Hebrew Language Blog

Hebrew Kitchen Vocabulary Posted by on Jan 22, 2018 in Uncategorized

Colorful dishes by Sean from Flickr.com is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

In the Israeli culture kitchen is the heart of the house. The all family revolves around the kitchen.

Jewish mothers feed their kids well: a good appetite is a sign of good health. Nowadays Israeli men also make magic in the kitchen as well. While they are cutting, rinsing, chopping, kneading and mixing, the children are usually nearby, doing their homework on the counter, eating, or even helping to set the table, wash the dishes or do some cooking. A typical Jewish family gathers together every week for a Friday night dinner. Saturday lunch is also spent as a family time, and the Jewish holidays are always include traditional food and big dinners. Learning Hebrew kitchen vocabulary will definitely help you around in Israel.

Plate צַלַּחַת

צַלַּחַת is essential word to know. It is used in almost every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even if you are eating a sandwich, or other food held by hand, you use צַלַּחַת to avoid crumbs all over the floor.

צַלַּחַת הׅיא כְּלִי מִטְבָּח בְּסִיסִי.

Plate is a basic kitchenware.

צַלַּחַת is a feminine noun (as indicates by the suffix ת), and its plural form is צַלָּחוֺת. As a feminine noun, all the adjectives to describe צַלַּחַת will be used in their feminine form as well.

יֵשׁ צַלַּחַת קְטַנָּה יוֺתֵר?

Is there a smaller plate?

The word צַלַּחַת originates in the Bible. For example:

“וּמָחִיתִי אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִַם כַּאֲשֶׁר יִמְחֶה אֶת הַצַּלַּחַת מָחָה וְהָפַךְ עַל פָּנֶיהָ” (מלכים ב כ”א, י”ג)

“And I will wipe Jerusalem clean, just as one wipes a bowl clean, wiping it and turning it upside down” (Kings 2, chapter 21, verse 13)

Another mention of the word צַלַּחַת in the bible created a famous Hebrew idiom. The Book of Proverbs describes a lazy person:

“טָמַן עָצֵל יָדוֹ בַּצַּלָּחַת גַּם אֶל פִּיהוּ לֹא יְשִׁיבֶנָּה” (משלי י”ט, כ”ד)

“The lazy one buries his hand in the banquet bowl, but he does not even bother to bring it back to his mouth” (Proverbs, chapter 19, verse 24)

The idiom טָמַן יָדוֹ בַּצַּלַּחַת (buries his hand in the banquet bowl) is used in spoken Hebrew not as a way to describe a lazy person, but as a way to describe no response. If a situation requires an action but someone doesn’t act, we’ll say הוּא טָמַן יָדוֹ בַּצַּלַּחַת, literally meaning he buried his hand in the plate. For example:

אָחוֺתוֺ בַּכְתָה אֲבָל הוּא טָמַן יָדוֹ בַּצַּלַּחַת.

His sister was crying, but he buried his hand in the plate / but he did nothing.

הַתַּלְמִיד הִתְפָּרֵעַ אֲבָל הַמּוֹרָה טַמְנָה יָדָהּ בַּצַּלַּחַת.

The pupil misbehaved but the teacher buried her hand in the plate / but the teacher done nothing.

Bowl קְעָרָה

The bible English translation in the references above translated צַלַּחַת (what we call today plate) as bowl. There’s a likelihood the bible meant to bowl, but back then called it צַלַּחַת. The Hebrew word קְעָרָה (what we call today bowl) doesn’t originate in the bible, but in a later period – the Mishna period (1 CE – 7 CE). Only later did the Hebrew language distinguish צַלַּחַת as plate and קְעָרָה as bowl. Anyway, both function pretty much the same, but are shaped different. צַלַּחַת is more flat, and קְעָרָה is more concaved and deep. In צַלַּחַת you can’t serve soup or stew.

אָכַלְתּׅי כְּבָר שְׁתֵי קְעָרוֺת מָרָק.

I had already eaten two bowls of soup.

קְעָרָה is the protagonist of another famous Hebrew idiom: הָפַךְ אֶת הַקְּעָרָה עַל פּׅיָהּ. The idiom literally translated to “turned the bowl upside down”, and it used to describe an action that changed the situation. For example:

הַחֶבְרָה הָיְתָה בְּהֶפְסֵדׅים אֲבָל אִישׁ הַעֲסָקִים הַצָּעִיר הָפַךְ אֶת הַקְּעָרָה עַל פּׅיָהּ.

The company had losses but the young businessman turned the bowl upside down / changed the situation completely.

יֵשׁ מׅילׅים שׁיְכוֺלוֺת לָהָפוֺךְ אֶת הַקְּעָרָה עַל פּׅיָהּ.

There’re words that could turn the bowl upside down / alter everything.

קְעָרָה is a feminine noun (as indicates by the suffix ה), and its plural form is קְעָרוֺת.

