Friday, March 23, 2007

herut and uhura

Pesach is known as zman heruteinu זמן חרותינו - "the time of our freedom". Where does the word herut (cherut) חרות - freedom - come from?

It does not appear in Biblical sources, but shows up first in Rabbinic Hebrew. However, we do find chorim חורים - "nobles" in some of the later books of the Bible (e.g. Nechemia 2:16, Melachim I 21:8, Kohelet 10:17). The Daat Mikra on those verses says that the nobles were free from paying taxes. A different origin is provided by Ben Yehuda, who quotes Ibn Genach as saying that the word chorim derives from חור chur - meaning white (as in the white linen in Ester 1:6, and related to chiver חוור - "pale".) The idea here is that white was considered a color representing light and greatness. Jastrow makes a connection between white garments and (the garments of) freedom.

Whatever the origin, we are familiar with the Rabbinic phrase ben chorin בן-חורין from the Hagada as well - "a free man". Another verb taken from the same root in Rabbinic Hebrew is שחרר - "to liberate" (although we find the verb חרר as well).

Arabic has a cognate to herut: hurruyyah - also meaning "freedom, liberty". From Arabic, the word entered the Swahili language as uhuru - meaning "freedom". Uhuru was adopted by African Socialist movements in the 1960s, and this apparently caught the eye of Gene Roddenberry when he created the character Uhura in the original Star Trek series (and in one episode Spock says that Uhura means "freedom".)

No comments: