Author Archives: Shlomo Karni

The Akeidah Revisited

Prof Shlomo Karni / The maxim דִּבְּרָה תּוֹרָה כִּלְשוֹן בְּנֵי אָדָם , ‘the language of the Torah is that of [ordinary] people’, was used by our Sages to explain why exegesis, מִדְרָש , is not applied to every verse in the Torah; many verses are to be read and understood in a straightforward manner. We invoke this idea, with a slight variation, in the discussion that follows. Also, in this discussion, we use a comparison of a two-dimensional (2-D) world and a three-dimensional (3-D) one. Consider a “flat” world in which only length and width exist, but no height, or thickness (mathematically: there are only x- and y- axes, no z-axis). The denizens of this 2-D world, with their innately limited 2-D minds, cannot possibly envision anything but “flat”.

Read More »

Speaking Figuratively

Guest post by Prof. Shlomo Karni Shlomo Karni was Professor of Electrical Engineering and Religious Studies at University of New Mexico until his retirement in 1999. His books include Dictionary of Basic Biblical Hebrew:Hebrew-English (Jerusalem: Carta, 2002). Expressing oneself figuratively (In Hebrew: בְּהַשְאָלָה , “in a manner of lending” [1] ) , is one mode to show the richness and ...

Read More »

When "This" Is Not "This"

Guest post by Prof. Shlomo Karni Shlomo Karni was Professor of Electrical Engineering and Religious Studies at University of New Mexico until his retirement in 1999. His books include Dictionary of Basic Biblical Hebrew:Hebrew-English (Jerusalem: Carta, 2002). The demonstrative term “this” in Hebrew is זֶה for masculine singular, indicating: someone/something near or far: (זֶה סֵפֶר תּוֹלְדֹת אָדָם (בר’ 5:1 (וְזֶה ...

Read More »

On The Prefix ‘Vav’

Prof Shlomo Karni / The prefix “ו” belongs with the group of the other prefixes, ב, כ, ל, presented here in an earlier note [1], and it follows their general rules. However, it deserves a separate exposition due to a unique property that it has, not shared with the other prefixes. A. As the conjunction “and”, it is normally vowel-less, i.e., marked with a ‘sheva’: וְאִיש, וְהָאִיש . Exceptions to this rule are: 1). Before the letters ב, ו, מ, פ it is voweled with a ‘shuruk’:

Read More »

Idioms: Then and Now

Prof Shlomo Karni / Biblical and rabbinical literatures are rich in idioms, פְּנִינֵי לָשוֹן, which resonate uniquely in the language. Throughout the ages, some have preserved their original meaning; others got modified; yet others gave rise to new , often unexpected meanings, illustrating (again) the liveliness of our language. Let us consider a few: The ancient ruling "שוֹפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּפֵךְ" "Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen. 9:6) with its elemental meaning and homophonic rhythm, established a principle of criminal justice, to this day.

Read More »

The Case of the Disappearing ‘Nun’

Prof Shlomo Karni / Our starting point is Adam’s assertion (Gen. 2:23) “… לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּה כִּי מֵאִיש לֻקָחָה-זֹאת” which is problematic from the etymological point of view. We discuss briefly this point for the words אִיש, אִשָּה , and their relatives. Linguistic authorities [1], [2], [3] agree that there is no proven root relation between אִיש and אִשָּה. Here are the main points: The etymology of אִיש is uncertain, although several ancient languages have similar words: In Arabic we have ‘ins’ and ‘insan’, in Phoenician — ‘n‘sh’. Those are clearly related to the word אֱנוֹש; as a masculine, singular, indefinite noun it is a synonym to אִיש, unrelated to it, but related to its plural form אֲנָשִים. The plural אִישִים is rare (3 times in the Bible); in Modern Hebrew it means ‘personalities’, ‘VIPs’.

Read More »

‘To Have’ and ‘Not to Have’

In a previous note[1], we discussed the Hebrew verb ‘to be’, with its unique properties and expressions. Similarly, the Hebrew verbs ‘to have’ and ‘not to have’ possess their own unique properties and expressions, with an affinity to ‘to be’ in the past and future tenses. The basic form of ‘to have’ is יֵש לְ... ‘there is to…’, with the appropriate pronominal suffixes or nouns. Similarly, ‘not to have’ is formed with אֵין לְ... ‘there is not to…’, and so יֵש לִי כֶּסֶף = ‘ I have money’; אֵין לִי כֶּסֶף = ‘I don’t have money’. הָיָה לִי כֶּסֶף= ‘I had money’; לֹא יִהְיֶה לִי כֶּסֶף= ’I will not have money’.

Read More »

One Preposition That’s Two

Prof Shlomo Karni / The preposition אֵת or אֶת- has two distinct meanings, with some variants in each one: A. It is chiefly used as a marker before a definite, direct object following a transitive verb: בְּרֵאשִית בָּרָא אֱלֹקִים אֶת הַשָּמַיִם וְאֶת הָארֶץ :בראשית א1 the transitive verb being ברא and its two definite, direct objects השמים and הארץ. At times, but less frequently, it precedes an indefinite object: וְאִיש אֲשֶר יִקַּח אֶת אִשָּה :ויקרא כ 14 here אשה is the indefinite direct object of the verb יקח.

Read More »


Prof Shlomo Karni / In last week’s parashah, כִּי תָבוֹא ,we find — yes — another ‘hapax legomenon’. The verb הֶאֱמִיר appears only in Deut.26:17 – 18. (Strictly speaking, it is not a ‘hapax’, since it appears twice – but in close proximity, and with equal vagueness. ): “אֶת ה’ הֶאֱמַרְתָּ הַיּוֹם… וה’ הֶאֱמִירְךָ הַיּוֹם… ” Grammatically, the root is א-מ-ר , a very common verb, but used here in its rare causative stem of הִפְעִיל. Several explanations exist, e.g., Rashi notes that this word “has no other proving witness in the Bible”—Rashi’s own expression for ‘hapax legomenon’ — and he offers “to separate Israel (from all other nations and make it a precious people).” Ibn Ezra relates this verb form to the noun אָמִיר ,’ tree top’, and, by extension, to ‘elevate’. He also explains the causative form literally as, “to make you say that Hashem is your God.” Ramban and Sforno go along with ‘elevate’. The JPS translation reads “affirm”, with a footnote saying, “Nuance of the Hebrew uncertain.”

Read More »

Some Are Harder Than Others

Prof Shlomo Karni / In two previous notes (Sept. 20, 2011 and Oct. 11, 2011) we wrote about the class of unique words in the Bible, each appearing only once (‘hapax legomenon’). The Academy of the Hebrew Language in Jerusalem has named such a word מִלָּה יְחִידָאִית , from ‘single’=יָחִיד. We noted there the challenge and difficulties in getting at the meaning of such a word, since there is only the one context within which it appears. Here, we classify broadly the degrees of difficulties for this task:

Read More »

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

The latest weekly digest is also available by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter