Tuesday, September 27, 2011


In the previous post on teruah, we mentioned that while teruah refers to the short blasts (of the trumpet or shofar) and tekiah תקיעה refers to the long blasts, the verb taka תקע simply means "blowing on an instrument" (regardless of the length of the blasts). Klein writes that the verb fully means "to thrust, clap, give a blow, blast", and he point out that the sense development is similar to the German stossen - "to thrust, to give a blast, blow" and das Horn stossen - "to blow the horn". Ben Yehuda writes that perhaps the origin of the root comes from the sound of the tekiah.

Kaddari writes that the biblical meanings of the root include: a) to strike - with hands to clap, or to shake hands (to guarantee),  b) to drive in - with a sword (e.g. Shoftim 3:21), with a peg (Shoftim 16:14, Yeshaya 22:23), or a tent (Bereshit 31:25), c) to thrust - in regards to wind (Shemot 10:19), and of course d) to blow on an instrument. He quotes the linguist Eliezer Rubinstein from an article in this book as saying that the basic meaning of the Biblical root תקע is "to cause an object to change its location". This is interesting, because in Modern Hebrew it refers to something much more permanent, as seen by the related words takua תקוע - "stuck" and teka תקע - "(electrical) plug".

Steinberg, and many others say that the Biblical town of Tekoa (not far from my home in Efrat) originally meant "place of setting up a tent". This also inspired the founders of the city of Tekoa, Washington. On the town's website they explain how in 1884:

Mrs. Dan Truax, standing on the porch of her house on the west bank of Hangman Creek, looked at the large number of tents in the city, temporary shelters for the railroad workers and others. She suggested to her husband that they accept the counsel of Amos in the Bible and call the community Tekoa, from the Hebrew word meaning "city of tents", which was about all that Tekoa was at the time. And so the name stuck.

I wonder if they understood the play on words when they wrote "the name stuck..."

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Rosh Hashana is coming up this week, and I thought I'd look at some of the words associated with the shofar sounds heard on that day. Since the biblical name for Rosh Hashana is Yom Teruah יום תרועה (Bamidbar 29:1) or Zichron Teruah זכרון תרועה (Vayikra 23:24), lets start by looking at the word teruah תרועה.

In the section of the Torah detailing the laws of the trumpets (Bamidbar 10:1-10), a distinction is made between the tekiah תקיעה - "the long blast" and the teruah, "the short blast". The tekiah is used for gathering the camp together and happy occasions, whereas the teruah indicates the camp should move, and is used at times of war. However, the verse (10:5) uses a combination of the roots to describe the blowing of the teruah: וּתְקַעְתֶּם תְּרוּעָה (ut'kat'em teruah). Milgrom, in his JPS commentary there, explains as follows:

short blasts:  Hebrew teru'ah, verbal form heri'a, in contrast to "blow long blasts," taka'. It should be noted that the term "blow long blasts" is expressed simply by the verb taka' (vv. 3-4), but "blow short blasts" requires the compound expression taka' teru'ah (vv. 5-6). The reason for these distinct forms is twofold.

(1) The term teru'ah and its corresponding verb heri'a refer elsewhere to a vocal shout by warriors (e.g. Josh. 6:5,10, 16, 20) and worshipers (e.g. Pss. 47:2; 95:2), whereas the sole verb signifying the blowing of a horn is taka' (e.g. Josh. 6:13). Hence when the text wishes to express the idea of blowing the teru'ah signal on the trumpet it must either use the verb taka', signifying blowing on an instrument, and the object teru'ah to indicate the appropriate signal, or, if it uses the verb heri'a, it must specify that the sound was produced by a trumpet (v. 9).

(2) Teru'ah can refer to a battle cry (cf. Amos 1:14, Jer. 14:19); and hence, its use in breaking camp implies signaling the Israelites to move from an encamped peaceful position to a mobile battle formation. Thus the trumpets taken into the Midianite war are actually called "the trumpets of teru'ah" (31:6, cf 2 Chron 13:12).

So we see from Milgrom that teruah (or the verb heria הריע) can be used to refer both to the noise of a trumpet/shofar, or the noise of people. Dr. Nissan Netzer discusses this in the latest issue of the parasha sheet Me'at Min Ha'or. He writes that the original meaning of the verb heria (from the root רו"ע) meant to blow on a shofar or trumpet, and later that was expanded to mean the shouts of a crowd of people (Klein seems to indicate the reverse development). Netzer then goes on to point out than in Rabbinic Hebrew, the verb hitria התריע was created by adding the letter tav from the word teruah (similar to the process we saw in the verb taram from teruma). Whereas originally the Biblical and Rabbinic forms of the verb had the same meaning, in Modern Hebrew they diverge: heria has a positive connotation - "to applaud", whereas hitria has a negative one - "to protest, to warn" (and neither meaning today refers to blowing a shofar; for that we only have the verb taka).

