Jastrow’s Dictionary

Jastrow’s Dictionary is usually not considered in the same discussion of the essential dictionaries for biblical studies such as BDB, HALOT, and DCH. While this omission is understandable, scholars can sometimes find that Jastrow’s Dictionary provides them with just the information they are looking for.

What is Jastrow’s Dictionary?

Technically speaking, Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud, and Midrashic Literature is not a dictionary for Biblical Hebrew or Biblical Aramaic. Instead, Jastrow’s Dictionary focuses on Hebrew and Aramaic during the rabbinic period and just a bit after.

The dictionary includes material from almost 1000 years of history, starting with the Mishnah and early midrashic and legal literature, incorporating both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, and a wide selection of later midrashic and legal works as well.

The dictionary is comprehensive and is absolutely essential for any student of Rabbinics. In fact, if you are a student of Rabbinics, then you almost certainly already know about it!

Important Features of Jastrow’s Dictionary

Jastrow’s Dictionary is organized alphabetically, although Jastrow will often identify a word’s root and include helpful cross references. Some of these cross references will compare the use and form of a word within the rabbinic corpus to Aramaic Targumim and/or the Hebrew Bible.

At the end of the dictionary there is an index of scriptural references, so it is easy to locate the passages in which Jastrow has referenced particular passages in the Hebrew Bible.

Why you shouldn’t use Jastrow’s Dictionary

Jastrow is certainly not the first place a biblical scholar would look in order to understand the meaning of an unknown word. This is because Biblical Hebrew and Rabbinic Hebrew (not to mention Biblical Aramaic and the various forms of Rabbinic Aramaic) are quite different from one another.

Although Biblical Hebrew and Rabbinic Hebrew share certain commonalities, these two forms of Hebrew are so different from one another that they can even be considered distinct, albeit closely-related languages.

In fact, the relationship of Biblical Hebrew and Rabbinic Hebrew is still a matter of fierce scholarly debate. (For example, some scholars think Rabbinic Hebrew emerged/evolved from Late Biblical Hebrew, others think that Rabbinic Hebrew comes from an unattested regional dialect contemporary with Bibilical Hebrew, etc.)

Why you should use Jastow’s Dictionary

Despite the differences between the languages used in biblical and rabbinic periods, Jastrow remains a very useful resource. In certain cases, the use of a word or root which is very rare in Biblical Hebrew will be attested in Rabbinic Hebrew or Aramaic.

Sometimes these post-biblical uses of the word/root provide vital information for understanding how the word/root might have been used in the Bible. In these special cases, Jastrow will likely be the only dictionary presenting such information, because other dictionaries usually only use resources from the biblical period or other ancient cognate languages.

Just be careful when you use Jastrow. A word being used in a certain way in Rabbinic Hebrew does not give you sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the word has the same meaning in Biblical Hebrew.

Where to get Jastrow’s Dictionary:

Jastrow’s Dictionary is available online for free:


Information about purchasing Jastrow’s Dictionary can be found by clicking on the image below. Or learn about other biblical hebrew dictionaries.

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