Hebrew In Israel | Kerem – Learn Hebrew Online

Hebrew In Israel | Kerem – Learn Hebrew Online

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The prophet Yisha’ayahu tells the story of a vineyard:

אָשִׁירָה נָּא לִידִידִי, שִׁירַת דּוֹדִי לְכַרְמוֹ:  כֶּרֶם הָיָה לִידִידִי, בְּקֶרֶן בֶּן-שָׁמֶן
I want to sing a song for someone I love, a song about my loved one and his vineyard.  My loved one had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.”  Isaiah 5:1

The section in question is a parable where the prophet compares Israel to a vineyard with a high potential for growth.  The owner, who is very devoted to his field, does every action possible to help his investment to grow.  This investment is one of the most important plants in the Mediterranean, and functioned as a catalyst in generating surplus and wealth.  However, the translation “vineyard” can be incorrect, and we might be looking at a late interpretation of the word כֶּרֶם-Kerem.

Kerem in BH

Though the translation commonly used for Kerem is Vineyard, we actually know that it has a more general meaning of “planted orchard”.  In time, the word which replaced Kerem as orchard was פרדס- Pardes.  Pardes is derived from the Persian word “pairi-daēza”, leaving the word Kerem for vineyards (Polysemy).  Hence we have witnessed a change of use which might have generated a mistranslation of the Hebrew word.  This mistranslation is of no one’s fault because the word meaning changed in Hebrew, leaving the translator with no options.  Another point to make is the understanding that the meaning of Kerem is an orchard which was planted near the home of the farmer.  In time when farming practices changed, and only the vineyards became the common plant to grow near the farmers home, it took over in meaning.

A possible translation

Now that we have seen the possible original meaning, we have a hint to what kind of orchard the prophet is talking about.  I will say that no matter what I argue, a vineyard is still a possible translation.  However, I see a possible hint in the end of the verse.  The verse ends with בְּקֶרֶן בֶּן-שָׁמֶן, which has been translated as “very fertile hill”.  Though I do not argue that the hill was fertile, I do want to focus on the word שָׁמֶן.  The word is derived from the “fat, oil and fertile” and might actually be the name of an actual place and not just a general place of good soil.  It is possible that we are looking at a place where olive trees were grown, giving that name a double meaning–fertile and oil.  If this is true, it leaves us with a second option that the orchard was an olive grove. We do find that Kerem can be used for olives in Judges 15:5 where Shimshon burns the field of the Pelishtim:

וַיַּבְעֶר-אֵשׁ בַּלַּפִּידִים וַיְשַׁלַּח בְּקָמוֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּים; וַיַּבְעֵר מִגָּדִישׁ וְעַד-קָמָה, וְעַד-כֶּרֶם זָיִת
Then he set the torches on fire and let the foxes loose in wheat fields of the P’lishtim.  In this way he burned up the harvested wheat along with the grain waiting to be harvested, and the olive orchards as well”.

If the above case is true, it is also possible that the Kerem of Navot in 1Kings 21:1 was also an olive tree.  This can be based on the archaeological findings in the valley of Izra’ael where most trees were olives.


It seems to me that the original meaning of Kerem, was a place where trees of any sort were planted in a row.  In time the original meaning was changed, and was limited to a very specific type.  In time Hebrew developed other words to describe the different orchards, leaving Kerem just for vineyards.
Originally Published:  11 June 2016

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