Skip to main content

Full text of "A Misunderstood Word"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 

By Samuel Krauss, Vienna. 

Not only the Greek and Roman loan-words in the 
Talmud and Midrash, to which I have devoted a separate 
work, but even quite common Semitic terms of the same 
literature are still misinterpreted, for the simple reason that 
the facts and data constituting the life of the ancient Jews 
are given no consideration. 

This somewhat bitter truth will be illustrated by the 
following example : 

R. Nathan of Rome, author of the 'Aruk, has preserved 
for us, among many other treasures for which we are indebted 
to him, an old Midrash (from the Yelamdenu), 1 which 
reads as follows : no bai^r> nnjn 'ens pj»e>n apy nvn mo^a 
paw pane' aca /onan twaa nwn i»j?d haw ynbtf. 'n 
jmitsn D^ip^> a^pD ysi d^vn m» •ok mina o»pMjn wjuj nwwj 

In this otherwise simple statement it is only the word 
nVJUJ that offers some difficulty. The lexicographers are 
perplexed. Levy disregarded it altogether and does not 
quote it at all. Kohut endeavours to explain it by the 
Greek KQivuvla=communion. It is hardly necessary to prove 
that this is wrong. Kohut, it is true, supports his opinion 
by quoting a similar Midrash to the same passage in 

1 'Aruk, p 6 (ed. Venice 53 a, ed. Kohut II, 315). 

2 Cant. 8. 13. The citation includes D^Tan and does not, as Kohut 
believes, end with D'OH. 



Canticles, 3 which reads thus : vtbv&\ i3N tFon pip nnJttSO 
i?)jb tmwpo J?&, and accordingly WJ1M should be on a par 
with D'Han. But Kohut himself remarks that in the Rabba 
passage the difficult word was omitted because the copyists 
failed to understand it. Who will vouch then that they 
have rendered correctly the sense of the passage by the use 
of ftnin ? To me it is evident that there are several hag- 
gadic explanations to the same verse in Canticles ; * the 
one made use of the expression nVJlM , the other employed 
DH3PI. These are indeed similar but not identical terms. 

Ben Jehuda, the author of the very useful and scholarly 
dictionary of the entire Hebrew literature, 6 admits openly 
that the etymology of the word is unknown to him, yet he 
believes that he hit upon the sense by translating it with 
' class '. He is right in giving JTWJ as the singular. 

It is the merit of Jastrow to have come much nearer to 
the meaning of the word. 6 He derives it from psa = couch, 
and translates the sentence as follows : ' when the students 
at college sit 'l 'i arranged by couches (school forms).' 
According to this interpretation an allusion is made to 
a definite arrangement of seats in the rabbinic schools, and 
it is conceivable that the haggadists would utilize just such 
a feature of the scholarly life, since indeed the latter was 
especially dear to them. The similarity with the sentence 
that one should read (the ])0& nxnp or other biblical 
extracts) in conjunction with friends (D'nan) suggests itself 
at once, since haberim are primarily men of the learned 

3 Cant, rabba to 8. 13. 

4 As a matter of fact there are several interpretations in Cant, rabba, 
loc. at. 

nnayn ptJ^n \bo, p- 8n. 

6 Dictionary of the Targumim, &c, p. 258. 


guild, and since this word is actually found in the scriptural 
text as well as in the fragment of the Yelamdenu. 

We continue now on this road and explain rWUJ as 
a feature of the ancient scholarly life. The Neo-Hebraic 
idiom is built upon the vocabulary of the Aramaic lan- 
guage, 7 and hence it must not be surprising if we have 
recourse to the Aramaic also this time. WMUJ or snwj 
means in Aramaic or Syriac a little garden, garden of the 
house, hortulus? Formations like 1V31M (fr. pi) are e.g. nwn 
(fr. W>n), nhb& (fr. 9?&), and JVJIH (fr. 33l).° As a matter of 
fact the Hebrew JVlWJ 10 has been combined by Segal with 
the Aramaic NrWlM . The plural nvoua is formed exactly as 
the plural nvM>n. With this the grammatical side of the 
word is sufficiently explained. But there is also no reason 
why the meaning should be sought elsewhere than in the 
word itself; the word denotes, as stated above, a small 
garden, a bed. 

From the life of the ancient rabbis it is necessary to 
know that they exercised their preceptorial activities in the 
open field and in gardens. 11 I have proved 12 that the 
expression WW rn"l1E> 'in single rows', occurring in the 
arrangement of seats for the rabbis is to be explained in 
this way, that the assemblies of the rabbis actually took 
place in vineyards, where the sitting in rows was a natural 
consequence. In the open field such an arrangement of 

7 M. H. Segal, Mftuaic Hebrew (Oxford, 1909, reprinted from JQR. for 
July, 1908), p. 8. 

8 Levy, I, 348 ; Kohut, II, 313 ; Jastrow, p. 258. 

9 See Segal, op. tit., p. 65 f. 

10 p"P bv rWIM, b. Berakot 43 b. 

11 See my Talmudische Arch'dologie, HI, 205. 

12 ' Die VersammlungsstiUte der Talmudgelehrten ' in Lewy-Festschrtft 
(Breslau, 1911), p. 2a. 



seats is called irpcunal Trpcunai (Mark 6. 40), in Hebrew 
perhaps rttJViy TWVJ. To these expressions, formed always 
by the iteration of the word, there is now added as third in 
number our equally doubled JlYOttJ nfSOi ' in form of small 
beds '. The word thus obtains its meaning without force. 
The meaning of the whole Midrash is now as follows : 

The passage in Cant. 8. 13 speaks of listening to the 
voices of those who sit together as friends (D'Han). The 
mere word nnan reminds the haggadists of the learned men 
who raise their voices either in the school-house or in the 
house of worship. The Midrash ad locum has haggadic 
sayings for both of these alternatives. Yet it is preferable 
to think of the seating arrangement for the scholars in the 
school-house, and it is in reference to this that the haggadist 
says: 'Those who sit there in form of small gardens, 13 
indulging in the study of the law — to them I (God) descend, 
listen to their voice, and hear them.' 

,s I. e. in groups or classes.