Cup and glass סֵפֶל וְכּוֹס

The accepted distinctions between סֵפֶל וְכּוֹס (both are biblical words) are according to the material, form or purpose. כּוֹס means glass, and it usually made of glass or plastic. סֵפֶל means cup and it usually made of clay or porcelain. כּוֹס is narrow and cylindrical. סֵפֶל is wide and with handle. כּוֹס is usually used for cold drinks, and סֵפֶל for hot drinks. But nowadays כּוֹס became more common, and Israelis use it to describe cup or glass, wide or narrow, with or without handle. For example:

 כַּמָּה כּוֹסוֺת יַיִן הוּא שָׁתָה?

How many glasses of wine did he drink?

לָקוּם בַּבּוֺקֶר וְלׅשְׁתוֺת כּוֹס קָפֶה.

To get up in the morning and to drink glass (=cup) of coffee.

אֲנִי מֵבׅיא מׅיץ תַּפּוּזׅים, כַּמָּה כּוֹסוֺת אֲנַחְנוּ צְרׅיכׅים?

I’m brining orange juice, how many glasses do we need?

אֲנִי גַּם רוֺצֶה כּוֹס תֵּה.

I want glass (=cup) of tea, too.

כּוֹס is more common, but סֵפֶל is also in use.

אֶת כָּל הַסְּפָלׅים הַשְּׁבוּרׅים אֶפְשָׁר לׅזְרוֺק.

All the broken cups can be thrown away.

סֵפֶל is masculine (as indicates by ending with consonant), and its plural form is סְפָלׅים. כּוֹס also ends with consonant, and was referred to as masculine during the Mishna period. But the bible refers to כּוֹס as feminine, so כּוֹס is one of the Hebrew words that could be regard to as feminine and masculine as well. The modern Hebrew, though, refers to כּוֹס as feminine. I never heard or read someone describe כּוֹס as masculine.  

Cutlery סַכּוּ”ם

Knife סַכִּין is a biblical word:

“וְשַׂמְתָּ שַׂכִּין בְּלֹעֶךָ אִם בַּעַל נֶפֶשׁ אָתָּה” (משלי כ”ג, ב’)

“Put a knife to your throat if you have a large appetite” (Proverbs, chapter 23, verse 2)

Fork מַזְלֵג became an eating tool centuries after the Bible period, and yet it was mentioned in the Bible as a tool to grab food with:

“כָּל אִישׁ זֹובֵחַ זֶבַח וּבָא נַעַר הַכֹּהֵן כְּבַשֵּׁל הַבָּשָׂר וְהַמַּזְלֵג שְׁלֹושׁ הַשִּׁנַּיִם בְּיָדוֹ. וְהִכָּה בַכִּיּוֹר אוֹ בַדּוּד אוֹ בַקַּלַּחַת אוֹ בַפָּרוּר כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יַעֲלֶה הַמַּזְלֵג יִקַּח הַכֹּהֵן בּוֹ” (שמואל א ב’, י”ג-י”ד)

“Whenever any man was offering a sacrifice, an attendant of the priest came with a three-pronged fork in his hand when the meat was boiling, and he would thrust it into the basin, the two-handled cooking pot, the cauldron, or the one-handled cooking pot. Whatever the fork brought up, the priest would take for himself” (The First of Samuel, chapter 2, verses 13-14)

Tablespoon כַּף is also a biblical word, although it probably was bigger and used as bowl.

“וְעָשִׂיתָ קְּעָרֹתָיו וְכַפֹּתָיו, וּקְשׂוֹתָיו וּמְנַקִּיֹּתָיו, אֲשֶׁר יֻסַּךְ בָּהֵן זָהָב טָהוֹר תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם” (שמות כ”ה, כ”ט)

“You will also make its dishes, its cups, its pitchers, and its bowls from which they will pour drink offerings. You are to make them out of pure gold” (Exodus, chapter 25, verse 29)

סַכִּין, מַזְלֵג וְכַף are biblical words. But the Hebrew word that combined them together is a new one – invented only in 1938 by The Hebrew Language Committee. The Committee created the acronym of the three words above: סַכִּין, כַּף וּמַזְלֵג = סַכּוּ”ם. The acronym סַכּוּ”ם means cutlery. Although it’s not part of the acronym, סַכּוּ”ם also includes teaspoon (כַּפִּית).

קָנׅיתׅי סֶט חָדָשׁ שֶׁל סַכּוּ”ם.

I bought a new set of cutlery.

אֶפְשָׁר בְּבַקָּשָׁה כַּפִּית?

Can I please have a teaspoon?

עוֺד מִישֶׁהוּ צָרִיךְ סַכִּין וּמַזְלֵג?

Does anyone else need knife and fork?


If you are visiting Israel soon, try to use these new words as much as possible. Food is an essential part of daily life, and eating tools as well. You have daily chances to combine צַלַּחַת, קְעָרָה, סֵפֶל, כּוֹס, סַכִּין, מַזְלֵג, כַּף, כַּפִּית in your conversation. If you don’t have the opportunity to mingle with Hebrew speakers try to remember the words. Pronounce them out loud to yourself whenever you are using one of these kitchen items. Every now and then write them down and try to make sentences. Don’t give up, and always keep practicing. Good luck and bon appetit!


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