Friday, May 30, 2008


Back in December, I started a series of words, but never finished them. Do you remember the series? I'll give you a hint...

I was discussing the words that make up the acronym PaRDeS, and I had already reviewed the word peshat. Today we'll look at the word remez רמז, meaning "hint".

Klein says the verb רמז means "to wink, beckon, hint, allude, make signs", and is related to the Arabic ramaza - "he winked with the eyes". Stahl points out that the Arabic name Ramzi, meaning "symbol" derives from this root. In Modern Hebrew we have the word ramzor רמזור, "traffic light", which is a compound of רמז - "he made a sign" and אור or - "light".

only appears in post-Biblical Hebrew. However, many feel that a metathesized form of the word appears in the Tanach. The problem is it only found once, in Iyov 15:12

מַה-יִּקָּחֲךָ לִבֶּךָ; וּמַה-יִּרְזְמוּן עֵינֶיךָ.

This is in the section where Eliphaz is criticizing Iyov's attitude toward God. The classic commentaries (Rashi, Ibn Ezra) as well as Klein in his dictionary say that the root רזם here means wink, and is a form of רמז. They would therefore translate the verse as:

"How your heart has carried you away, and what do your eyes wink / hint at."
This article says that perhaps the Talmudic name murzema, cognate to the Arabic mirzam, meaning "flamingo", might derive its name from remez as "hint", as a euphemism for the bird's loud call.

Kaddari, however, thinks that the two roots are not necessarily related. He says that רמז is borrowed from Aramaic and Syriac, but רזם appears in the Lachish letters.

Ben Yehuda also claims the roots are not related, but he goes further, and says that the root רזם means "to weaken", and only in the Middle Ages was the root used as a synonym for רמז. It would seem that if רזם means "weak", it might be related to the root רזה, meaning "thin, lean". This is the New JPS Translation as well, "how your eyes have failed you", although they do note that "meaning of Hebrew uncertain".

In the footnote for Ben Yehuda's entry on רזם, he refers us to the commentary of Tur-Sinai on Iyov (actually it was probably Tur-Sinai himself doing the referring, since he was the editor of the volume.) Tur-Sinai disagrees with Shadal, who emends the verse in Iyov to read ירומון instead of ירזמון. (See footnote 25 here, and here for a full discussion of Shadal and textual emendation. Tur-Sinai was no stranger to emendation - his Biblical commentary seems to suggest one for every difficult verse.)

Shadal's suggestion of ירומון - "how you have raised your eyes" or "why are your eyes lifted up" does make sense in the context. "Raised eyes" - עינים רמות - enayim ramot, is a common biblical image for pride (see Mishlei 6:17, 21:4, Tehillim 18:28, 101:5). Eliphaz is criticizing Iyov for excessive pride. He asks him, "Were you the first man born ... Have you sole possession of wisdom ... What do you know that we do not know?" So certainly it would make sense that he was accusing Iyov of pride - perhaps more so than winking or failing eyes.

However, in this case, I think Shadal might have relied on something more than the contextual meaning. The Septuagint translates ירזמון as ephnegkan - επηνεγκαν, which means "carry, lift up." The root of this word is pherein - "to carry", and is the source of the words infer, aquifer and fertile (and we've also seen it in the Hebrew word apiryon אפריון).

But if Shadal's emendation was based on the Septuagint, I might have a suggestion that would not require changing the text. We've mentioned the theory that רזם might mean "weak" based on an Arabic root. But רזם in Arabic can also refer to a "bundle or package". Maybe "carrying (a bundle)" was the meaning of רזם that the Septuagint was trying to convey?

Stahl writes that the word ruzmeh (or rizmah) went from the general meaning of "bundle" to the specific meaning of "bundle of paper". From here we get the English word "ream (of paper)":

from O.Fr. reyme, from Sp. resma, from Arabic rizmah "bundle" (of paper), from rasama "collect into a bundle." The Moors brought manufacture of cotton paper to Spain. Early variant rym (1470s) suggests a Du. influence (cf. Du. riem), probably during the time of Spanish Hapsburg control of Holland.
The American Heritage Dictionary has a similar entry for the Semitic root rzm:

Arabic root, to bundle. ream, from Arabic rizma, bundle, from razama, to bundle.
In the end, with the word ירזמון only appearing once in the Tanach, we may never really know. But these kinds of words leave a lot open to interpretation, which is why the Tanach has so many levels - one of which is remez (allegory)...

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