Thursday, May 23, 2024

halva'ah and livui

The root לוה has two meanings in Modern Hebrew: "to borrow" and "to accompany, escort." Are they related?

Many modern linguists do not make a connection. For example, Klein lists them as seperate roots:

1) to borrow [Arab. lawā (= he delayed payment of debt).]
2) to join [Aram.-Syr. לְוָא (= he accompanied)]

He does however, note that a third use of לוה, "to wind, turn, twist" is associated with meaning 2 (to join, accompany). For that meaning he provides this etymology: "Arab. lawā (= he wound, turned, twisted), Akka. lamū, lawā (= to surround, encircle)."

There are some scholars, however, who do suggest a common origin. Mitchell First, in his book Words for the Wise (p. 243) notes that both  Mandelkern and TDOT say that a connection is possible. He quotes Mandelkern:
[He] points out that in Lain, a debt is called an "obligation." This word comes from a Latin word leig that means "to bind."

TDOT (Vol 7, p. 477) adds:

Arabic lawa(y), "put off a creditor, delay payment, fail to pay a dept" ... suggests that the basic meaning of the root lwy, "twist, turn" may well be the point of departure for the meaning of the Arabic verb and that Hebrew lawa is likewise just a a special development of this root lwy. We arrive at the same conclusion if we follow Jacob Levy in understanding lawa, "borrow" in the sense of "as if it were attached to or by..."

As often happens in these cases, it's difficult to determine with any certainty whether or not there is a connection between these meanings. 

Each of the uses of the root לוה has provided us with a number of derivative words. Let's take a look at them.

Our first meaning of לוה is "to borrow," or in its piel form "to loan." A loan is a halva'ah הַלְוָאָה, a lender is a malveh מַלְוֶה and the borrower (or debtor) is a lo'veh לוֶֹה. This meaning of לוה is one of those cases where Hebrew has more specific meanings for words than English does. The verb לוה in Hebrew indicates a loan where the actual thing being borrowed is not necessarily expected to return to the loaner. The most common example would be money - when money is lent, there is no expectation that the same coins or bills given to the borrower will be used to repay the debt. 

There is, however, a different root in Hebrew which does refer to the lending of an object which is expected to be directly returned: שאל (and it is not used in regards to money). In English שאל is translated as "to borrow" and the hif'il form, השאיל, means "to lend." In English, there is no such distinction found when using the words "lend" and "borrow," but it is important for Hebrew speakers to choose the word proper for the context of the loan.

The second meaning of לוה is "to join, accompany, escort." This gives us such words as livui לִוּוּי - "escorting, accompanyment" and melaveh  מְלַוֶּה - "accompanier, escort." It's also the origin of the Hebrew word for funeral. A search on the Morfix website provides halvaya הַלְוָיָה for "funeral." However, most dictionaries will offer both halvaya and levaya לְוָיָה. Klein notes that "The more exact form is לְוָיָה." Horowitz (p. 330) goes even further:

הַלְוָיָה  is a funeral, but the word should be לְוָיָה from לוה, escort. The verb הלוה, which would give rise to הַלְוָיָה  means lending. It has nothing to do with escorting. In Yiddish the word is still correctly לְוָיָה.

However, this more recent review by the Hebrew Language Academy points out that neither word (in the sense of "funeral") appears in either Biblical or Talmudic literature, and that both appear for the first time in Medieval rabbinic literature. After reviewing the history of the words, it determines that both forms are legitimate. 

Other more modern words from this meaning include lavyan לַוְיָן - "satellite" (a loan translation of the Russian sputnik, meaning "traveling companion") and lavay לְוַאי - "side" or "after" (as in a side effect or aftertaste.)

The third meaning, "to wind, twist, turn," does seem not appear directly with that meaning as a verb. From what I can tell, it is assumed based on the Arabic cognate of the same meaning (lawa) and the Hebrew words that derive from it. Klein provides three: 

  • לִוְיָה livya and לוֹיָה loya  - both meaning "wreath" (the first in Mishlei 1:9 and 4:9, the second in Melachim I 7:29,36)
  • לִוְיָתָן livyatan - the creature "Leviathan". Klein writes that it literarlly means "tortuous." It is variously identified as a serprent, dragon, crocodile, or whale. Feliks, in Nature and Man in the Bible (pp 267-269) notes that in the book of Iyov (from 40:25 to 41:26) there are verses where the livyatan is clearly a crocodile (e.g, 40:29) and others where it is clearly a whale (e.g., 41:11-12). Feliks concludes that "the author of the Book of Job ... decided to synthesize two wondrous creatures of great strength, and invented the leviathan."
Lastly, we have the name Levi לֵוִי. This son of Yaakov and Leah gets his name in Bereshit 29:34 -

וַתַּהַר עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתֹּאמֶר עַתָּה הַפַּעַם יִלָּוֶה אִישִׁי אֵלַי כִּי־יָלַדְתִּי לוֹ שְׁלֹשָׁה בָנִים עַל־כֵּן קָרָא־שְׁמוֹ לֵוִי׃

The translation of this verse is affected by the understanding and use of the root לוה. JPS translates it as:

Again she conceived and bore a son and declared, “This time my husband will become attached to me, for I have borne him three sons.” Therefore he was named Levi. 
This translation understands לוה as "attached" as we saw in sense 2 ("to accompany.") Other translations, like Fox and Alter, have the phrase as "my husband will join me" or "will be joined to me." 

Tawil, however, in his An Akkadian Leixcal Companion for Biblical Hebrew, leans closer to sense 3:

"and she (Leah) declared, 'this time my huband shall encircle (i.e., accompany) me', therefore he was named Levi (i.e., the one who encircles" (Gen. 29:34). [...] Whereas Anchor Bible Dictionary asserts that "the meaning of the name is uncertain," it seems that the equation with the Akk. lawu "to encircle, to move in a circle" depicts the actual function of the Levites, whose task was to encircle, i.e., protect the Tent of Meeting, e.g., וְנִלְווּ עָלֶיךָ וְשָׁמְרוּ אֶת־מִשְׁמֶרֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לְכֹל עֲבֹדַת הָאֹהֶל וְזָר לֹא־יִקְרַב אֲלֵיכֶם׃ "they (the Levites) shall move in a circle around you and discharge the duties of the Tent of Meeting, all the service of the Tent, but no outsider shall intrude upon you" (Num. 18:4)
This is in contrast as well to Sarna in his JPS commentary on Genesis 29:34, who wrote:

The true origin of this name is obscure. A similar word in Akkadian and in Minaean inscriptions from northern Arabia designates a special class of temple servitors, but the present midrash, unlike that of Numbers 18:2,4 contains no hint of any future sacral role. The name is given a purely secular twist, for it articulates the mother's yearning for her husband's companionship. 
It seems to me that Sarna looked at the same evidence that Tawil did, but came to very different conclusions. I find it difficult to agree that the verse "contains no hint of any future sacral role." Perhaps it does not spell it out visibly, but anyone familar with the sense provided by the Akkadian and Arabic roots would understand the foreshadowing of the role that appears for the Levites in Bamidbar, as Tawil sensibly points out. 

No comments: