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If I have a decent Hebrew knowledge, but not great, what books (i.e. dictionaries, lexicons, etc.) should I have at hand when I'm learning a sefer, such as the Mishneh Torah?

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A similar question, but for a less advanced student: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/30014. –  msh210 Jul 18 '13 at 15:29
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2 Answers 2

I'd probably say to keep Jastrow's dictionary handy.

Rambam's writing in particular played a major influence on modern Hebrew, so even a modern Hebrew dictionary will work nicely (though occasionally be prepared for words that mean different things today than they did 800 years ago).

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A standard Hebrew English dictionary is helpful for such Sefarim as Mishneh Torah. For Geonic Sefarim, Jastrow or Sokoloff are good to have, too. It depends on the emphasis of the author. Mostly, if it's Hebrew, a standard dictionary will suffice. But, as recommended above, 'OR"T (pun intended - 'Otzar Roshei Tevoth) is almost a must. –  Seth J Jan 10 '11 at 22:54
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In addition to Shalom's recommendations for dictionaries:

  • The Practical Talmud Dictionary, by R' Yitzhak Frank. It's perfect for beginners because it presents phrases as they're actually found in the Talmud and explains what they really mean, in context. (As in Jastrow, most of the words are Aramaic rather than Hebrew, but they're relevant to the study of Hebrew Rabbinic texts, since they tend to quote Talmudic passages or phrases frequently, and use a Hebrew that borrows many words from Talmudic Aramaic.)

  • A book of acronyms, usually called something like "Otzar Rashei Teivot." (Here's an example, but I've seen other versions, and they probably all do the trick pretty well.) Rabbinic books from every age contain tons of acronyms and contractions, and they can be one of the biggest pitfalls for someone who tries to understand the text without extensive experience.

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Oh yeah, definitely the Otzar Rashei Teivot. Huge help. Though if you use a recent publication of Mishneh Torah, they've tried to expand those already. –  Shalom Jan 10 '11 at 22:46
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In general, more recent publications are less likely to use acronyms and contractions extensively, since they're printed in an environment of relatively abundant paper (and disposable income) compared to the conditions of generations past. –  Isaac Moses Jan 10 '11 at 23:18
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