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. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

tiron and turai

After a soldier enlists in the Israeli army, there are two words to describe him (or her, although I'm providing the male forms of the words): טִירוֹן tiron - "new recruit" and טוּרַאי turai - "private" (his initial rank). While the two words apply to a similar time in the military, and look somewhat similar, they are actually not related etymologically.

Tiron entered Hebrew in the rabbinic period, borrowed from the Latin tiro. The English word "tyro" has the same meaning and origin:

"a beginner in learning anything," 1610s, from Medieval Latin tyro, variant of Latin tiro (plural tirones) "young soldier, recruit, beginner"

That Online Etymology Dictionary entry says that the pre-Latin origin is unknown, but Nicholas Ostler, in his book Ad Infinitum, says derives from Etruscan, which provided other military terms to Latin as well.

The more general sense of "novice" is seen in the early uses of tiron in Hebrew. For example, see this midrash:

 בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁנִּגְלָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַל משֶׁה טִירוֹן הָיָה משֶׁה לַנְּבוּאָה

"At the moment that The Holy One blessed be He appeared to Moses, Moses was a novice at prophecy" (Shemot Rabbah 3:1)

Today as well tiron can have that meaning, but it seems to me that it may be more influenced from its use in the military (since so many Israelis serve in the army) as opposed to its more ancient origins.

In contrast, turai is of much more recent coinage. Linguists such as Gilad and Rosenthal note that it was coined by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Edwin Samuel in World War I. Rosenthal is quoted here:

In later years, Ze’ev Jabotinsky – who served in the Jewish Legion in World War I together with Edwin Samuel, the son of the first High Commissioner of Palestine Herbert Samuel – published a two-page glossary of commands in Hebrew. One of their innovations was the rank of turai (private) since they marched in line formation (tor).

Others, such as Kutscher, point out that turai was likely influenced by the Russian word for "private" (not surprising considering Jabotinsky's background.)

That Russian word is рядовой (ryadovoy), related to the word meaning "row." It also has the sense of "rank and file," which has a similar meaning in English:

1590s, in reference to the horizontal and vertical lines of soldiers marching in formation, from rank (n.) in the military sense of "number of soldiers drawn up in a line abreast" (1570s) + file (n.1). Thence generalized to "common soldiers" (1796) and "common people, general body" of any group (1860).

So based on the Hebrew tur טור - "row", Jabotinsky and Samuel came up with turai. Rosenthal adds that there was actually a suggestion to change it to shurai שוראי or shuran שורן, from the synonym for row in Hebrew, shura שורה, but that was never adopted.

Monday, January 08, 2024


How did the word בְּדִימוֹס bedimos (sometimes pronounced bedimus) come to mean "retired, emeritus "?

In Talmudic literature, we find the word dimos דִימוֹס meaning "pardoned, acquitted." For example:

 אמר לו הואיל והאמנתי עליך דימוס פטור אתה

"The officer said to him: Since you put your trust in me, you are acquitted [dimos]; you are exempt." (Bavli Avoda Zara 16b)

 בְּנוֹהַג שֶׁבְּעוֹלָם מֶלֶךְ בָּשָׂר וָדָם יוֹשֵׁב וְדָן כְּשֶׁהוּא נוֹתֵן דִּימוּס הַכֹּל מְקַלְּסִין אוֹתוֹ

"Usually in the world, if a king of flesh and blood sits in judgment, if he dismisses [dimus] (=throws out the indictment), everybody acclaims him." (Yerushalmi Berachot 9:5)

Klein provides the following etymology:

דִּימוֹס m.n.  PBH  1 he was freed, was acquitted.   NH  2 he resigned (from office).  [Probably from Latin dīmissus, p. part. of dīmittere (= to send away, dismiss, release), from – (= apart, asunder), and mittere (= to send). .] 
This makes dimos cognate with the English "dismiss":

early 15c., dismissen, "release from court restraint or legal charges;" late 15c., "remove from office, service, or employment," apparently from Latin dimissus, past participle of dimittere "send away, send different ways; break up, discharge; renounce, abandon," 
But I asked about the form bedimos. Where does it come from?

We also find it in Rabbinic Hebrew. For example here:

בִּשְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה יָצָא בְּדִימוּס. אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְאָדָם, זֶה סִימָן לְבָנֶיךָ כְּשֵׁם שֶׁעָמַדְתָּ לְפָנַי בַּדִּין הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וְיָצָאתָ בְּדִימוּס, כָּךְ עֲתִידִין בָּנֶיךָ לַעֲמֹד לְפָנַי בַּדִּין בְּיוֹם זֶה וְיוֹצְאִין לְפָנַי בְּדִימוּס, אֵימָתַי בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ.

"In the twelfth [month], [Adam] was pardoned [yatza bedimus]. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Adam, 'This is a sign for your children: In the same way that you stood in front of Me in judgement on this day and were pardoned, so too in the future will your children stand in front of Me in judgement on this day and be pardoned in front of Me.'" (Vayikra Rabbah 29:1)

This is the meaning until modern times. Why then, did it change from "pardoned" to "retired"?

