Sunday, July 24, 2016


What is the origin of the rabbinic word for "inn" - פונדק pundak?

Klein provides the following etymology:

From Greek pandakion, from pandokos (= innkeeper, host; literally 'all-receiving'), which is compounded of pan (= every), which is of uncertain origin, and dokos, which stands in gradational relationship to dekesthai ( = to receive), from IE base *dek-, *dok- (= to take, receive, accept; acceptable, becoming, good).

More common Greek transliterations are pandocheion and pandokeion.

Kutscher points out that the word entered into Arabic as well as fundaq, and in an interesting turn of events, Crusaders from Europe borrowed the word from Arabic back into European languages as either an inn or a storehouse. So this led to the Romanian fundac, the Italian fondaco, the Portuguese alfandega, and the Spanish fonda.

While it would have been an interesting connection, it does not appear that the surname Fonda is related to the Spanish word for tavern.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

kir, choma, kotel

There are three words in Hebrew for wall - kir קיר, choma חומה, and kotel כותל. What is the difference between them?

All three are biblical, although kotel appears only once (Shir Hashirim 2:9). Let's look at each.

Kir - this is the most common word for "wall" in Modern Hebrew. Ben Yehuda and Even-Shoshan say it might be related to kora קורה  - "beam". Klein says that it is perhaps related to the Akkadian qiru and Arabic qir, both meaning asphalt, and so the original meaning may have been "something paved or painted with asphalt."

Choma is generally used to describe the protective wall around a city. Klein's etymology reflects this sense, as he derives it from the root חמה, "to see, protect". That root is common in Aramaic, and is used in the declaration made when disowning any chametz before Pesach - כל חמירא .. דחמיתה ודלא חמיתה kol chamira ... d'chamitey u'dlo chamitey - "any chametz ... that I saw or did not see".

One interesting verse that uses both kir and choma is Yehoshua 2:15

וַתּוֹרִדֵ֥ם בַּחֶ֖בֶל בְּעַ֣ד הַֽחַלּ֑וֹן כִּ֤י בֵיתָהּ֙ בְּקִ֣יר הַֽחוֹמָ֔ה וּבַֽחוֹמָ֖ה הִ֥יא יוֹשָֽׁבֶת׃

This is the New JPS translation:

She let them down by a rope through the window—for her dwelling was at the outer side of the city wall (b'kir hachoma) and she lived in the actual wall (bachoma). 

That translation has kir meaning "side" and choma meaning "wall."  The JPS commentary on Bamidbar 35:4 expands on this idea and writes:

Hebrew kir, a rare word for a town wall. (The term elsewhere is homah.) It probably refers to the outside surface of the town wall (see kir ha-homah in Josh. 2:15).

Artscroll adjusts the phrasing slightly - "for her house was in a wall of the fortification, and she lived in the fortification." So in this case kir means wall, and choma means fortification. This fits the explanation of Daat Mikra on Yehoshua  2:15, who writes that in order to save on construction material it was common to include houses inside the city wall, and sometimes these houses would share their walls with the city walls.

Kotel likely has Aramaic origins, and Klein points out that the Aramaic cognate כתלא kutla is probably a loan word from the Akkadian kutallu - "back side". It was used frequently in rabbinic Hebrew, but in modern Hebrew it's generally reserved to describe the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount - the kotel hamaaravi הכותל המערבי.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

masorah and musar

Until recently, I would have assumed the words masorah מסורה / masoret מסורת - "tradition" and musar מוסר - "ethics" all derived from the root מסר - "to hand over, deliver." However, a quick look at Klein's dictionary showed me that I was mistaken.

Here is his entry for masorah:

'Masorah' - the system of notes on the external form of the scriptural text of the Bible. [A secondary form of masoret. The word masoret is probably contracted from ma'asoret מאסרת and is formed with instrumental suffix ma_ from אסר (=to bind). Later, however, the word masorah was explained as the summary of traditions concerning the correct writing and reading of the Bible and, accordingly, was regarded as a derivative of the verb מסר (= to hand down, hand over).]

From the root אסר - "bind, tie, imprison", we also get the words asur אסור - "prohibited", asir אסיר - "prisoner" and isru chag אסרו חג.

Musar, however, has a different source. Klein writes that it originally meant "chastisement, discipline, correction" and derives from the root יסר - "to chasten". This is the root of yisurim יסורים - "suffering, affliction" (only found in the plural). He adds that it is probably related to the root אסר (perhaps prisoners were likely to be disciplined, or those disciplined were likely to be bound).

None of the above are related to the word for the cutting tool "saw"  - מסור masor. That derives from the root נסר - "to saw." Both masor and nasar appear in their Biblical form with a sin, not a samech - so in Yeshaya 10:15 we have masor as משור.