How to tell your dictionary comes from Israel

Machtesh Last night at dinner we got to talking about the Hebrew word "machtesh," which is usually translated as "crater."  There is a geological feature in the Negev desert called the "machtesh," apparently because they first thought it was a crater, created by a meteor, but later figured out that it wasn't — instead geologists determined it is a natural geologic feature.

One of the guests at the dinner table said her teacher in school told her there is no English translation for "machtesh," it's a Hebrew word that's used to describe that particular geological feature of an area hollowed out by water.This sounded a little curious to me, so I decided to get out a dictionary and look. Being it was Shabbos, we did it the old fashioned way, and used a real paper dictionary.  They did translate machtesh as either crater or mortar (as in mortar and pestle).  But the interesting part — and the part that made it clear the dictionary must have been written in Israel — is the sentence they had in Hebrew to describe a machtesh:

אחרי ההתפוצצות מצאנו מכתש ליד הבית.

Which translates as "After the explosion, we found a crater near the house."

Not a sentence that an American dictionary would likely use to demonstrate usage of the word "crater!"

The dictionary, by the way, was published in Tel Aviv…

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

One thought on “How to tell your dictionary comes from Israel

  • Hi! My graduation paper based of english phraseology demanded much attention on different dictionaries. helped me a lot, and I didn’t have to spend days and nights in the library. Hope you’ll find these dictionaries useful too. By the way, I’m going to learn hebrew 😉


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