Having coauthored an article on Yiddish and the law, I was fascinated to hear that the name of the infamous Court of Star Chamber supposedly stemmed from Hebrew. No less a luminary than Blackstone so reports (thanks to The Party of the First Part for the pointer) (paragraph breaks added):
This is said (Lamb. Arch. 154.) to haven been so called, either from the Saxon word steoran, to steer or govern; or from its punishing the crimen stellionatus, or cosenage; or because the room wherein it sat, the old council chamber of the palace of Westminster, (Lamb. 148.) was full of windows; or (to which Sir Edward Coke, 4 Inst. 66. accedes) because haply the roof thereof was at the first garnished with gilded stars. As all these are merely conjectures, (for no stars are said to have remained in the roof so late as the reign of queen Elizabeth) I shall venture to propose another conjectured etymology, as plausible perhaps as any of them.
It is well known that, before the banishment of the Jews under Edward I, their contracts and obligations were denominated in our ancient records starra or starrs, from a corruption of the Hebrew word, shetàr, a covenant. (Tovey’s Angl. Judaic. 32. Selden. tit. of hon. ii. 34. Uxor Ebraic. i. 14.) These starrs, by an ordinance of Richard the first, preserved by Hoveden, were commanded to be enrolled and deposited in chests under three keys in certain places; one, and the most considerable, of which was in the king’s exchequer at Westminster: and no starr was allowed to be valid, unless it were found in some of the said repositories. (Madox hist. exch. c. vii. § 4. 5. 6.)
The room at the exchequer, where the chests containing these starrs were kept, was probably called the starr-chamber; and, when the Jews were expelled from the kingdom, was applied to the use of the king’s council, when sitting in their judicial capacity. To confirm this; the first time the star-chamber is mentioned in any record, (Rot. claus. 41 Edw. III. m. 13.) it is said to have been situated near the receipt of the exchequer: that the king’s council, his chancellor, treasurer, justices, and other sages, were assembled en la chaumbre des esteilles pres la resceipt al Westminster. For in process of time, when the meaning of the Jewish starrs was forgotten, the word star-chamber was naturally rendered in law-french, la chaumbre des esteilles, and in law-latin, camera stellata; which continued to be the style in latin till the dissolution of that court.
Alas, the Oxford English Dictionary nixes this, reporting that it comes from “Anglo-L. camera stellata (14th c.), AF. chambre d’estoiles, des esteilles, esteillee (14th c.),” and saying:
The conjecture of Sir T. Smith (Commonw. Eng. III. iv, a 1577) that the chamber was so called ‘because at the first all the roofe thereof was decked with images of starres gilted’, appears to have no confirmatory evidence, but is highly probable. The notion, made popular by Blackstone, that the chamber had been the depository of ‘starrs’ or Jewish bonds (see STARR) has no claim to consideration.