Author Archives: Shlomo Karni

What’s In A Name?

Prof Shlomo Karni / A Biblical given name is often derived from, and commemorates, an event (such as the circumstances of a birth), the nature of the person or place, acts or fate of the person, etc. Such a derivation is usually done through a play on words. At times, such a play is masterful and right on target, at others – somewhat off. Let us revisit a few of these: (this discussion is limited to the פְּשָׁט of the text)

Read More »

The Power of a Vowel

Prof Shlomo Karni / Solomon son of David proffers a sound piece of advice regarding modesty when he says, יְהַלֶּלְךָ זָר וְלׂא פִיךָ (משלי 27:2) “Let a stranger praise you, not your own mouth” (Prov. 27:2) Enter modern vernacular Hebrew: Sassy, street-smart, with a twinkle of mischief in its eye, it changes the שוואin the word ולא into a קמץ , and – presto! – the entire meaning of this adage is upended, יהללך זר וָלא פיך

Read More »

Jacob’s Sigh

Prof Shlomo Karni / Of the three Patriarchs, Jacob had arguably the harshest life, as a fighter and a survivor. When he pleads with God, “…with my staff alone I crossed this Jordan…” (Gen. 32:11), we hear the anguish and pain that accompanied all his ordeals with Laban and with Esau. In a similar way, we read the story of the end of his life. On his deathbed, Jacob speaks his last words to each of his twelve sons. He addresses first Reuben, then Simon and Levy, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, and Dan.

Read More »

These Are A Few Of My Favorite ‘Hapaxes’

Prof Shlomo Karni / Of the some 1,500 ‘hapax legomena’ in the Tanach, here are but a few. Each entry lists the word (in Hebrew), followed by the source (in Hebrew); the English translation of King James’ Version (AV); the English translation of the Jewish Publications Society Of America, 1967 (JPS); the current meaning(s) in Hebrew, with appropriate comments.

Read More »

Biblical Hebrew, Then and Now

Prof Shlomo Karni / As slaves in Egypt, did the children of Israel enjoy watermelons? Did young David go into a decisive battle carrying a school bag? Was there electricity in ancient Babylonia, during the exile and the time of the prophet Ezekiel? Curious? Read on. Scholars of the Hebrew language discovered that some 80% of Modern Hebrew is based on biblical Hebrew. Imagine, for a moment, that a time- machine could transport King David to today’s Jerusalem — a time span of some 3,000 years. He would manage quite well, thank you, with his Hebrew.

Read More »

A Midrash and a Modern Hebrew Colloquialism

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). In the story of Jacob and Rachel, he falls instantly in love with her and tells her father Laban, “I will serve you seven years ...

Read More »

The OED and Rashi

by Prof. Shalom Karni / In its latest supplement, that venerable authority on the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), gives legitimacy to several Internet-born acronyms. Among them are WAG (wives and girlfriends, when referring to the entourage of celebrities), LOL (laughing out loud), and OMG (Oh my God). True to its meticulous search for sources, the OED mentions that the acronym OMG was first used in 1917—some time before the Internet—by a British naval officer.

Read More »

The 'Polite' Imperative

by Prof. Shlomo Karni / In several places in our Bible, the Hebrew imperative is followed by ‘lecha’, ‘lach’, or ‘lachem’, as appropriate. We examine here four typical examples: ‘Lech lecha’ (Gen. 12:1), when God commands Abram to leave his homeland and go to the Promised Land. ‘Lech lecha’ (Gen. 22:2), when God orders Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. ‘Shuvu lachem’ (Deut. 5:27), when Moses tells the children of Israel to return to their tents. ‘Lech berach lecha’ (Amos 7:12) when King Amaziah tells the prophet Amos to go away to the land of Judah. (Other examples include Gen. 22:5, Gen. 27:43, Num. 13:2, and S. of S. 1:8, 2:13.)

Read More »

It’s The Punctuation,…!

by Professor Shlomo Karni / In her delightful book “Eats Shoots & Leaves”, Lynn Truss drives home the point with the following story: A panda walks into a restaurant, orders a sandwich, eats it, then, on his way out, draws a gun and fires two shots. The alarmed waiter asks “Why?” In reply, the panda pulls out a badly punctuated wildlife manual and shows him the entry for ‘panda’: “Large black-and-white mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” “So,” writes Truss, “punctuation really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.”

Read More »

It’s All in a Word: On Translating Genesis 1:1-3

by Professor Shlomo Karni / Translations are notoriously difficult when different languages fail to match precisely. This is evident in the very first verse of the Bible, where translators into English struggled to convey the meaning of the Hebrew text. On examining two English versions of the opening verses in Genesis, we find that categorizing a key word as an adverb rather than a noun resolves these difficulties. The two most common English translations of Genesis 1:1-3 are: (a) 1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the water. 3. God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.

Read More »

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

The latest weekly digest is also available by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter