Tuesday, December 11, 2007

chalifa and california

In this week's parasha, Yosef gives to his brothers clothing - chalifot smalot - (Bereshit 45:22):

לְכֻלָּם נָתַן לָאִישׁ, חֲלִפוֹת שְׂמָלֹת

While in Modern Hebrew a chalifa is a suit of clothes, clearly there is a connection here to the root חלף meaning "to pass, to change", and particularly the hifil form of the verb - החליף - "to exchange, replace." We see this from the previous parasha (41:14), where Yosef has his clothes changed: וַיְחַלֵּף שִׂמְלֹתָיו. On this basis, the JPS translates chalifot smalot as "a change of clothing." This seems to capture the sense of the term better than Kaplan's "outfit of clothes." Therefore I'm not sure I understand Kil's note in Daat Mikra that "there is an opinion" (whose?) that chalifot and smalot are synonymous, but chalifot is Assyrian and smalot is Lashon Torah (Hebrew?).

Ibn Ezra suggest that the word chalifot means that each outfit was different than the other - which also explains why the word is in plural. Chizkuni says that the word means clothes that are changed occasionally. In any case, a connection between "change" and "clothes" is not unique to Hebrew. Klein points out Arabic badlah (=suit of clothes) and badala (=he exchanged). Kaddari mentions the Italian mutande, meaning "pants" which I'm sure is related to the Latin mutare, meaining "to change". If I'm not mistaken, the Latin phrase mutatis mutandis (literally "with those things having been changed which need to be changed") is used as a translation of the Hebrew phrase lehavdil להבדיל.

Another meaning of chalifa in the Bible is "replacement, successor". This is Kaddari's explanation of Melachim I 5:28:
וַיִּשְׁלָחֵם לְבָנוֹנָה, עֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים בַּחֹדֶשׁ חֲלִיפוֹת - "He sent them to Levanon in (alternating) shifts - chalifot - of 10,000 a month"
and Iyov 14:14:
כָּל-יְמֵי צְבָאִי אֲיַחֵל-- עַד-בּוֹא, חֲלִיפָתִי. - "All the time of my military service I wait / Until my replacement - chalifati - comes".

This sense of the word has entered Arabic as well. The Arabic word caliph - a leader of an Islamic state - is related to the Hebrew חלף, and has the following etymology:

1393, from Arabic khalifa "successor," originally Abu-Bakr, who succeeded Muhammad in the role of leader of the faithful after the prophet's death. Caliphate, "dominion of a caliph" is from 1614.
But if you read the title of this post, you may be wondering how this all connects to California. Well, it turns out that the name California predates the discovery of the Golden State by centuries. While there are a number of different theories as to the origin of the name California, this one seems very convincing:

California first appeared in a popular romance of chivalry called Las Sergas de Esplandián ('The Adventures of Esplandian'), written by Garcí Ordóñez de Montalvo around 1510. In this story there is a fabulous island, peopled by black Amazons and rich in gold and precious stones. The island is ruled over by a queen named Calafia and is called California. It is located "on the right hand of the Indies...very near to the region of the Terrestrial Paradise."

When the Spanish reached the tip of what is now Baja California in 1532, they thought it was an island and called it California after the fantastic island of riches in Montalvo's tale. The belief that California was an island persisted long after later expeditions explored the coastline to the north. A 1719 atlas prepared for George II still showed it separated from the mainland.

Montalvo probably made up the name California although the name Califerne appears in the mid-11th century French Song of Roland where Charlemagne laments:

Against me then the Saxon will rebel,
Hungar, Bulgar, and many hostile men,
Romain, Pullain, all those are in Palerne,
And in Affrike, and those in Califerne.

Since the Roland poem concerns the "evil" Saracens, it's possible that the poet derived "Califerne" from 'caliph'. Montalvo might also have been influenced by such similar names as Californo and Calafornina in Sicily or Calahorra in Spain.
So it is certainly possible that the name California is related to the Hebrew verb חלף. Perhaps this is not so surprising, considering that California is the home of the passing and changing fad...

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