Biblical Hebrew

Hebrew In Israel | Glory of God – Learn Torah

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One of the difficulties with Biblical passages is a phenomenon known as “Ellipsis”.  Elliptical clauses are usually missing the subject, making it sometimes difficult for readers to understand to whom the clause is referring.  In most languages there are a set of ground rules of speech which are understood by the speakers, but can be lost to one who does not understand contextual reference of that particular language.  A translator will sometimes miss the point being made if they are not proficient in the language they are translating from.  In other cases, the original text creates an ellipsis, and gives us hints in the rest of the text to the subject.

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Hebrew In Israel | Paleo Hebrew – Learn Torah

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The pictographic system which many call Paleo-Hebrew is actually Proto-Sinaitic.  Yoel walks us through the history and development of the Hebrew script, distinguishing between theory vs. actual evidence of a pictographic precursor to Hebrew. 

Hebrew In Israel | Bil’am – Learn Torah

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The Torah teaches us that Bil’am was extremely important at his time.  This importance echoed into later times and to the Jewish sages who recognized how powerful he was.  This power was so great that rabbis said he was called to do the job of cursing because he had the same God-given gift as Moses—the power of speech.

Hebrew In Israel | הללויה – Learn Torah

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“Praise be to Yah” is known in Hebrew as HaleluYah-הללויה.

The breakdown of this word is the verb הלל– to praise, and יה– the poetic form of the Tetragrammaton.  However, a question is raised if this word is to be seen as a compound (Portmanteau) word and should be read as one, or that it is two words and should be read as such.  In some bibles, we can find a hyphenated form הללויה, and in others as one-word הללויה.  In the Aleppo we find that it is written as one, and so is it found in most Jewish writings such as the Cairo Geniza as seen in the picture.

However, the debate about this matter dated back to Talmudic times, and can be found in the tractate of Pessachim p.117a:

R. Hisda said in R. Johanan’s name:  Halleluyah, Kesyah and Yedidyah are single words.  Rab said: Kesyah and merhavyah are single words.  Rabbah said Merhavyah alone [is a single word].  The scholars asked: What about Merhab Yah in R. Hisda’s view?  The question stands.  The scholars asked: What about Yedidyah in Rab’s view? — Come and hear: Yedidyah is divisible into two, therefore Yedid is non-sacred while Yah is sacred.  The scholars asked: What about Halleluyah in Rab’s view?  Come and hear, for Rab said: I saw [a copy of] the Psalms in my friend’s college, wherein ‘Hallelu’ was written on one line and ‘Yah’ on the following.  Now he disagrees with R. Joshua ben Levi, for R. Joshua ben Levi said: What is the meaning of ‘Halleluyah?  Praise him with many praises.  Further, he [R. Joshua b. Levi] is self-contradictory.  For R. Joshua ben Levi said: The Book of Psalms was uttered with ten synonyms of praise, viz.: Nizzuah [victory], Niggun [melody], Maskil, Mizmor [psalm], Shir [song], Ashre [happy], Tehillah [praise], Tefillah [prayer], Hodayah [thanksgiving] and HalleluYah.  The greatest of all is ‘Halleluyah,’ because it embraces the [Divine] Name and praise simultaneously.

The discussion opens with examples of compound names of sorts which are seen as one word.  However, HalleuYah is not a name but praise and can be seen as two words as in some cases found in the Torah.  Rab’s view is presented as a testimony of what he saw, however, I must stress that his view is not actually presented, but what he saw.  The reason R.Yehoshua is considered self–contradicting is because when he said that it is many praises, what is understood is that Hallelu is many praises, and Yah is a separate word.  The ending of this section indicates that the probable final understanding is that it is one word.  Because there is no opposing opinion, and it is a testimony of a sage, the conclusion is that it is one.  This is known as Lishna Batra-–an Aramaic term meaning “last word” which is placed in a text to indicate that the ruling is as that opinion.

It is worth noting that the word appears as two words in the DSS as can be seen in the Psalm scroll 11QPs a col.XXVIII for psalm 134 and 151. 

In Jewish reading tradition, we find that all Hebrew speakers say הללויה as one word and not two.  However, it seems clear that there are actually two different reading traditions in which the only one which survived is the one-word reading tradition.

Originally Published:  May 22, 2015

Hebrew In Israel | Rain Words – Learn Torah

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We are now deep into winter in the land of Israel, and there are several good Hebrew words worth discussing which appear in the Hebrew Bible. 

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Hebrew In Israel | Bo: A Misunderstood Verb – Learn Torah


Very commonly we find that words carry a very different meaning than most of us would assume.  In many cases a commentator will give an incorrect meaning to a word based on their own understanding of the language used at their time.  It is always important to look into the often used format for a word in a text, together with the overall meaning we find in the Bible.  I saw an interesting anecdote about the name of this week’s parasha Bo based on a very common Midrash used in Jewish circles.

Hebrew In Israel | Happy? – Learn Torah

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How do we explain the first word in the book of psalms?

אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים

Most translations say “happy” but what does it mean?  It is clear that the word is declarative, but does “happy” really mean the same thing as אשרי?

Hebrew In Israel | Plural God – Learn Torah

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How do we understand who God is? We discuss the perceptions of God by Maimonides and examine the three passages in Genesis that speak of God in the plural in this excerpt from a private lesson with one of my students.

Hebrew In Israel | Joshua 5 and The Omer – Learn Torah

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The point of this article is not when we bring the Omer, but rather can we use Joshua 5 to argue for a date.  However, the discussion of when we start counting is unavoidable.  I will also note before we start that there are different opinions between scholars on how to treat this subject, and the point here is to give another point of view without offending anyone or creating animosity.

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Hebrew In Israel | Mashiach – Learn Torah

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The word משיח-Mashiach-Messiah is derived from the root משח which is mostly associated with the idea of placing oil on something or someone.  The act of anointing was performed as an act of dedication of a person or an item to a service (mostly to God).  In this article, I will be looking into the background of this act, and the meaning of the title Mashiach.


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