The linguist Elon Gilad answers the question in this article. He notes that the first time we find the modern sense of the word is in 1890, when Nahum Sokolow wrote in his newspaper that "before Bismarck retired [yatza bedimos]..." After writing that phrase, "יצא ביסמארק בדימוּס", he adds the following word in parentheses: דימיסיאן. Sokolow does not note what language this foreign word is being transliterated from. 

Gilad proposes it's a Yiddish word, coming from the Polish dymisja, meaning "resignation" or "dismissal" from a position. His theory is that this Yiddish meaning is what influenced the change in meaning in Modern Hebrew. Zuckermann here concurs, noting other European languages with cognate words with similar meanings, including Russian demissiya, French demission, and Italian dimissioni. All of these words derive from the Latin dimissio and dimittere (to send away, dismiss) - just as the Hebrew dimos does. The only difference is that dimos took on the sense of "freed from judgement," while the European words also included "freed from a position," i.e., "resigned."

In Gilad's article, he continues by writing that the phrase yatza bedimos spread widely in the early 20th century, and by the 1930s, retired officers were already being referred to simply with the phrase bedimos (without the verb yatza). By the middle of the century, bedimos had generally replaced yatza bedimos. It is typically used to refer to people who retired from high-level positions, like judges or military officers. The word dimos, without the preposition be, is rarely, if ever, found in Hebrew today.

Tuesday, January 02, 2024


What is the origin of the word andarta אַנְדַּרְטָה - "monument, memorial"?

The word first appears in rabbinic Hebrew, where it was spelled אַנְדְּרָטָא. The meaning in those sources in the Talmud, midrashim, and Targumim is "statue" and usually had the negative associations with idolatry and worshipped statues of emperors and kings.

That original meaning is reflected in the etymology as well. Here's Klein's entry:

PBH, respectively NH feminine noun. statue, image, bust.  [Gk. andrias, genitive andriatos (= the image of a man, statue), from aner, genitive andros (= man), which is cognate with Old Indian náram (= man), na’ryaḥ (= virile). compare דֶּנֽדִּי and the first element in אַנְדּֽרוֹלוֹמוּסְיָא, אַנְדּֽרוֹמֶדָה and in אַנְתּֽרוֹפּוֹלוֹגֽיָה.] 

The reference to the Greek andrias and andros ("man") makes andarta cognate with such English words as anthropology, android, and the name Andrew.

But did you notice that Klein only gave the definitions "statue, image, bust"? Those are indeed the meanings found in rabbinic Hebrew, as we mentioned. But why not "monument, memorial"? Here Klein is likely following Ben-Yehuda, who has no entry for andarta in the dictionary compiled in the first half of the 20th century. So when did it take on its current meaning?

Both the linguist Ruvik Rosenthal and the columnist "Philologos" wrote about this. Philologos writes :

With the end of Greco-Roman antiquity — and with it, the custom of publicly displayed royal statuary — the word andarta disappeared from the Hebrew language. In the first volume of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s monumental Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, which came out in 1908 and included all Hebrew words starting with the letter alef, andarta did not even appear. The first prominent modern memorial to fallen Jewish heroes in Palestine, Abraham Melnikov’s 1934 statue of a roaring lion, commemorating the pioneers who died in the 1920 battle of Tel Hai in the Galilee, was not called an andarta, either. It was referred to as a matseva — a word traditionally designating the headstone on a grave.

It is hard to say just when andarta entered Hebrew as the accepted word for a war memorial of the sort found all over Israel today. The earliest documented use of it is, oddly, in some light verse published in 1950 by Nathan Alterman, a leading 20th-century Hebrew poet with a strong grasp of Jewish sources. Reacting to a government refusal to cancel purchase taxes on books and paper because they were not considered crucial commodities, Alterman wrote that if this was the official attitude, it was time to erect an andarta shel even, “a stone monument,” to the printed word. Perhaps it was he who reintroduced andarta to modern Hebrew; perhaps there were others before him. 

Rosenthal notes that the new meaning (along with the modern spelling) began after the founding of the State of Israel, when people began commemorating the many fallen soldiers in memorial monuments. He adds that in 1952, in the journal Leshonenu La'am, a reader asked about the origin of the word andarta, noting that it was recently being used to describe memorials. In response, the linguist Eli Eitan wrote that the new use of the word was objectionable, since the memorials weren't statues of people, and so better alternatives would be the Hebrew words מצבה matzevah or יד yad

Neither columnist, however, really explains why this new meaning of andarta was introduced and became so popular that it overruled the objections of official linguists.

My theory is one that I've mentioned many times. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the Hebrew language abhors synonyms. When two words have the same meaning, one will begin to take on a new meaning, particularly one that there's no good match for at the time.

It's true that the original meaning of andarta was "statue." But Hebrew already has its own word for statue - pesel פסל. And yes, as Eitan noted there are already words for monument - matzevah and yad. Yet the common meaning of matzevah is "tombstone," not the more general "monument". And while yad does mean "memorial" (as in the biblical source of the name of the museum Yad Vashem), certainly the word yad is overwhelmingly associated with its primary meaning, "hand." 

So when some clever individual (or individuals) saw that andarta was up for grabs, they "converted" it into its modern meaning of "memorial monument of a person or event". Nothing unusual here - that's just how language works!