Sunday, December 30, 2007


The first initial in the acrostic PaRDeS is peshat (or pshat) - פשט. The definition of peshat is - "the plain, simple meaning". Of course, what defines the peshat of a text or a subject is debatable. Nechama Leibowitz is quoted here as saying: ""If I say it, it's peshat. If you say it, it's derash."

The word peshat comes from the root פשט, for which Klein gives a number of meanings: "to spread, to strip off; to make a dash, make a raid; to stretch out; to make plain, explain." The verb להתפשט therefore means "to undress". From this root we get the adjective pashut פשוט. Rut Almagor-Ramon explains here that pashut originally meant "straight" as in a shofar pashut שופר פשוט - a "straight shofar". She explains that only in the Middle Ages did the word take on its more popular meaning today - "simple".

The Arabic cognate to פשט is basat. From here we get two familiar expressions in Hebrew slang:

a) basta - A market stand. Stahl writes that the original meaning was produce "spread out" on display for purchase. We also have the expression sagar et habasta - סגר את הבאסטה, which literally means "to close the stand" but has the sense of "to end a continuous activity".

b) mabsut - satisfied, pleased. Stahl writes that when a person is happy his "heart expands". In English we also see a connection between relaxed and happy.

Friday, December 28, 2007

pardes and paradise

I'm trying to get back in to writing again. After spending several weeks indexing my sources, I thought I was ready to go. But it turned out that my home computer wasn't working well (talk about the shoemaker's child going barefoot!). So I was delayed again.

Well, I think I'm past those issues now - mostly I have to get into the routine of regular writing. Usually a good way for me to do that is to start a series of related posts. I came up with the idea of discussing the words in the mnemonic פרד"ס PaRDeS: פשט peshat, רמז remez, דרש derash, סוד sod. Of course it made sense to discuss the word pardes פרדס itself, and its connection to the English word "paradise".

So I checked my newly-created index, and lo and behold - everyone and his uncle has something to say about pardes and paradise. I'm not quite sure how to start, so I guess I'll just quote a source, and then add on additional sources that have something new.

Here's Klein's entry for pardes (the first definition is the biblical one):

1. park, orchard.
2. (Post Biblical Hebrew) esoteric philosophy
3. (New Hebrew) orange grove

From Avestic, of Old Persian origin. Compare Avestic pairidaeza (= enclosure), which is compounded of pairi (=around) and daeza (=wall). The first element is cognate with Greek peri (=around, about). The second element is cognate with Greek teichos ( = wall). Greek paradeisos (= park, the garden of Eden, paradise), whence the Latin paradisus, is also of Old Persian origin. Aramaic פרדס, פרדסא is borrowed from Hebrew.
The Online Etymology Dictionary definition is similar:

c.1175, "Garden of Eden," from O.Fr. paradis, from L.L. paradisus, from Gk. paradeisos "park, paradise, Garden of Eden," from an Iranian source, cf. Avestan pairidaeza "enclosure, park" (Mod. Pers. and Arabic firdaus "garden, paradise"), compound of pairi- "around" + diz "to make, form (a wall)." The first element is cognate with Gk. peri- "around, about" (see peri-), the second is from PIE base *dheigh- "to form, build" (see dough). The Gk. word, originally used for an orchard or hunting park in Persia, was used in Septuagint to mean "Garden of Eden," and in New Testament translations of Luke xxiii.43 to mean "heaven" (a sense attested in Eng. from c.1205). Meaning "place like or compared to Paradise" is from c.1300.
The American Heritage Dictionary explains how the Persian term entered Greek:

The history of paradise is an extreme example of amelioration, the process by which a word comes to refer to something better than what it used to refer to. ... Zoroastrian religion encouraged maintaining arbors, orchards, and gardens, and even the kings of austere Sparta were edified by seeing the Great King of Persia planting and maintaining his own trees in his own garden. Xenophon, a Greek mercenary soldier who spent some time in the Persian army and later wrote histories, recorded the pairidaeza- surrounding the orchard as paradeisos, using it not to refer to the wall itself but to the huge parks that Persian nobles loved to build and hunt in. This Greek word was used in the Septuagint translation of Genesis to refer to the Garden of Eden, whence Old English eventually borrowed it around 1200.
The Encyclopedia Mikrait lists pardes as one of the Persian words that entered into Biblical Hebrew. It appears three times in the Tanach: Shir HaShirim 4:13, Kohelet 2:5, and Nechemiah 2:8. In these cases it has the general meaning of "orchard", compared to the specific sense in Greek of fenced off areas belonging to the king.

Kutscher points out that most of the Persian words that entered Hebrew at that time were related to governance, and therefore pardes probably originally was borrowed from the word referring to the parks or gardens of the king.

On the other hand, Ben Yehuda mentions that the word pardesu was borrowed from Persian to Late Babylonian (Kaddari also mentions Akkadian), and perhaps from here pardes entered Biblical Hebrew.

In History of Paradise: THE GARDEN OF EDEN IN MYTH AND TRADITION Jean Delumeau writes that:
Then the Septuagint used paradeisos to translate both pardes and the more classic Hebrew word for garden, gan.
So if Xenophon lived from 431 - 355 BCE, the word had certainly entered Greek rather strongly, since it was used in the Greek translation of the Bible only a few centuries later, and not only for the similar sounding "pardes".

Steinberg's entry for pardes mentions that it was used to translate the word אשל (Bereshit 21:33) into Aramaic in the Targum Yerushalmi, as described in Sotah 10a. The meaning there is "an orchard with many types of fruits." Steinsaltz there writes that the word developed from specifically a pomegranate orchard (see Ibn Ezra on Kohelet 2:5, where he says that a gan has many types of trees, and a pardes has only one type), to an orchard of many types of trees (Vayikra Rabba 13), and finally an orchard where people would go to relax and play in. This last sense would seem to be the esoteric one that Klein mentioned above, as in the famous Talmudic statement "Four entered pardes" (Chagiga 14b.)

However, the Jewish Encylopedia has a slightly different understanding of pardes in that context:

The word pardes is used metaphorically for the veil surrounding the mystic philosophy (Hag. 14b), but not as a synonym for the Garden of Eden or paradise to identify a blissful heavenly abode for the righteous after death. The popular conception of paradise is expressed by the term "Gan 'Eden," in contradistinction to "Gehinnom" = "hell."
In any case, I stay far away from the Artscrollian theory mentioned here (although read the very interesting comments as well - no mention of Xenophon's early use however) that pardes was originally a Hebrew word...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Before I switched to a small Jewish day school, I attended a very large, fairly prestigious public high school. I've written elsewhere how it was at this school I stopped studying Japanese, and began studying Hebrew. That was certainly the benefit of a large school - they offered many foreign languages for study.

In addition to languages, there were also an impressive amount of "clubs". Students could participate in after-school groups ranging from "Pre-Med" to "Model Airplane" to "Bowling". Looking at the current list, it's interesting to see how interests have changed in the past 20 years. For example, when I went to school there, they had an "Israeli Culture Club". Today they have "Schmooze For Jews".

One of the clubs that I still remember reading about, but never really understood what it was about was "Agape". The yearbook entry states:

Agape in Greek, means unconditional love. Members share in this unconditional love at each meeting. During the course of the year, members sing, have group discussions and hear from different special speakers.

I only found out recently that agape (pronounced ah-GAH-peh) is a Christian term (and the club was indeed a Christian club). I just finished reading a fascinating book - highly recommended to readers of this site - Empires of the Word - A Language History of the World, by Nicholas Oster. On page 270, he writes in the footnote:

It has been suggested that the favourite choice of the Christian word for 'love', agape, is influenced by Hebrew aheb, 'love' (which happens to have much stronger sexual overtones than the Greek), and Greek skene, 'tent', by Hebrew seken, 'dwelling' (Moule 1959:186)
I tracked down Moule's book, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, and he has a list of:

Greek words whose use, or at least frequency, may have been suggested by a certain (perhaps fortuitous) similarity of sound or spelling to certain Semitic words.
So while the use of the word agape may have been influenced by Hebrew, please don't make the mistake (that I did when I first read the footnote) of thinking that agape actually derives from the Hebrew אהב.

While agape is generally used in a Christian context, the word helps us understand a difficult Talmudic phrase (found on Menachot 44a). The columnist Philologos quotes (his uncle?) Rabbi Saul Lieberman:

There is a Talmudic legend about a pious Jew who, hearing of a famous courtesan in Italy who charged the astronomical sum of 400 gold coins to spend a night with her, could not control his curiosity and traveled to her with the money to find out what she charged so much for. Yet his religious inhibitions got the better of him and at the crucial moment he was impotent — which made the courtesan, no less curious herself, react by saying, “By the limb of Rome [gapa shel Romi, in Hebrew], I will not let you go until you tell me what is wrong with me.”
What is “the limb of Rome”? Lieberman convincingly shows that the Hebrew word gapa, “limb of,” is actually a later corruption by scribes who no longer understood Greek of the Greek word agape, “love,” and that in the original story, as told and understood by Jews in Palestine, the courtesan swore by “the love of Rome.”
In Lieberman's book (Greek And Hellenism In Jewish Palestine), he explains what "the love of Rome" meant:

It seems quite certain to me that גפה דרומי really means agape of Rome, but refers not to some obscure love of Rome, but to the famous goddess - Isis, who was called Agape.
Lieberman than shows how the one other Talmudic mention of גפא דרומא (Pesachim 87b) also likely refers to an oath to the goddess Isis.

So we have a Greek word that is used by Christians via Jewish influence, and was used by idolatrous Romans as quoted in the Jewish Talmud. How can you not love this - unconditionally?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

chalifa and california

In this week's parasha, Yosef gives to his brothers clothing - chalifot smalot - (Bereshit 45:22):

לְכֻלָּם נָתַן לָאִישׁ, חֲלִפוֹת שְׂמָלֹת

While in Modern Hebrew a chalifa is a suit of clothes, clearly there is a connection here to the root חלף meaning "to pass, to change", and particularly the hifil form of the verb - החליף - "to exchange, replace." We see this from the previous parasha (41:14), where Yosef has his clothes changed: וַיְחַלֵּף שִׂמְלֹתָיו. On this basis, the JPS translates chalifot smalot as "a change of clothing." This seems to capture the sense of the term better than Kaplan's "outfit of clothes." Therefore I'm not sure I understand Kil's note in Daat Mikra that "there is an opinion" (whose?) that chalifot and smalot are synonymous, but chalifot is Assyrian and smalot is Lashon Torah (Hebrew?).

Ibn Ezra suggest that the word chalifot means that each outfit was different than the other - which also explains why the word is in plural. Chizkuni says that the word means clothes that are changed occasionally. In any case, a connection between "change" and "clothes" is not unique to Hebrew. Klein points out Arabic badlah (=suit of clothes) and badala (=he exchanged). Kaddari mentions the Italian mutande, meaning "pants" which I'm sure is related to the Latin mutare, meaining "to change". If I'm not mistaken, the Latin phrase mutatis mutandis (literally "with those things having been changed which need to be changed") is used as a translation of the Hebrew phrase lehavdil להבדיל.

Another meaning of chalifa in the Bible is "replacement, successor". This is Kaddari's explanation of Melachim I 5:28:
וַיִּשְׁלָחֵם לְבָנוֹנָה, עֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים בַּחֹדֶשׁ חֲלִיפוֹת - "He sent them to Levanon in (alternating) shifts - chalifot - of 10,000 a month"
and Iyov 14:14:
כָּל-יְמֵי צְבָאִי אֲיַחֵל-- עַד-בּוֹא, חֲלִיפָתִי. - "All the time of my military service I wait / Until my replacement - chalifati - comes".

This sense of the word has entered Arabic as well. The Arabic word caliph - a leader of an Islamic state - is related to the Hebrew חלף, and has the following etymology:

1393, from Arabic khalifa "successor," originally Abu-Bakr, who succeeded Muhammad in the role of leader of the faithful after the prophet's death. Caliphate, "dominion of a caliph" is from 1614.
But if you read the title of this post, you may be wondering how this all connects to California. Well, it turns out that the name California predates the discovery of the Golden State by centuries. While there are a number of different theories as to the origin of the name California, this one seems very convincing:

California first appeared in a popular romance of chivalry called Las Sergas de Esplandián ('The Adventures of Esplandian'), written by Garcí Ordóñez de Montalvo around 1510. In this story there is a fabulous island, peopled by black Amazons and rich in gold and precious stones. The island is ruled over by a queen named Calafia and is called California. It is located "on the right hand of the Indies...very near to the region of the Terrestrial Paradise."

When the Spanish reached the tip of what is now Baja California in 1532, they thought it was an island and called it California after the fantastic island of riches in Montalvo's tale. The belief that California was an island persisted long after later expeditions explored the coastline to the north. A 1719 atlas prepared for George II still showed it separated from the mainland.

Montalvo probably made up the name California although the name Califerne appears in the mid-11th century French Song of Roland where Charlemagne laments:

Against me then the Saxon will rebel,
Hungar, Bulgar, and many hostile men,
Romain, Pullain, all those are in Palerne,
And in Affrike, and those in Califerne.

Since the Roland poem concerns the "evil" Saracens, it's possible that the poet derived "Califerne" from 'caliph'. Montalvo might also have been influenced by such similar names as Californo and Calafornina in Sicily or Calahorra in Spain.
So it is certainly possible that the name California is related to the Hebrew verb חלף. Perhaps this is not so surprising, considering that California is the home of the passing and changing fad...

