What’s in a name?

While conducting research for the Indiana Historical marker over the past year with the Indiana Historical Bureau, many questions about Ligonier’s Jewish community arose. But one question continues to come up over and over again: How do we spell and pronounce the name of Ligonier’s Jewish congregation, and what does it mean?

Spelling in Hebrew
Let’s start out in Hebrew- this will set the stage for the English. In Hebrew, the congregation’s name is spelled: “אַהָבַת שָׁלוֹם” Hebrew reads right to left (instead of left to right like English) so the letters in Hebrew are: “aleph, hey, vet, tav” “shin, lamed, vav, mem-sofit.” The vowels, or “nekudot”- the dots and lines that are seen interspersed amongst the letters- are causing most of the confusion and I’ll get to that below.


As we know, Jews live all over the world and have for centuries. Therefore, regional differences in the pronunciation of Hebrew come into play. Jews who live(d) in Central and Eastern Europe are Ashkenazi Jews and those who live(d) in Spain, North Africa and the Middle East, are Sefardi Jews. The letter "tav" in Hebrew produces a "T" sound. However, in Ashkenazi pronunciation (the Ligonier congregation was German, so therefore, Ashkenazi) a dot is usually found in the middle of the letter and changes this to a  “sav.” Therefore, Ashkenazi Jews pronounce this letter as "OS" "AS", "ATH." So, this is why the congregation pronounced the first word “Ahavas” or “Ahavath” instead of “Ahavat.”

This is also the case with one of the vowels in the second word, “Shalom.” The vowel associated with the letter “shin” (the first letter) produces an “AH” sound. With the regional variations mentioned above, this “AH” sound is ever so slightly changed to an “UH” sound. In addition, to make things more complicated, in Yiddish, the word for “peace” is spelled the same as it is in Hebrew, “שלום,” but not pronounced the same. Instead of the Hebrew: “SH-AH-LOM,” in Yiddish it is “SH-OH-LEM” or “SH-OH-LOM.” Yiddish was spoken throughout Eastern and Central Europe and is a mixture of Hebrew and German. So, for both of these reasons, this is why we see “Sholom” or “Sholem” instead of “Shalom.”

Spelling/transliteration in English

So those are the nitty gritty linguistic issues, but how do we spell the name in English? In his 1889 speech at the new temple dedication, the congregation president and founding member Jacob Strauss, stated:
This congregation was originally founded in August, in the year 1865, as a society with ten charter members. In 1866 we changed the name of the congregation, and called it Ahavos Sholom, meaning ‘Peace Loving,’ at which time we purchased our burial grounds.
A 1913 example of spelling variation
The National Registry spelling
There is little consensus about the spelling of the congregation’s name in English. In the 1889 Ligonier Banner article quoted above, the writer chose the spelling “Ahavos Sholom.”  The Ligonier Leader used “Ahavath Sholom” during the same period and, indeed, most nineteenth century newspapers used the spelling “Ahavath Sholom.” A search of Newspaper Archive found 71 results for the spelling “Ahavath Sholom,” and no results for alternative spellings “Ahavos” or “Ahavas” related to the Ligonier congregation. The foremost Jewish newspaper of the period, the American Israelite, also uses the spelling “Ahavath Sholom.”  The official meeting minutes of the Ligonier congregation use several spellings, changing as the secretary recording the meetings changed in the years 1888-1917.  The spellings include: Ahavath, Ahavash, Ahavosh, Ahavas, and even Sholom and Sholem are all found within the minutes. So because of the overwhelming number of primary sources referring to the congregation, and the standard for other congregations of the period using “Ahavath Sholom,” this is English spelling we chose for the marker and what I’ll be using on the blog from here on out.

“Ahavath Sholom” means “Peace Loving.” Several other contemporary congregations have shared this name, including the Texas congregation Ahavath Sholom (est. 1892) and the Massachusetts congregation Ahavath Sholom (est. 1924), but defined their name as “Love of Peace.” We’ve also see “Lovers of Peace” being used. However, the name can't LITERALLY be translated as “Lovers of Peace” or “Love of Peace” because the name is missing the possessive article, or preposition, “of” or “של” as well as the plural form for the former translation. Therefore, when we see these definitions, they are more of an interpretation for the times and not a direct translation.

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