Saturday, March 05, 2011


We previously discussed blo בלו, a tax first mentioned in the book of Ezra. Blo is mentioned together with two other taxes that are not used in modern Hebrew: minda מנדה and halach הלך. The three terms are discussed in Bava Batra 8a, and halach is identified as arnona ארנונא. Arnona (as ארנונה) is certainly familiar to Israelis today - it's municipal tax determined by the size of the property. However, in Talmudic times it was an agricultural tax (originally on grain, then extended to land, cattle, and clothing). Then, as now, it was not particularly loved, and this can be sensed in the etymology as well.

We've mentioned before that although the Jews of the Talmudic period (in the Land of Israel) were under Roman rule, almost all the foreign words in Talmudic Hebrew were from Greek. The exceptions are almost always related to the military. Arnona is an adaptation of the Latin annona (the Hebrew equivalent אנונא or אנונה is found in Midrash Rabbah), meaning "yearly produce", from annus, "year" (as in the word "annual"). Steinsaltz comments that troops passing through an area would collect food as part of the arnona tax, and this is perhaps a connection to the Biblical halach ("walking").

A question I've been asked in the past is, "Why is the Jerusalem neighborhood Arnona called that? Why would they name a neighborhood after a tax?" Well, there are two theories about the origin of the name - neither of which is connected to the tax. One is that it is named for the Arnon river in Jordan, which empties into the Dead Sea, which is visible from the neighborhood. The other theory is that it was named for the the daughter of the scholar Ben-Zion Luria, Arnona, who was herself named for the river. The river, Nachal Arnon  נחל ארנון - is mentioned a number of times in the Tanach, and some say gets its name from its noisy nature (the root רנן means to be loud, either in joy or in complaint).

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