Friday, December 07, 2007

avuka and ptil

It's clear by now that my indexing is taking much longer than I originally expected. And there have been a number of "distractions" that have come up during this time period. But I have received a few requests to continue to write even before the index is done. So just so you know that I continue to pay my electric bill (and that I'm still alive), I'll make sure to put up a regular post (although less frequently than before.)

Although I've spent most of my time indexing books and websites that I've used in the past, I have come across some new material. Well, new to me anyway. An amazing book that I picked up a couple of weeks ago is Yad Halashon (1964) by Yitzhak Avinery, the linguist also well known as the author of Heichal Rashi. This 600+ page book has hundreds of articles that Avinery wrote over a course of decades. The English subtitle calls it a "lexicon of linguistic problems in the Hebrew language." I'm sure I'll refer to it regularly, as it provides an important bridge between the Ben Yehuda's dictionary and innovations and the modern Hebrew I speak in 2007. There are not a few entries about words that I've already written about - but it will probably take even longer for me to go back and review them.

Anyway, on to today's post. In a 1949 article, Avinery makes a connection between two words: avukah אבוקה - "torch" and ptil פתיל - "wick, cord" (also ptila פתילה). The etymology of ptil is well known. It derives from the root פתל - "to twist, twine". It also means "to wrestle", and from here we get the origin of the name Naftali (see Bereshit 30:8).

The origin of avuka is less clear. Klein says the origin is unclear. He is probably following Ben Yehuda, who writes that "the origin of the word is not clear, but perhaps it is a shortened form of אבהוקה avhuka, from the root בהק - "to shine, glow".

However, there is an earlier etymology for avuka, as presented by the Ramban in his commentary to Bereshit 32:25 In this verse we find the root אבק as a verb:
וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב, לְבַדּוֹ; וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ, עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר

"Yaakov was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn".

It is clear that the word ויאבק means "he wrestled", but what is the etymology? Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi in Chullin 91a provides two different theories:

וריב"ל אמר אמר קרא (בראשית לב) בהאבקו עמו כאדם שחובק את חבירו
"Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: The Torah writes (Bereshit 32:26) 'as he wrestled בהאבקו with him' - as a person embraces - chovek חובק - his friend".

אמר ר' יהושע ב"ל מלמד שהעלו אבק מרגלותם עד כסא הכבוד
"Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: this teaches us that the dust - avak אבק - of their feet went up to the Divine Throne."

Each of these explanations finds expression in the views of the Rishonim. Rashi quotes Menachem as saying that the verb אבק meant "he was covered in dust", because they were kicking up dirt while they were moving. This is in line with the second opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, and is the view of Ibn Ezra and Radak.

Rashi brings a second opinion, saying that the word אבק is of Aramaic origin, and means "he attached himself." Heb brings a few Talmudic quotes where אבק means "attached", and then says that it is the way of two who struggle, for one person to throw the other down, then he grasps him - אובקו - and entwines him - חובקו -in his arms."

By connecting the roots אבק and חבק, Rashi here seems to be following the first opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.

The Ramban continues in this vein, and points out that alef and chet often interchange, and brings a number of examples. And getting back to the topic of this post, the Ramban writes that the word avuka meant "a bundle of sticks bound together". And here we see the similarity between ptil / ptila and avuka - both may originate from the idea of string or wood bound or twisted together.

Why did Avinery mention all this? Because he noticed that when people were talking about twisting someone's arm, they would say הוא מסובב את היד. But he points out that the root סובב means "to surround" - not "to twist". So he recommends using the verb ovek אובק - and here he is inspired by none other than Rashi, the subject of his major work. For it seems that Rashi coined the kal form of the verb אבק in his commentary we read above. (In Heichal Rashi, Avinery has a list of Hebrew words coined by Rashi.)

So while it would have made a nice Chanukah post to end with a discussion of wicks and torches, I can't leave out an interesting note about the word avak meaning "dust". Klein provides the following etymology:

Together with Aramaic-Syrian אבקא (= dust), probably derived from [the verb] אבק [related to the Arabic abaqa (= he ran away)] and literally meaning 'that which flees or flies.' ... Greek abax, genitive abakos (= a square tablet strewn with dust for drawing geometrical diagrams; reckoning board) is a Hebrew loan word.
So the word abacus may very well come from Hebrew. (See this Philologos article for a theory of how the word entered Greek from Hebrew.)

So maybe we can still connect all this to Chanukah after all. Two concepts which seem very much Greek - wrestling and abacus - both have a strong Hebrew background. Just to show that the relationship between the Jews and the Greeks wasn't always black and white, lightness and darkness...