Posted by: Elena's Israel Blog | 11/22/2010

Not So Trivial Trivia

Excerpts from ‘Things I Have Learned in Israel’ by Rebecca Brimmer’, 2006
Jot and Tittle “Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17–18). The phrase “jot and tittle” refers to specific parts of the Hebrew alphabet. The jot refers to the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the yod (y). Tittle is an English word meaning a very small particle, iota, or jot. It refers to small strokes, which differentiate Hebrew letters one from another. For instance, the only difference between the dalet (d, d sound) and the resh (r, r sound) is a tiny little stroke at the top of the letter. So, Yeshua (Jesus) was putting an exclamation point on His statement to let the hearers know how important and valid the Law and Prophets were to Him.The Jewish people have great reverence for the Scriptures. In fact, a Torah (Gen.–Deut.) scroll is still handwritten on leather parchment by scribes who are meticulous in their workmanship. It takes about a year to complete a Torah scroll and costs around US $50,000. Great care is taken to ensure that every letter is perfect and that the copy has no mistakes. Our Bible has come down to us through the ages unchanged because of the care taken by generations of Jewish scribes.

In Jerusalem, you can visit the Shrine of the Book museum and see the Dead Sea Scrolls. A 2,000-year-old scroll of the book of Isaiah is on display. Scholars tell us that it is virtually unchanged from the modern day Hebrew language book of Isaiah.

Calendars The biblical calendar is not the same as the one we use today. In fact, in modern day Israel, two calendars are used simultaneously: the Gregorian calendar, the one we are familiar with, and the Hebrew calendar, which is the biblical calendar. When you pick up a newspaper in Israel, you will see two dates on the cover. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar and is based on the movements of the moon. Each month has 30 days. Every few years, an additional 30-day month is added to ensure that holidays happen at roughly the same time of year. When you read in the Bible that something occurred in the first month, it does not mean January.

It means the Hebrew month of Nisan, which falls somewhere in March or April (Exodus 12:2; Leviticus 23:5). Passover starts on the 15th day of Nisan. All biblical feasts are figured according to the Hebrew calendar, which is why they are never on the same dates from year to year according to the Gregorian calendar.

In Israel, day-to-day life is figured according to the Gregorian calendar, but biblical, national, and secular holidays are commemorated on the Hebrew date. Many significant events like weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries are honored on the Hebrew date. The Jewish people are currently living in the year 5767. Of course, they have to operate in a larger world, and so they also use 2006 like we do. They do not use BC and AD after years, but rather use BCE (before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era).

In Jewish thought, the day begins at sundown and ends at sundown. This is because in Genesis it says, “And the evening and the morning was the first day” (1:5).

Bless GOD, not the Food The blessings over the bread and wine are wonderful examples of blessing God every day. The blessings are as follows:

“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.”
“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

When I was growing up, we always prayed before meals, and we often blessed the food. One phrase I remember was “bless this food to our bodies.” My Jewish friends are a little surprised by this kind of prayer. They assume the food is good because God made it and gave it to us as a gift. The prayers above are prayers of thanksgiving and honor to God who gave us the good gifts of food and wine.

When Yeshua fed the five thousand, it says He blessed. “Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes” (Matthew 14:19). Reading that before living in Israel, I thought Yeshua blessed the food. Instead, Yeshua undoubtedly blessed God, who gave the food, as is the Hebraic custom.

No “J”in the Hebrew Alphabet When I began studying Hebrew, I was amazed to find out that there is no “j” sound in Hebrew. Why, I wondered, did my English Bible have all those names that start with “J”? When I began to look up some of those names, I found out that they all start with the Hebrew letter “yod” (y), which is a “y” sound. I later found out that the English language had changed. Previously, the English letter “j” had a “y” sound. When the Bible was translated into English, the names were pronounced with a “y” sound. Later, English changed, and the “j” sound developed. Since no one went back and changed the Bible translations, we continue to this day to pronounce these names with a “j” sound. A few examples: In Hebrew, Joel is pronounced Yoel; Joshua is pronounced Yehoshua; and Jeremiah is Yirmiyahu.

Biblical Names Have Meanings After learning some Hebrew, I found that the names in the Bible were more meaningful. Suddenly, I was seeing words, not just names. Melchizedek is an interesting example (Genesis 14:18). It is actually two Hebrew words, melchi and tzedek. Melchi means “my king,” and tzedek means “righteous.” So, whenever someone called him by name, they were saying “my righteous king.”

The name Yeshua is the Hebrew word “salvation.” Isaiah’s two sons’ names formed a sermon when said together. His first son’s name was Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “swift is the booty, speedy is the prey” (Isaiah 8:3–4). The second son’s name is Shear-Jashub, which means “a remnant shall return.” Every time Isaiah’s wife called the boys to dinner, she was proclaiming to the entire neighborhood that there was going to be war and captivity, but a remnant would return.

Fasting Jewish Style There are many fast days throughout the Jewish year. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Tisha b’Av (the 9th of the Hebrew month Av, the date on which both Temples were destroyed) are the two most prominent. Fast days start at sundown and continue to sundown on the following day. On these days, they fast from more than food––no liquids are ingested. They abstain from many things that bring pleasure. Showers are not taken. This is because the Scripture says that you should “afflict your souls” (Leviticus 23:27). I can tell you this from experience––it is much easier to fast from food than to fast from liquids.

Hebrew Letters Used as Numbers Every Hebrew letter has a numerical equivalent. The chapters and verses of the Hebrew Bible are not identified by traditional numbers, but rather by Hebrew letters that have numerical value (example: wk=26). Because of this, some numbers have become significant. For example, the number 18 is thought to be a good number, because the letters that total 18 form the word chai(yj), which means “life.”

In closing, I want to encourage you to dig a little deeper into the culture of the Bible, word studies in Hebrew and Greek, and, if at all possible, visit Israel and see how your Bible will speak to you in fresh new ways.

Bibliography: Encyclopedia Judaica. Jerusalem, Israel: Keter Publishing House. Stern, David. Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jerusalem, Israel: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992. Young, G. Douglas. Young’s Compact Bible Dictionary. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989. Teaching Letters

One more, from former classmate of Elena’s, Mel Sherr:

Chai This symbol, commonly seen on necklaces and other jewelry and ornaments, is simply the Hebrew word Chai (living), with the two Hebrew letters Cheit and Yod attached to each other. Some say it refers to the Living G-d; others say it simply reflects Judaism’s focus on the importance of life. Whatever the reason, the concept of chai is important in Jewish culture. The typical Jewish toast is l’chayim (to life). Gifts to charity are routinely given in multiples of 18 (the numeric value of the word Chai). 



  1. How blessed I am this evening as I read the material that you have shared. I also see that Mel Sherr, our classmate, contributed! Wonderful to read about traditions and the Jewish faith. Thank you for posting these informative blogs on this new site Elena! It truly is inspiring and I thank you for helping me to understand.

  2. What precious information! Thank you for posting this – it is information often mentioned on Messianic TV, but this is now on a web site accessible to anyone who wishes to learn more about the roots of Judaism and the Scriptures God gave them, and which they so faithfully preserved for the rest of the world. I have bookmarked this location and will be sending it to my email list to visit and be blessed by it. Shalom, Elena!

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