Wednesday, May 02, 2007


In our last post, we talked about kilus קילוס - a post-Biblical word for "praise". A more common root in Hebrew is שבח - we find this verb in the Tanach as well as throughout our prayers. In the Bible we find that שבח has two meanings - "to praise, glorify" and "to still, calm, soothe". Ben Yehuda presents two possibilities.

One is that the two meanings are not related - a proof of this is that the Arabic cognates for each of the meanings are spelled differently (with the letter chet appearing as the Arabic ḥ in "to praise" and as the Arabic ḫ in "to calm".) This is the view of Klein and Kaddari.

The other view that Ben-Yehuda offers is that the original meaning is "to calm (God)" which is done by praising Him. He writes that we can see this from the words nachat (ruach) נחת רוח- which means "gratification, pleasure", but derives from "quietness, rest". The sacrifices to God are described as reyach nichoach ריח ניחוח - "sweet odor", again deriving from נוח - "to rest".

In post-Biblical Hebrew the root שבח also means "to improve, raise in value". We also find the noun שבח for the first time in Rabbinic Hebrew. Ben Yehuda writes that the early vowelization was with a schva - שְׁבָח. This is how Kehati, for example, vowelizes the Mishna in Ketubot 8:5.

But the later siddurim have the word with a segol -שֶׁבַח shevach. Ben Yehuda does not offer a reason for this change, but I wonder if perhaps it was to distinguish the word for praise from its opposite in Yiddish - shvach (from the German shwach, meaning "weak".)

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