It is very easy to mix up hatra'ah התרעה - warning, with the similar sounding hatraah התראה - which also means warning. But the former means also "alert, alarm" (think of the shofar, and the original distinction of teruah), while the latter also has the sense of "give advance notice" (for example, as witnesses are required to do in capital cases). Or as the site Safa Ivrit has it, התראה means "warning someone not do something" and התרעה means "warning about something that is about to happen" (see also this explanation by the Hebrew Language Academy).

Friday, September 23, 2011


In my previous post on the word "bar" בר, I mentioned that there was one more meaning I hadn't discussed. That, of course, is the identical meaning in English - "tavern", which is borrowed from English for use in Modern Israeli Hebrew. The "bar" in that bar refers to the counter on which the food or drinks were served.

The Hebrew word for "counter" is delpak דלפק (particularly the counter of a bank or a kiosk). Klein has the following entry:

1. Post-Biblical Hebrew: small tripod, small table. 2. New Hebrew: counter [Perhaps of Greek Delphike (= a table from Delphi)]

In the mishna we find alternate spellings: according to Albeck in Kelim 22:1 it is vocalized dulpeki דלפקי, and in Avoda Zara 5:5 dulbeki דלבקי.

One theory as to the origin of the name of the Greek site Delphi is that it derives from the "Greek delphis 'dolphin'. Supposedly Apollo assumed this form to found the shrine." In Modern Hebrew we also use the word "dolfin" דולפין to refer to the aquatic mammal, but there are those such as Yehuda Felix (quoted in the Daat Mikra on Yechezkel 16:9) and Sarna in in the JPS Shmot (25:5) who say that the Biblical tachash תחש was a dolphin (due to the similarity with the Arabic tuhas, meaning dolphin).

According to Klein and others, the Greek delphis for dolphin is related to delphus, "womb", in allusion to the womb of the female (unlike other non-mammalian sea creatures). A related word is the Greek adelphos "brother," literally "from the same womb," as is found in the city Philadelphia - the city of "brotherly love".

The older name for Delphi was Pytho, which gave the name "python", which was originally a "fabled serpent, slain by Apollo, near Delphi". Since at this oracle the gods would speak through the body of the priestess (who sat on a tripod), in Rabbinic Hebrew a pitom פיתום came to mean a ventriloquist. (And if you think this has anything to do with the phrase Ma Pitom - well, no way!)

Sunday, September 18, 2011


In my post about bar mitzva, I wrote

bar בר means "son" (primarily in Aramaic, but also in Hebrew, see Mishlei 31:2)
The question is what is the connection between bar and the Hebrew word for son - בן ben? And does bar as "son" have a connection to any of the other meanings of the word bar, such as "outside", "pure" or "grain"?

In his entry for ben, Klein writes that
The change of n to r in Aramaic, Syriac, and Mehri is difficult to explain; it may be due to regressive dissimilation.
(See more detail in the article The Forms of 'Son' and 'Daughter' in Aramaic, by Steven Fassberg in the book Aramaic in its Historical and Linguistic Setting.)

Regarding the other meanings of bar, Klein doesn't connect them to "son", but does show how they are related to each other.  He discusses them all under the root ברר, meaning "to purify, select, set apart, separate". In his Hebrew etymological dictionary, he derives from this root the following words:

  • bar בר - threshed grain or corn, from ברר (to purify, select)
  • bar בר - pure, clean, related to ברר
  • bor בור - lye, alkali, potash, from ברר. Related to another word for lye, borit בורית. Surprisingly, he makes no connection to "borax", which has the same meaning, but is of Persian origin (this book does connect the two).
  • bar בר - exterior, outside. May have developed from another meaning of bar - "open field". Also related is the adverb bar, meaning "except, outside of". 
  • beram ברם - but, however. A contraction of the Aramaic בר מא - "except what".
  • baraita ברייתא - the Tanaitic sayings not incorporated in (excluded from) the Mishna.
  • barur ברור - chosen; clear, distinct, certain
  • borer בורר - arbitrator 
An English word with the same source is "barrio".  The Online Etymology Dictionary has the following:

"ward of a Spanish or Spanish-speaking city," sometimes also used of rural settlements, from Sp. barrio "district, suburb," from Arabic barriya "open country" (fem.), from barr "outside" (of the city). Main modern sense of "Spanish-speaking district in a U.S. city" is 1939; original reference is to Spanish Harlem in New York City.

It's worth noting that Stahl, in his Arabic etymological dictionary, disagrees with Klein, and connects bar as "son" with bar as "out". He notes the Hebrew word for "offspring, descendant", צאצא tze'etza, which derives from the root יצא - "to go out". So too does the child "go out" from his parents.

One other word that Klein thinks may be related to ברר is ברית brit (actually better spelled berit/b'rit, but that's not at all common) - "covenant". He writers:

Of uncertain etymology. Meyer derives it from ברה (= to eat bread); it would have been so called because in ancient times it was customary for those concluding a treaty or alliance to partake of a meal. Several scholars, with less probability, derive the noun ברית from ברה (= to choose.)
There's one more "bar" I didn't discuss, but I'll save that for the next post...