Ideas for conversations

Ideas for interviews with speakers


In order to document every aspect of the Jewish languages, interviews with the speakers should encompass a wide range of subjects having to do with their communities of origin.

A series of short recordings, each dealing with one or two topics, is preferable to a long recording covering many topics.

The following are possible topics for conversation:


The Cycle of Life


  1. Birth – the treatment of birthing women, beliefs and customs related to pregnancy and childbirth, the preparation of clothes and furniture for the newborn, the naming of the newborn, family duties
  2. Circumcision – preliminary ceremonies and the circumcision ceremony itself
  3. Zeved habat (naming ceremony for a newborn girl) – was such a ceremony held? If not, how was the name given?
  4. Schooling and upbringing – education received by boys and girls, treatment of children, rewards and punishments
  5. Bar mitzvah – preparations at home, the ceremony at the synagogue, special customs; were girls given a bat mitzvah?
  6. Acquiring a profession – how did the speaker and/or other young people acquire a profession or learn a craft? At school? Through apprenticeship? Did girls acquire a profession? Where did they learn it?
  7. Engagement – How did couples meet and court? The engagement ceremony, special customs and gifts, the couple's status after the engagement
  8. Marriage – preparations for the wedding and inviting of guests, how many days did the marriage celebrations last? What was done on each day? Special customs (to commemorate the destruction of the Temple , ward off the evil eye, etc.)
  9. Family life – the status of the husband and wife in the home and in the extended family, rights and duties, roles.
  10. Death – illness, the function of the hevra kadisha, the funeral, customs of mourning, memorials


The Jewish Year


  1. Shabbat – preparations, the Shabbat table and meals, kiddush, the synagogue and roles in the synagogue, the sermon, havdala, special Shabbat customs
  2. Rosh hodesh – special customs, what were the rosh hodesh days called?
  3. The Jewish callander – the names of the months, sayings related to them
  4. Rosh Hashana – preparations, holiday blessings, dishes and customs, sounding the shofar, prayers
  5. Fast of Gedalia – what was it called, how was it marked?
  6. The Ten Days of Repentance – selihot, special customs, the annulment of vows (hatarat nedarim)
  7. Yom Kippur – preparations, the meal before the fast, prayers, special customs (e.g., preparing fragrant herbs to ease the fast, vow of silence)
  8. Sukkot – building the sukkah, obtaining the thatch, decorations, special customs
  9. Hoshana Rabba
  10. Simchat Torah
  11. Hanukkah – making the menorah, women's role on Hanukkah, special customs
  12. Tenth of Tevet – What did the fast commemorate, how was it marked?
  13. Tu Bishvat
  14. Taanit Esther –  What did the fast commemorate, women's role on this day
  15. Purim – the stories of the Megillah, Haman and Zeresh, sayings related to the holiday, the Purim basket (mishloah manot), charity, gifts of money to children, special customs
  16. Passover – preparing the home, difficulties, sayings, purifying the kitchen utensils (hag'alat kelim), baking matsot, preparing the Seder, the Seder plate, the guests, the Seder meal and ceremony itself, special customs, the story of the exodus from Egypt, hol hamoed , the seventh day of Passover, isru hag.
  17.  The counting of the omer –  customs, sayings, Lag Baomer.
  18. Shavuot – dishes and customs, staying up to learn Torah, reciting the Ten Commandments
  19. Seventeenth of Tamuz – What was it called, the days following it
  20. Ninth of Av – the fast, mourning customs, the Scroll of Eichah, sayings
  21. Elul – selihot, customs 


The secret argot (words and expressions used among Jews to avoid being understood by non-Jews)

Jargon used by Jewish craftsmen such as jewelers


Jewish society and community

  1. Women – their role and status in the community, women who held positions in the community, women scholars, etc; traditions passed from mother to daughter, stories told by women
  2. Sayings and proverbs; songs and piyyutim in the community and/or family, their exact form (ask the speaker to sing them or write them down) and the occasions on which they were sung; midrashim and stories passed from generation to generation, folktales, cautionary tales, midrashim on parashat hashavua, holidays or Jewish figures.
  3. Customs and beliefs in the community and/or in the speaker's family; beliefs related to the evil eye and demons and ways of warding off their harm, blessings and curses
  4. The community – its structure, the community council and community rabbis, education facilities, charity assocaitions, the status and role of the speaker's family within the community, special events in community life, customs unique to the community, relationships among families, relations with other communities, relations with non-Jews, special events in the community's recent or distant history, historical events experienced by the speaker.