Owing to the vast range and the unique character of this literature, both as to mode of thinking and method of presentation, it was frequently necessary to stretch the limits of lexicography and illustrate the definitions by means of larger citations than would be necessary in a more familiar domain of thought. Especially was this the case with legal and with ethical subjects.
Archaeological matters have often been elucidated by references to Greek and Roman customs and beliefs.
The condition of the texts, especially of the Talmud Yerushalmi and of some of the Midrashim, made textual criticism and emendations inevitable, but the dangers of arbitrariness and personal bias had to be guarded against. Happily there were, in most cases, parallels to be drawn upon for the establishment of a correct text, and where these auxiliaries failed, the author preferred erring on the conservative side to indulging in conjectural emendations. For the Babylonian Talmud Raphael Rabbinowicz's Variae Lectiones was an invaluable aid to the author.
The etymological method pursued in this Dictionary requires a somewhat fuller explanation than is ordinarily embodied in a preface.
The Jewish literature here spoken of is specifically indigenous, in which respect it is unlike the Syriac literature contemporary with it, which is mainly Christian, and as such was influenced, not only in thought but also in language, by the Greek and Latin tongues of the religious teachers of a people itself not free from foreign admixtures. Foreign influences came to Jewish literature merely through the ordinary channel of international intercourse. It is for this reason, if for no other, that the Jewish literature of post-Biblical days down to the ninth century may be called original. Hence it is natural to expect that, in extending the horizon of thought, it also extended its vocabulary on its own basis, employing the elements contained in its own treasury.
Starting from such premises, the investigator had to overhaul the laws regulating the derivation of words whose etymology or meaning is unknown from known Semitic roots; every word of strange appearance had to be examined on its merits both as to its meaning or meanings and as to its origin; the temptation offered by phonetic resemblances had to be resisted, and the laws of word-formation common to all other original languages as well as the environment in which a word appears had to be consulted before a conclusion could be reached. The foremost among these laws is that a word is imported into one language from another with the importation of the article it represents or of the idea it conveys. Unless these conditions of importation are apparent, the presumption should be in favor of the home market.
Take e. g. the word סימטא and its dialectic equivalent איסמסא, which means
- The attempt to make biliteral roots the basis for radical definitions of stems was found too cumbersome and too much subject to misunderstanding, and was therefore abandoned with the beginning of the third letter of the alphabet.