The literature embraced in this Dictionary covers a period of about one thousand years, and contains Hebrew and Aramaic elements in about equal proportions. The older Hebrew elements, which may conveniently be called the Mishnaic, and can in part be traced back to the first, if not to the second, century B. C. E., may be considered a continuation of the Biblical Hebrew—Biblical Hebrew tinged with Aramaisms. It is therefore apt to throw light, more directly than its successor, on many obscure words and passages in the Bible; nevertheless, the material for Biblical exegesis deposited in the later literature is an inexhaustible mine, which still awaits exploitation by sympathetic students. Besides the Mishnah and the Tosefta, the Mishnaic period embraces Sifra and Sifré, Mekhilta, and the older elements preserved in the Gemara, of which the prayers incidentally quoted are a very essential and interesting part.
The later Hebrew elements in the Gemara and in the Midrashim lead down to the fifth and the eighth century respectively, and to a larger degree than the earlier Hebrew sections are mixed with Aramaic elements, and with foreign words borrowed from the environment and reflecting foreign influences in language as well as in thought. The Aramaic portions of the literature under treatment comprise both the eastern and the western dialects. 1 Owing to the close mental exchange between the Palestinian and the Babylonian Jews, these dialects are often found inextricably interwoven, and cannot be distinguished lexicographically.
The subjects of this literature are as unlimited as are the interests of the human mind. Religion and ethics, exegesis and homiletics, jurisprudence and ceremonial laws, ritual and liturgy, philosophy and science, medicine and magics, astronomy and astrology, history and geography, commerce and trade, politics and social problems, all are represented there, and reflect the mental condition of the Jewish world in its seclusion from the outer world, as well as in its contact with the same whether in agreement or in opposition.
Owing to the vast range and the unique character of this literature, both as to mode of thinking and method of presentation, it was frequently necessary to stretch the limits of lexicography and illustrate the definitions by means of larger citations than would be necessary in a more familiar domain of thought. Especially was this the case with legal and with ethical subjects.
Archæological matters have often been elucidated by references to Greek and Roman customs and beliefs.
The condition of the texts, especially of the Talmud Yerushalmi and of some of the Midrashim, made textual criticism and emendations inevitable, but the dangers of arbitrariness and personal bias had to be guarded against. Happily there were, in most cases, parallels to be drawn upon for the establishment of a correct text, and where these auxiliaries failed, the author preferred erring on the conservative side to indulging in conjectural emendations. For the Babylonian Talmud Raphael Rabbinowicz’s Variae Lectiones was an invaluable aid to the author.
The etymological method pursued in this Dictionary requires a somewhat fuller explanation than is ordinarily embodied in a preface. 1
The Jewish literature here spoken of is specifically indigenous, in which respect it is unlike the Syriac literature contemporary with it, which is mainly Christian, and as such was influenced, not only in thought but also in language, by the Greek and Latin tongues of the religious teachers of a people itself not free from foreign admixtures. Foreign influences came to Jewish literature merely through the ordinary channel of international intercourse. It is for this reason, if for no other, that the Jewish literature of post-Biblical days down to the ninth century may be called original. Hence it is natural to expect that, in extending the horizon of thought, it also extended its vocabulary on its own basis, employing the elements contained in its own treasury.
Starting from such premises, the investigator had to overhaul the laws regulating the derivation of words whose etymology or meaning is unknown from known Semitic roots; every word of strange appearance had to be examined on its merits both as to its meaning or meanings and as to its origin; the temptation offered by phonetic resemblances had to be resisted, and the laws of word-formation common to all other original languages as well as the environment in which a word appears had to be consulted before a conclusion could be reached. The foremost among these laws is that a word is imported into one language from another with the importation of the article it represents or of the idea it conveys. Unless these conditions of importation are apparent, the presumption should be in favor of the home market.
Take e.g. the word סימטא and its dialectic equivalent איסמטא, which means (a) a recess, an alley adjoining the market place to which the merchants retire for the transaction of business, also the trader’s stand under the colonnade, and (b) an abscess, a carbuncle. The Latin semita, which since Musafia has been adopted as the origin of sim ṭ a, offers hardly more than an assonance of consonants: a footpath cannot, except by a great stretch, be forced into the meaning of a market stand; and what becomes of sim ṭ a as abscess? But take the word as Semitic, and סמט, dialectically = 1שמט, offers itself readily, and as for the process of thought by which ‘recess’, ‘nook’, goes over into ‘abscess’ in medical language, we have a parallel in the Latin ‘abscessus.’ How much Latin medical nomenclature may have influenced the same association of ideas among the Jews is a theme of speculation for students of comparative philology or of the physiology of language.
