Monday, March 01, 2021

minaret and menorah

The word "minaret", meaning the tower of a mosque, is cognate with the Hebrew menorah מנורה. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

"slender, lofty turret of a mosque," typically rising by stages and having one or more projecting balconies around it, 1680s, from French minaret, from a Turkish pronunciation of Arabic manarah, manarat "minaret," also "lamp, lighthouse," which is related to manar "candlestick," a derivative of nar "fire;" compare Hebrew ner "lamp" (see menorah).

Menorah was the term for the lampstand with seven lamps first established for the roaming Tabernacle, and then later in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was famously lit again by the Maccabees, when the Temple was rededicated, after the Greeks had defiled it. This is commemorated in the holiday of Chanukah. During that holiday, a lamp is lit with additional candles every night, reaching eight candles on the last night, plus one extra (ninth) candle used to light the others. 

To distinguish between the menorah used in the Temple and what was lit in homes on Chanukah, traditionally the latter was called menorat chanukah מנורת חנוכה, although some people used menorah for both. Sephardic and Balkan Jews used the term chanukiya חנוכייה (with the accent on the second to last syllable - chanuKIya), and that term was introduced into modern Hebrew by Hemda Ben Yehuda (Eliezer Ben Yehuda's wife). 

Today in Israel menorah refers to the lamp in the Temple, the symbol of the State of Israel (which was modeled on the biblical menorah) and for "lamp" in general. Chanukiya (with the accent on the last symbol) is used for the lamp lit on Chanukah.

Menorah derives from the root  נור, and other words related to lamps also come from the same source. Ner נר means "candle" and nurah נורה means "bulb."

Another related word is sanver - "to blind." It was back formed from sanverim סנורים - "blindness" (as found in Bereshit 19:11). Klein provides the following etymology for sanverim:

According to some scholars, euphemistic use of Akka. shunwuru (= to give light). According to others סַנְוֵרִים is formed from the Siph‘el of נור (= to give light), used euphemistically.

 A sister root to נור is נהר, meaning "to shine." It is found in only a few biblical verses (e.g. Yeshaya 60:5 and Iyov 3:4). But its use in Aramaic is much more common. And just as sanverim means blindness and may have euphemistic origins, the term used in Hebrew for "euphemism" also comes from a phrase meaning blindness: סגי נהור sagi-nahor. It literally means someone with "(more than) enough light", a euphemism for a blind person. That classic case of euphemism has been extended to all euphemisms, which are known as לשון סגי נהור lashon sagi nahor.

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