Etymology of Modern Hebrew: Election Edition
Almost all Hebrew words are built upon root letters called a shoresh (שורש, “root”), and are formed in such ways where small manipulations can create many different but related meanings. The election season gives us a great opportunity to see the adaptive use of Hebrew roots—most of them ancient in origin—for modern usage. Below are some of the words which are commonplace during the election cycle in Israel.
בְּחִירוֹת shares its three-letter root ב-ח-ר (b-ch-r) with the words livchor (לִבְחוֹר, “to choose”), b’chirah (בְּחִירָה, “choice”), and nivchar (נִבְחַר, “chosen”).
What does it mean to be a leader? מַנְהִיג shares its three-letter root נ-ה-ג (n-h-g) with the words linhog (לִנְהוֹג, “to drive”), minhag (מִנְהָג, “tradition” or “habit”), and l’hitnaheg (לְהִתְנַהֵג, “to behave”).
ISRAELI PARLIAMENT: כְּנֶסֶת
There are 120 members in HaKnesset (הַכְּנֶסֶת)—the same number of members as the Jewish legislative body in the land of Israel at the beginning of the Second Temple period (6th century BCE). כְּנֶסֶת shares its three-letter root כ-נ-ס (k-n-s) with the nouns beit knesset (בֵּית כְּנֶסֶת, “synagogue,” lit. “house of assembly”), kenes (כֶּנֶס, “convention”), nes (נֵס, “miracle”), and knisah (כְּנִיסָה, “entrance”).
Presidents are elected by the Knesset for a single seven-year term. This word comes directly from the Torah, describing leaders from each of the 12 tribes of Israel (Numbers 4:34). It shares its three-letter root נ-ש-א (n-s-a) with the verb laset (לַשְּׂאֵת, “to carry” or “to marry”) and the word lehitna’seh (לְהִתְנַשֵּׂא, “to be high,” “above all else,” or “to be arrogant”). This same root is also found in masa (מַשָּׂא, “burden,” or in the bible, “prophecy”).
מוּעֲמָד shares a three-letter root ע-מ-ד (a-m-d) with many everyday Hebrew words, including la’amod (לַעֲמוֹד, “to stand”), amidah (עֲמִידָה, the central prayer in every service, lit. “standing”), and amid (עָמִיד, “durable”). This root is also in the phrase emdat hatzba’ah (עֶמְדַּת הַצְבָּעָה, “voting booth”).
The derivative word l’hatzbiah (לְהַצְבִּיעַ, “to vote”) can also mean “to point” or “to indicate.” These verbs share the three-letter root צ-ב-ע (ts-b-a) with etzbah (אֶצְבַּע, “finger”). When using the expression “by show of hands,” many North Americans raise their open hands, while many Israelis raise closed hands with only their index finger extended.
1. In what ways is “leadership” within Judaism comprised of “driving” and “tradition”? In what ways is leadership behavior-based?
2. What is the role of a president or leader in Israel or any country? How might “carrying” be associated with leadership?
3. What connections can be seen between government, gathering, entering, and synagogues?