As you browse the Jewish English Lexicon, you'll notice that each entry has a primary spelling and, usually, one or more alternative spellings. How did we determine the primary spelling?
In English writing, Hebrew and Yiddish words can be spelled in many different ways. Some publishers use the Library of Congress system for Hebrew and the YIVO system for Yiddish. But words used in Jewish English often come from both Hebrew and Yiddish, and it would be strange to use one system or the other (“Five Books of Moses” and “Jewish law” would be either khumesh and halokhe or ḥumash and halakha). Another option would be to use spellings provided in Jewish English dictionaries, but they are also diverse. Instead, we appealed to a higher authority: Google. Whichever spelling had the most hits in English at the time it was entered is listed in the primary spot. For example, “al regel achat” had 8,540 hits, while “al regel ahat” had only 5,860.
At the same time, we want to make sure that visitors searching for a specific word can find it, so we offer multiple alternative spellings, including Ashkenazi, Israeli, and Sephardi/Mizrahi variants. The list of attested spellings is by no means exhaustive, and, as with the rest of the database, we count on visitors like you to add more.

Languages of origin

Similarly, it is often difficult to determine a word’s language of origin. Many of the words that derive originally from Hebrew or Aramaic texts were also incorporated into Yiddish and Modern Hebrew and are now used in English with influences in meaning and pronunciation from Yiddish and/or Modern Hebrew (for details, see Benor’s 2000 paper and 2012 book). Despite this overlap, we include source language information due to popular demand. Here is a guide to our language names:

  • English: Words of English stock used distinctly by Jews.
  • Textual Hebrew: Words from Hebrew in the Bible, liturgy, and ancient or medieval rabbinic literature like the Talmud and responsa.
  • Aramaic: Words from Judeo-Aramaic, especially as in the Talmud and some liturgy.
  • Yiddish: Words from Eastern Yiddish (a German-based language with Hebrew/Aramaic, Slavic, and Romance influences) spoken by Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe (Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, etc.).
  • Modern Hebrew: Words used in contemporary Israeli Hebrew and/or coined in the modern era.
  • Ladino: Words from Ottoman Judezmo/Judeo-Spanish (a Spanish-based language with Turkish, Greek, Arabic, and Balkan influences) spoken by Sephardim, especially in the Ottoman Empire.
  • Arabic / Judeo-Arabic: Words from Arabic and Judeo-Arabic spoken in Arab lands. Some Arabic words entered English through Modern Hebrew, and others through the Judeo-Arabic, Ladino, or Persian of immigrants to English-speaking countries from Muslim lands.
  • Persian: Words from Persian and Judeo-Persian spoken by Jews in Iran.
  • Russian: Words from various Russian-Jewish ethnolects that emerged as a result of language shift from Yiddish to Russian between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries in Russia and the Soviet Union (including Ukraine and Belarus).
  • Juhuri: Words from Juhuri, a Tat language spoken by the Jewish community of the Eastern Caucasus, often referred to as the Mountain Jews.
  • Bukharian: Words from Bukharian, a Persian language spoken and written by Bukharan Jews in the 18th to 20th centuries in Central Asia (currently Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), since antiquity, most recently in cities such as Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, and Dushanbe.
  • Other: Words from languages other than those specified above.

Who tends to use it

A lexicon is more comprehensive when it includes sociolinguistic information. While any person - Jewish or not - might use any of the words in this lexicon, research has shown that certain types of people are more likely to use certain words (see Benor and Cohen’s 2009 survey results and Benor’s 2011 academic paper). The groups we included are based mostly on Benor and Cohen’s survey data:

Jewishness and religiosity

Religious: Jews who are engaged in religious observance and have some Jewish education
Orthodox: Jews who identify as Orthodox and observe halacha (Jewish law)
Jews: Jews of diverse religious backgrounds and organizational involvements
Non-Jews: (words that have spread outside of Jewish networks and words used by non-Jews to refer to Jews)
Chabad: Jews affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch movement


Camp: Jews who attend or work at a Jewish overnight summer camp
Israel: Diaspora Jews who feel connected to Israel and have spent time there
Organizations: People involved in a professional or volunteer capacity with Jewish nonprofit organizations
Ethnic: Jews whose Jewish identity is primarily ethnic


Older: Jews who are middle-aged and older
Younger: Jews in their 30s or younger


Ashkenazim: Jews with Ashkenazi heritage
Sephardim: Jews with Sephardi or Mizrahi heritage
Syrian: Jews with recent ancestry in Syria
Persian: Jews with recent ancestry in Iran
Bukharian: Jews with ancestry in Central Asia, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan
Juhuro: Jews with ancestry in the Caucasus region, such as Azerbaijan and Dagestan, also known as Kavkazi, Gorsky, or Mountain Jews
Russian: Jews whose ancestors were Russian-speaking Jews and migrated to English-speaking countries from the Soviet Union or Russia from the 1980s to the present
North African: Jews with ancestry in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, or Egypt
Yemenite: Jews with ancestry in Yemen
Ottoman Sephardim: Jews with ancestry in Spain and, post-expulsion, in Turkey, Greece, and other parts of the Ottoman Empire
Kurdistan: Jews with ancestry in the Kurdish region of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey
Iraqi: Jews with ancestry in Iraq

These categories are not intended to represent all subdivisions of American Jews, and they are by no means mutually exclusive; some individuals are part of six or more of the groups. In the absence of specific research on most of the words in this lexicon, this column is based mostly on the impressions of the people who entered the words or subsequently added suggestions; feel free to suggest as you see fit. As these categories suggest, Jewish English is not a homogenous language but rather an umbrella category for English spoken by a diverse group of people.

Jewish English Dictionaries cited in the database

Instructions for adding recordings

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  5. Type the spelling of the pronunciation you are recording. Usually this will be the same as the entry’s primary spelling, but sometimes it will differ, such as "Shabbat" vs. "Shabes."
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