I was recently discussing the prohibition of studying "shitrei hedyotot" (loosely translated as secular studies). But when looking at a debate of the Rabbis in Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 21:b-22:a the word hedyotot is there but it's referring to Samaritans, who are definitely not secular. So what does hedyotot actually mean? Is it a derogatory word?


2 Answers 2


Rashi (Shabbat 116b s.v. shtar hedyotot) describes it as page of [business] calculations or a letter regarding a lost item:

שטר הדיוטות - כגון של חשבונות, או איגרות השלוחות למצא חפץ.

Elsewhere (Shabbat 149a) he describes it as business documents:

כל הני - שמא יקרא בשטרי הדיוטות של מקח וממכר קאמר.

The Yerushalmi Megillah (3:4) apparently understood it to even include Scripture (cf. Tosefta Kifshuttah to Shabbat (13:2-3 p. 202)).

Jastrow writes that the etymology of "הדיוט" is from the Greek ἰδιώτης (person lacking professional skill, a private citizen, individual) the precursor of the English word idiot.

He defines it as:

commoner, ignoble, ignorant

He also notes that it can refer to Samaritans (presumably in contradistinction to Pharisees).

Evidently, the term can have a range of meanings depending on context (see the Jastrow entry below for some examples.)

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I always was under the impression that it means, ordinary or regular.

Like we have a Kohein Gadol, and a Kohein Hedyot.

See for example how it is translated here, in the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion.

  • ordinary is good but regular might not the best word here: there is a traditional though confusing distinction in English (from Latin) between religious priests and secular priests, with the former following a specific rule (so also called regular) while the latter serve the wider world
    – Henry
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 8:01

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