Sunday, January 14, 2024

tiron and turai

After a soldier enlists in the Israeli army, there are two words to describe him (or her, although I'm providing the male forms of the words): טִירוֹן tiron - "new recruit" and טוּרַאי turai - "private" (his initial rank). While the two words apply to a similar time in the military, and look somewhat similar, they are actually not related etymologically.

Tiron entered Hebrew in the rabbinic period, borrowed from the Latin tiro. The English word "tyro" has the same meaning and origin:

"a beginner in learning anything," 1610s, from Medieval Latin tyro, variant of Latin tiro (plural tirones) "young soldier, recruit, beginner"

That Online Etymology Dictionary entry says that the pre-Latin origin is unknown, but Nicholas Ostler, in his book Ad Infinitum, says derives from Etruscan, which provided other military terms to Latin as well.

The more general sense of "novice" is seen in the early uses of tiron in Hebrew. For example, see this midrash:

 בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁנִּגְלָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַל משֶׁה טִירוֹן הָיָה משֶׁה לַנְּבוּאָה

"At the moment that The Holy One blessed be He appeared to Moses, Moses was a novice at prophecy" (Shemot Rabbah 3:1)

Today as well tiron can have that meaning, but it seems to me that it may be more influenced from its use in the military (since so many Israelis serve in the army) as opposed to its more ancient origins.

In contrast, turai is of much more recent coinage. Linguists such as Gilad and Rosenthal note that it was coined by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Edwin Samuel in World War I. Rosenthal is quoted here:

In later years, Ze’ev Jabotinsky – who served in the Jewish Legion in World War I together with Edwin Samuel, the son of the first High Commissioner of Palestine Herbert Samuel – published a two-page glossary of commands in Hebrew. One of their innovations was the rank of turai (private) since they marched in line formation (tor).

Others, such as Kutscher, point out that turai was likely influenced by the Russian word for "private" (not surprising considering Jabotinsky's background.)

That Russian word is рядовой (ryadovoy), related to the word meaning "row." It also has the sense of "rank and file," which has a similar meaning in English:

1590s, in reference to the horizontal and vertical lines of soldiers marching in formation, from rank (n.) in the military sense of "number of soldiers drawn up in a line abreast" (1570s) + file (n.1). Thence generalized to "common soldiers" (1796) and "common people, general body" of any group (1860).

So based on the Hebrew tur טור - "row", Jabotinsky and Samuel came up with turai. Rosenthal adds that there was actually a suggestion to change it to shurai שוראי or shuran שורן, from the synonym for row in Hebrew, shura שורה, but that was never adopted.

Monday, January 08, 2024


How did the word בְּדִימוֹס bedimos (sometimes pronounced bedimus) come to mean "retired, emeritus "?

In Talmudic literature, we find the word dimos דִימוֹס meaning "pardoned, acquitted." For example:

 אמר לו הואיל והאמנתי עליך דימוס פטור אתה

"The officer said to him: Since you put your trust in me, you are acquitted [dimos]; you are exempt." (Bavli Avoda Zara 16b)

 בְּנוֹהַג שֶׁבְּעוֹלָם מֶלֶךְ בָּשָׂר וָדָם יוֹשֵׁב וְדָן כְּשֶׁהוּא נוֹתֵן דִּימוּס הַכֹּל מְקַלְּסִין אוֹתוֹ

"Usually in the world, if a king of flesh and blood sits in judgment, if he dismisses [dimus] (=throws out the indictment), everybody acclaims him." (Yerushalmi Berachot 9:5)

Klein provides the following etymology:

דִּימוֹס m.n.  PBH  1 he was freed, was acquitted.   NH  2 he resigned (from office).  [Probably from Latin dīmissus, p. part. of dīmittere (= to send away, dismiss, release), from – (= apart, asunder), and mittere (= to send). .] 
This makes dimos cognate with the English "dismiss":

early 15c., dismissen, "release from court restraint or legal charges;" late 15c., "remove from office, service, or employment," apparently from Latin dimissus, past participle of dimittere "send away, send different ways; break up, discharge; renounce, abandon," 
But I asked about the form bedimos. Where does it come from?

We also find it in Rabbinic Hebrew. For example here:

בִּשְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה יָצָא בְּדִימוּס. אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְאָדָם, זֶה סִימָן לְבָנֶיךָ כְּשֵׁם שֶׁעָמַדְתָּ לְפָנַי בַּדִּין הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וְיָצָאתָ בְּדִימוּס, כָּךְ עֲתִידִין בָּנֶיךָ לַעֲמֹד לְפָנַי בַּדִּין בְּיוֹם זֶה וְיוֹצְאִין לְפָנַי בְּדִימוּס, אֵימָתַי בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ.

