[Avodah] Is it Hebrew or is it Aramaic?

Akiva Miller akivagmiller at gmail.com
Thu Feb 18 04:13:42 PST 2021

The point of this post is to ask if there is a way that a
non-linguist might be able to determine whether a given word is Hebrew or
Aramaic. This question came to me from two different things that I was
learning this week.

I have mentioned a few times recently that in my learning of Shnayim Mikra
v'Echad Targum, I've seen Onkelos translating a word into what I *thought*
was a Hebrew synonym, but is now clearly the Aramaic translation. A good
example is the word "techum", which we are familiar with from the phrase
"techum Shabbos". But as it turns out, "techum" appears nowhere in Tanach,
and it is how Onkelos consistently translates the word "gevul". I am led to
conclude that "techum" was not originally a Hebrew word at all, even if it
was absorbed into Mishnaic Hebrew and Rabbinic Hebrew.

I found a similar word tonight, where Parshas Terumas teaches us about the
loops which were at the edges of the Mishkan's curtains. The Torah uses the
word "lulaot" for these loops in Shemos 26:10 (and many other pesukim),
which Onkelos translates as "anuvin". It is obvious to me that this is a
form of the word "anivah", which is familiar to me from Hilchos Shabbos: A
"kesher" (knot) is more problematic than a mere "anivah" (bow or loop).
[See, for example, Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchata 15:53.] I was unable to find
this meaning of ayin-nun-beis in Tanach, and now I suspect that it is
actually an Aramaic loanword like techum.

On a related note, the Gemara Megilla teaches that a Megillas Esther must
be written without translations: One's megilla will be pasul if it has any
Aramaic words that are supposed to be written in Hebrew, or if it has any
Hebrew words that are supposed to be Aramaic. Of course, the megilla has
many many Hebrew words in it, and if the sofer would translate any of them,
the result would be a pasul megilla. But, asks the Gemara Megilla 9a, what
Aramaic is there that one might wrongly translate into Hebrew? Rav Pappa
cites the word "pisgam" in Esther 1:20; if the sofer would substitute
"davar", then the megilla would be pasul. But Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak
claims to have found a different Aramaic word in the Megilla: That same
pasuk (1:20) has the word "yakar". (Indeed, I have noticed many times, that
Onkelos translates "kavod" as "yakar".) Incidentally, "yakar" appears in
about 9 other places in Megillas Esther also.

My problem is this: How can Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak think that yakar is
Aramaic? It doesn't appear in the Chumash, but it does appear in a few
places in Tanach, such as Tehillim 49:13 and 49:21. My guess is that
whereas "techum" is an Aramaic word that was adopted by Hebrew in the days
of the Amoraim, "yakar" was already adopted into Hebrew during the Neviim,
and that for purposes of writing a Megilla, it still counts as Aramaic even

Is it possible that some Aramaic words were adopted into Hebrew even
earlier? Might they even appear in the Chumash? How might we recognize them?

Akiva Miller

(As long as we're talking about foreign words showing up in our texts,
here's an interesting trivia question: There is a Latin word in the siddur.
I've seen it in nusach Ashkenaz, Sefard, and Edot Hamizrach siddurim. It's
not in the daily tefilos, though, just one particular holiday paragraph.
Anyone who wants to know which word and which tefila - or if you want
another clue - write me offlist, and we'll keep the rest of the chevra
guessing. Happy Adar!)
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