Monday, January 28, 2008


After realizing that I was mistaken in my assumption that kvish כביש - "road" -was an ancient Hebrew word, I decided to write a post about rechov רחוב - "street". Surely that was a biblical word . I knew Haman paraded Mordechai וַיַּרְכִּיבֵהוּ, בִּרְחוֹב הָעִיר - "b'rchov ha'ir" (Ester 6:11) and Zecharia prophesied that old men and women would sit "b'rechovot yerushalayim" עֹד יֵשְׁבוּ זְקֵנִים וּזְקֵנוֹת, בִּרְחֹבוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם (Zecharia 8:4).

But as you regular readers of this blog are not surprised to find out, I was mistaken again. While in Modern Hebrew rechov means street, in Biblical and Talmudic Hebrew it meant "a broad open place (in a city), square" (Klein). Only in Medieval Hebrew did it take on the meaning of "street". Today rechava רחבה continues the older meaning of rechov.

While I'm not sure why the term changed its meaning, I can perhaps guess that the teaming of drachim דרכים - "roads" with rechovot רחובות in the Mishna (Shekalim 1:1, Moed Katan 1:2), might have had some influence.

Rechov of course derives from רחב rachav - meaning - "wide". Ben Yehuda writes that this root is the source of a number of proper names of people and places: Rechavam רחבעם, Rechovot רחובות and Rechavia רחביה.

He goes on to say that in Aramaic, the root רוח (revach) was preferred, which has a similar sound and meaning to רחב - and perhaps are related etymologically as well.

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