"In the twelfth [month], [Adam] was pardoned [yatza bedimus]. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Adam, 'This is a sign for your children: In the same way that you stood in front of Me in judgement on this day and were pardoned, so too in the future will your children stand in front of Me in judgement on this day and be pardoned in front of Me.'" (Vayikra Rabbah 29:1)

This is the meaning until modern times. Why then, did it change from "pardoned" to "retired"?

The linguist Elon Gilad answers the question in this article. He notes that the first time we find the modern sense of the word is in 1890, when Nahum Sokolow wrote in his newspaper that "before Bismarck retired [yatza bedimos]..." After writing that phrase, "יצא ביסמארק בדימוּס", he adds the following word in parentheses: דימיסיאן. Sokolow does not note what language this foreign word is being transliterated from. 

Gilad proposes it's a Yiddish word, coming from the Polish dymisja, meaning "resignation" or "dismissal" from a position. His theory is that this Yiddish meaning is what influenced the change in meaning in Modern Hebrew. Zuckermann here concurs, noting other European languages with cognate words with similar meanings, including Russian demissiya, French demission, and Italian dimissioni. All of these words derive from the Latin dimissio and dimittere (to send away, dismiss) - just as the Hebrew dimos does. The only difference is that dimos took on the sense of "freed from judgement," while the European words also included "freed from a position," i.e., "resigned."

In Gilad's article, he continues by writing that the phrase yatza bedimos spread widely in the early 20th century, and by the 1930s, retired officers were already being referred to simply with the phrase bedimos (without the verb yatza). By the middle of the century, bedimos had generally replaced yatza bedimos. It is typically used to refer to people who retired from high-level positions, like judges or military officers. The word dimos, without the preposition be, is rarely, if ever, found in Hebrew today.

Tuesday, January 02, 2024


What is the origin of the word andarta אַנְדַּרְטָה - "monument, memorial"?

The word first appears in rabbinic Hebrew, where it was spelled אַנְדְּרָטָא. The meaning in those sources in the Talmud, midrashim, and Targumim is "statue" and usually had the negative associations with idolatry and worshipped statues of emperors and kings.

That original meaning is reflected in the etymology as well. Here's Klein's entry:

PBH, respectively NH feminine noun. statue, image, bust.  [Gk. andrias, genitive andriatos (= the image of a man, statue), from aner, genitive andros (= man), which is cognate with Old Indian náram (= man), na’ryaḥ (= virile). compare דֶּנֽדִּי and the first element in אַנְדּֽרוֹלוֹמוּסְיָא, אַנְדּֽרוֹמֶדָה and in אַנְתּֽרוֹפּוֹלוֹגֽיָה.] 

The reference to the Greek andrias and andros ("man") makes andarta cognate with such English words as anthropology, android, and the name Andrew.

But did you notice that Klein only gave the definitions "statue, image, bust"? Those are indeed the meanings found in rabbinic Hebrew, as we mentioned. But why not "monument, memorial"? Here Klein is likely following Ben-Yehuda, who has no entry for andarta in the dictionary compiled in the first half of the 20th century. So when did it take on its current meaning?

Both the linguist Ruvik Rosenthal and the columnist "Philologos" wrote about this. Philologos writes :

With the end of Greco-Roman antiquity — and with it, the custom of publicly displayed royal statuary — the word andarta disappeared from the Hebrew language. In the first volume of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s monumental Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, which came out in 1908 and included all Hebrew words starting with the letter alef, andarta did not even appear. The first prominent modern memorial to fallen Jewish heroes in Palestine, Abraham Melnikov’s 1934 statue of a roaring lion, commemorating the pioneers who died in the 1920 battle of Tel Hai in the Galilee, was not called an andarta, either. It was referred to as a matseva — a word traditionally designating the headstone on a grave.

It is hard to say just when andarta entered Hebrew as the accepted word for a war memorial of the sort found all over Israel today. The earliest documented use of it is, oddly, in some light verse published in 1950 by Nathan Alterman, a leading 20th-century Hebrew poet with a strong grasp of Jewish sources. Reacting to a government refusal to cancel purchase taxes on books and paper because they were not considered crucial commodities, Alterman wrote that if this was the official attitude, it was time to erect an andarta shel even, “a stone monument,” to the printed word. Perhaps it was he who reintroduced andarta to modern Hebrew; perhaps there were others before him. 

Rosenthal notes that the new meaning (along with the modern spelling) began after the founding of the State of Israel, when people began commemorating the many fallen soldiers in memorial monuments. He adds that in 1952, in the journal Leshonenu La'am, a reader asked about the origin of the word andarta, noting that it was recently being used to describe memorials. In response, the linguist Eli Eitan wrote that the new use of the word was objectionable, since the memorials weren't statues of people, and so better alternatives would be the Hebrew words מצבה matzevah or יד yad

Neither columnist, however, really explains why this new meaning of andarta was introduced and became so popular that it overruled the objections of official linguists.

My theory is one that I've mentioned many times. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the Hebrew language abhors synonyms. When two words have the same meaning, one will begin to take on a new meaning, particularly one that there's no good match for at the time.

It's true that the original meaning of andarta was "statue." But Hebrew already has its own word for statue - pesel פסל. And yes, as Eitan noted there are already words for monument - matzevah and yad. Yet the common meaning of matzevah is "tombstone," not the more general "monument". And while yad does mean "memorial" (as in the biblical source of the name of the museum Yad Vashem), certainly the word yad is overwhelmingly associated with its primary meaning, "hand." 

So when some clever individual (or individuals) saw that andarta was up for grabs, they "converted" it into its modern meaning of "memorial monument of a person or event". Nothing unusual here - that's just how language works!

Tuesday, December 26, 2023


What is the origin of the word אֻכְלוּסִיָּה uchlusiya - "population"?

This is a word that entered into Hebrew in the Talmudic period (for example, Yevamot 36b) with the sense of "multitudes", borrowed from the Greek ochlos, meaning "crowd."

Klein says that the Greek word is "perhaps related to ochein (= to carry), and cognate with Latin vehere (= to carry, convey)." 

In the entry for the the related word ochlocracy - "government by the rabble", the Online Etymology Dictionary adds the following:

"government by the rabble," 1580s, from French ochlocratie (1560s), from Greek okhlokratia (Polybius) "mob rule," the lowest grade of democracy, from kratos "rule, power, strength" (see -cracy) + okhlos "(orderless) crowd, multitude, throng; disturbance, annoyance," which is probably literally "moving mass," from PIE *wogh-lo-, suffixed form of root *wegh- "to go, move."  "Several possibilities exist for the semantic development: e.g. an agent noun *'driving, carrying, moving', or an instrument noun *'driver, carrier, mover'. ... An original meaning 'drive' could easily develop into both 'stirred mass, mob' and 'spiritual excitement, unrest'" [Beekes]. For sense development, compare mob (n.). Related: Ochlocrat, ochlocratic; ochlocratical. Greek also had okhlagogos "mob-leader, ochlagogue."

While the Greek word and its English descendants have a negative connotation, implying orderless rabble, the Hebrew uchlusia doesn't have those associations. (Perhaps because the Hebrew word המון already connects means "crowd" and has the sense of a noisy group.) However, beyond the meaning "population" (as in the total number of people in an area), ukhlusiya can also refer to the specific inhabitants of that area, in the collective sense. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023


 Hamas - Etymology and Hebrew Cognates

Israel is still grieving and reeling from the barbaric massacre carried out by the terrorist organization Hamas on Simchat Torah. And now we are about to read Parashat Noach, which describes the terrible state of humanity before the flood:

וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ חָמָס׃

 "The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with violence." (Bereshit 6:11)

This has led many to wonder - is there a connection between the word for violence in Hebrew - hamas - and the Arabic name of the violent organization Hamas?

Let's look at each of these words. The Hebrew root חמס means "to do violence, to wrong, to rob." Klein says that it might be the source of the name of one of the unkosher birds mentioned in Vayikra 11:16 and Devarim 14:15 - the tachmas תַּחְמָס, presumably because it is a bird of prey. Another such animal is the hamos חָמוֹס - a ferret, or weasel. Klein doesn't include it as an entry in his dictionary, but the Even-Shoshan dictionary does connect its name to the root חמס. Even in English the name "ferret" comes from a Latin word meaning "thief."

The name of the terror group Hamas, on the other hand, is an acronym. Here's the etymology from the  Wiktionary entry for Hamas:

an acronym for حَرَكَة اَلْمُقَاوَمَةِ الْإِسْلَامِيَّةِ‎ (arakat al-muqāwama l-'islāmiyya, “Islamic Resistance Movement”). 
(In Hebrew, this is even more clear, with its spelling חמאס).

But that choice of acronym was influenced by the Arabic word حَمَاس‎ ḥamās, which means "enthusiasm, zeal."

Does this Arabic word have any Hebrew cognates? 

According to scholars, there might be in one meaning of the Hebrew root חמש. Here's what Gesenius writes:

We've discussed this root in the past:

The Hebrew word for the number five is חמש - chamesh. Another set of words that would seem to have the same root are chamush חמוש - armed and tachmoshet תחמושת - ammunition. Is there a connection between them?

