:12  is a type of precious gem; the modern word for cake, עוגה, was used in Genesis 18:6 to denote any type of baked bread; the modern Hebrew word for foam, קצף, means anger in the Bible; and the original verbal root of the word Passover, פסח, may have originally meant “to defend” (Isaiah 31:5).

This feature is also one of particular pride for the Sefaria team because it is a wonderful example of open source at work. Though we knew from the start that we absolutely wanted to add a dictionary feature, we ran into a problem when we discovered a lack of availability of digitized lexical work. Enter Open Scriptures, a group aimed at digitizing and analyzing the language and morphology of the Hebrew Bible. Due to their open source nature, we were able to draw upon work they had already completed, including the digitization of data from the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon by Larry Pierce for the Online Bible.

Soon to come: A lexicon of Halachic Terms in the English Mishnah Translation aimed at elucidating some difficult terms; a Lexicon by the late Moshe Catane of well researched explanations to all the “Laazim” or foreign (mostly Old French) words in Rashi’s commentaries on the Talmud and the Bible. We’ve also certainly got our sights on Jastrow on the Talmud, which is in the public domain, though a large digitization project.

But enough reading about it – go try it out yourselves! To open the lexicon, simply double click a Hebrew word in Tanach and a definition will appear.

3 Comments

  1. While this is an advance over most dictionaries of Tan”kh, lacking the authoritative Judaic inputs of Ernest Klein and Even-Shoshan, as well as Jastrow (Aramaic), remain a serious barrier to perceiving the ancient Hebrew meanins. Additionally, to reach my level of definitions, the earlier authority of the Qumran Yeshayahu scroll must be implemented as well as the early explanations of definitions in the Targumim. If you want a serious insight into these definitions, these are all essential inputs.

    Like

    • wolfamelia says

      We’re currently working on digitizing it but it’s a very large project and will take some time.

      Like

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