Hebrew In Israel | Aramaic and Hebrew in Contact: Shabbat the Queen? – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Aramaic and Hebrew in Contact: Shabbat the Queen? – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

Very commonly people refer to Shabbat as a “Queen” and the famous song “Lekha Dodi” uses the female imagery under the word “Bride”.  However, the word “Queen” is probably a mistake, and is based on a mishearing when words sound the same.  We also find in our case an attempt to reconcile two different parts of the Talmudic text which are the origins of this word formulation.

The form used in Hebrew is based on the Aramaic form מלכא-Malka which is a definite masculine form for “The King”.  Hebrew has a similar sounding feminine which resembles the word in Aramaic.  The Hebrew has the singular feminine מלכה – Malkah which is “Queen”.  One may argue that in time by mishearing the Aramaic many tried to read the word מלכא as מלכה and confused the genders between the languages.

This possible mishearing developed even more and people started to rewrite the word as מלכתא which is the proper Aramaic form for Queen.  The origins of this practice to call Shabbat by such a name originated in the Talmud Bavli Shabbat 119:a and Baba Qama 32:b where it states:

רבי חנינא מיעטף וקאי אפניא דמעלי שבתא אמר בואו ונצא לקראת שבת מלכא רבי ינאי לביש מאניה מעלי שבת ואמר בואי כלה בואי כלה

R. Hanina would cover himself [in a cloak] and stand towards the beginning of Shabbat and say: Come, let us go out to greet the Sabbath KING (original text, modern prints “Queen”).

R. Yannai would wear a [special] garment on Sabbath eve and say

Come, bride; come, bride.”

It is interesting to see that the Jewish sages actually would talk about Shabbat in both genders, but the royal term was masculine.  This is common when something is genderless, and we find such changes in Biblical Hebrew.  It is assumed that regional dialects were the cause of these changes.  In time this formula was rewritten to Queen, but early accounts of these texts show that the original word was King.  The Rambam has been the center of this discussion because he, unlike many rabbis, wrote King and not Queen.  This brought forth the question of the corruption of the original word מלכאמלכהמלכתא (to be read from right to left).

However, it is important to point out that due to Midrashic ideas, the Shabbat was seen as a bride that is a feminine manifestation in the world and somewhat paralleled to God (esoteric and Kabbalistic ideas).  Hence we do find rabbis who did see Shabbat as feminized, and this probably affected the transition of the text creating the “Queen” text.

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