The earliest source that might provide an answer is Shemot 13:18 - וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. "Bnei Yisrael went up, chamushim, from the land of Egypt". Most translators and commentaries explain chamushim here as meaning "armed."

In that post, I didn't mention then any connection to the Arabic root meaning "zeal." However, I found now a significant source that supports this connection: the Aramaic translation of Onkelos, who renders the phrase as:

וּמְזָרְזִין סְלִיקוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאַרְעָא דְּמִצְרָיִם

According to Sokoloff (in his Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic), the Aramaic root זרז essentially means "to arouse, strengthen." He then provides three usages (with examples): one meaning "to arouse, encourage," a second meaning "to arm," and the third "to strengthen." (See similar cases in Jastrow.)

How should we understand the usage by Onkelos here?  Rashi (certainly according this translation) understands the Aramaic root זרז as meaning "armed" in this case. R. Aryeh Kaplan in The Living Torah, on the other hand, explains the Targum as "with eagerness" or "with enthusiasm." 
It seems to me that even if Onkelos did mean "to arm" in this case, the overall association of זרז with enthusiasm (even in terms of being armed) confirms that Onkelos associated this usage of חמש with the same meaning of hamas in Arabic (which therefore may have been present in the related Aramaic as well.)

The connection between the Arabic hamas and this particular use of חמש is also noted in footnote 2 in the Ben Yehuda dictionary for חמש (as armed):

I find it convincing. As we've previously discussed regarding the word hamsin, the Hebrew חמש becomes hams in Arabic.

As far as the claim by Gesenius of a link to other roots like חמץ and our focus, חמס, to a more general sense of "sharpness: well, that depends on how far we are willing to connect different roots that begin with the same two letters. It's certainly possible that חמש, חמץ and חמס are related (and I could even consider additional roots like חמד - "to covet", which is linked to robbing in Shemot 34:24), but I would need to see more research on the subject.

For now, I just pray that this prophecy will come true very soon - both regarding Hamas and חָמָס:

לֹא־יִשָּׁמַע עוֹד חָמָס בְּאַרְצֵךְ

"Violence [hamas] shall no more be heard in your land..." (Yeshaya 60:18)

Monday, October 02, 2023

Kohelet - A Map To Eden

I'm so happy to share with all of you that after nearly six years of work, my first book, Kohelet - A Map to Eden, is available:

While it doesn't deal with etymology per se, it does use a linguistic lens to discover connections and parallels between Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) and the opening chapters of Bereshit (Genesis). 

It's a genuine page-turner, and shows how Kohelet - often viewed as depressing, confusing, and even tedious - tells a real story, and provides a powerful message of hope. 

Kohelet – A Map to Eden is not simply a running commentary on Kohelet, although I do delve into the explanation of its verses. Rather, think of it as a captivating story. As you read through its pages, you will embark on a journey with me, where I uncover the parallels between Kohelet and Bereshit, and the analogies between the lives of Shlomo and Adam. You’ll then witness how these connections lead to the story of the Spies and how those episodes of downfall find redemption in the mitzva of tzitzit, the Yom Kippur service, and the profound words of Kohelet itself.

It is available on both the US and Israel sites of Koren Publishers, where you can also see a preview of the first 30 pages.

Israel customers can order it here:

US and other international customers can purchase it here:

Those using the site can use the code 𝐤𝐨𝐡𝐞𝐥𝟏𝟎 at checkout to get a 10% discount.

It is also available at many other online booksellers and in-person bookstores. (And a Kindle version is available at Amazon!)

Also, as a first-time author, I’d be grateful for any assistance you might offer during this process. If you enjoy the book, please consider telling friends and family about it. Even sharing this post will help!

If you know anyone who might be interested in publicly reviewing the book, please put them in touch with me. And of course, I’m happy to discuss the book with you in person or online, or speak to any groups (schools, synagogues, etc.) who would be interested in hearing more about my discoveries and methods.

Book reviews:

Podcast interviews:

My talks about the book:

  • Book launch at the Women's Beit Midrash of Efrat and Gush Etzion - YouTube recording (and pictures on Facebook)

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

"Kohelet - A Map to Eden" is now available in Israel!

My book, Kohelet - A Map to Eden is now fully available in Israel!

It is available in many of the book stores in Israel that carry Judaica books in English, as well as on the Koren website:

Through that website you can also see a preview of the first 30 pages. For more information about the book, see my post where I first announced its release

I hope you enjoy the book, and looking forward to your feedback!