Wednesday, May 24, 2006


After writing about בוקר boker, it makes sense to write about ערב erev. However, while we presented a number of different derivatives of בקר, the root ערב has far more.

For those that don't know, the Academy of the Hebrew Language is working on a historical dictionary:

It aims to encompass the entire Hebrew lexicon throughout its history; that is, to present every Hebrew word in its morphological, semantical, and contextual development from its first appearance in written texts to the present.

This will be a great tool for anyone interested in researching the history of Hebrew words, like, for example, me.

As an example of the scope of the dictionary, they write:

Let us consider for example, the Hebrew root ערב.
A seventy-five-page-long sample of the projected dictionary entry for this root
appeared in Lesonenu Vol. 46, 1982 (excluding indexes and statistical data).

That's quite a few pages. So I don't expect to cover ever meaning and derivative of the root. (Actually, I haven't even seen the article.) I very well may come back to this root in the future to discuss further developments.

Luckily, Kutscher has a chapter in his book that discusses the root. His important premise is that one of the meanings of ערב is "to enter". This is based on the similar meaning in Akkadian - erebu. The other major meaning he provides is "to mix" - ערבב. According to Kutscher, it is not clear if there is a connection between the two roots. His article was written in 1958 - perhaps more research has been done since.

Let's look at some words with the root ערב and see if they're related to "enter", "mix" or something else.

ערב erev - evening: Kutscher quotes Dr. Benjamin Klar as writing that: "Early man viewed sunrise as 'leaving' and sunset as 'coming'. Even though normally we'd think it should be the opposite, they had the view that the sun slept in a 'tent' every night. It would leave the tent in the coming, and enter it in the evening." This is described in Tehilim 19:5-6:

בְּכָל-הָאָרֶץ, יָצָא קַוָּם, וּבִקְצֵה תֵבֵל, מִלֵּיהֶם;לַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, שָׂם-אֹהֶל בָּהֶם. וְהוּא--כְּחָתָן, יֹצֵא מֵחֻפָּתוֹ; יָשִׂישׂ כְּגִבּוֹר, לָרוּץ אֹרַח.

"Their voice carries throughout the earth, their words to the end of the world. He placed in them a tent for the sun, who is like a groom coming forth from the chamber, like a hero, eager to run his course."

מערב maarav - west: Therefore maarav is the "entering place of the sun".

ערב שבת erev shabbat: Kutscher quotes the linguist Meir Medan (father of Rav Yaakov Medan, Rosh Yeshiva of Har Etzion) as saying that erev shabbat means "the entering of Shabbat", in the same way that מוצאי שבת motzaei shabbat means "the leaving of shabbat". This also helps explain the apparent redundancy between the terms erev shabbat and ליל שבת leil shabbat.

ערבון eravon - a pledge: According to Kutscher, the pledge "enters the house of the loaner". From here we get the verb ערב "to guarantee". This is the source of the famous phrase:
כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה / זה בזה - "All Jews are responsible for one another". Another derivative of this form of the root is התערב hitarev - "to bet" (i.e. "to exchange pledges".) The English word arbiter derives from eravon, as does one of the meanings of the word earnest - "money paid in advance as part payment to bind a contract or bargain".

ערב erev - woof (the threads that run crosswise in a woven fabric) - While Klein (and others) say that the word derives from "to mix", Kutscher says it is clear that it comes from "to enter" - the threads that enter under the threads of the warp.

ערב רב erev rav: This is generally translated as the "mixed multitudes" that went up from Egypt (Shmot 12:38). The association with "mix" is clear, but Kutscher agrees with Onkelos who translates it as "foreigners". Erev means foreigners in Nechemia 13:3, and there is a cognate word in Arabic meaning the same.

ערוב arov: The wild animals of the fourth plague in Egypt (Shmot 8:20). Kutscher says the origin is unclear, but Klein associates it with "to mix".

ערב arev "pleasant, sweet": Again, Kutscher says it is hard to determine the connection, but Klein writes that it perhaps means "to be well mixed, duly arranged".

Neither Kutscher nor Klein connect any of the following words with either the meanings "to enter" or "to mix":

  • aravi ערבי - Arab: Klein associates it the term with arava ערבה - desert plain, but see here for many more theories.
  • orev עורב - raven
  • arava ערבה - willow

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