A superficial glance at the vocabulary of this Dictionary will convince the reader that the example here given represents an extremely numerous class. The cases may not always be so plain, and the author is prepared for objections against his derivations in single instances, but the number of indisputable derivations from known Semitic roots remains large enough to justify the method pursued.
The problem becomes more complicated when both the meaning and the origin of words are unknown. Such is the case e.g. with the word אספירס in the phrase (Num. R. s. 4 20) הופך אספירס ומשוור, he turned the isperes and leaped. Levy, guided by Musafia, resorts to σφυρόν, ankle; others suspect in it the name of a garment, σπεῖρος, a rare form for σπεῖρον. But the phrase itself and the context in which it appears indicate a native word, and this is found in the stem פ־ס, of which אספרס is an ‘Ispeel’ noun, that is to say, a noun formed from the enlarged stem ספ־ס. As פֶּרֶס or פַּרְסָה is the cloven foot, the latter being also applied to the human foot (Sifré Deuteronomy 2), so אִסְפֶּירֶס is the front part of the foot, where the toes begin to separate. The phrase quoted is to be translated, ‘he (David) inverted the front part of his foot’, i.e. stood on tiptoe, ‘and leaped’ (danced).
We meet with the same stem in the Aramaic, אספריסא. Referring to Lamentations III, 12, ‘he has bent his bow and set me (literally: made me to stand) as a mark for the arrow’, one Amora is recorded in the Midrash (Lamentations Rabbah a. l.) as having explained kamma tt ara la ḥ ets by כבורמא לאספריסא. Another is quoted as saying, ‘like the pole of the archers (the Roman palus) at which all aim, but which remains standing.’ What is בורמא? and what is אספריסא? The medieval Jewish commentators frankly admit their ignorance. Musafia, however, reads פרמא, maintaining that he had found it in some editions, and refers to Latin parma, explaining isp’risa as sparus, and translating, ‘as the shield to the spear.’ Ingenious, indeed! But on closer inspection this explanation is beset with intrinsic difficulties. To begin with, parma as shield does not appear in the Talmudic literature again, from which we may infer that it was not generally known to the Jews in their combats with the Romans. Furthermore, the sparus is a small hunting spear never used in battle to aim against the warrior’s shield. As the entire passage in the Midrash quoted conveys the purpose of the interpreters to explain the Biblical text by means of a popular illustration, the Amora reported to have used this expression would have utterly missed his object, had he employed foreign and unfamiliar words, when he might have used plain words like כמגן לרומח, or their Aramaic equivalents. If, furthermore, it is taken into consideration that editio Buber of Lam. R., in agreement with the Arukh, reads רבנן דתמן אמרין for חד אמר, thus distinctly referring to Babylonian authorities, the supposition of foreign origin for בורמא and אספריסא falls to the ground. 1 But, on the other hand, take אספריסא as an ‘Ispeel’ noun of the stem פרס, and it means ‘that which is to be cloven’, i.e. the log, corresponding to the Hebrew בקעת. What is בורמא, or פרמא, again on the assumption that it is a home word? The root ברם like פרם means to divide, to split 2, and burma or rather bor’ma is ‘the splitter’, i.e. the wedge used to split the log. The Amora quoted in the Midrash therefore means to say that Israel, although the target of hostile attacks, is what the wedge is to the log: the wedge is struck, but the log is split. The other Amora quoted expresses the same idea by a different metaphor: ‘as the pole of the arrows’, and likewise a third, who lays stress on ויציבני, ‘he caused me to stand’, in the sense of enduring. An analogous expression to בורמא is פלגיסא (Pales of פלג), with which Targum renders the same Hebrew word (מטרה) that forms the subject of comment in the Midrash just referred to (I Samuel XX, 20).
The following lines are intended to give some specimens of such extension of roots, both Hebrew and Aramaic, as have not been recognized heretofore, or, if recognized, have not been applied to their full extent.
Ithpaal or Ithpeel nouns in Aramaean and Aramaicized Hebrew, and Hithpael nouns in Hebrew are too well known to require more than mere mention. Formations like השתחויה, אתכנעו, אצטרכיא are recognized on their face. Except for the preconceived notions concerning the nature of the Talmudic vocabulary, it would seem no more than natural that the Mishnaic אצטלית or אסטלית (Yoma VII, 1) should be an enlargement of טלית, i.e. an Ithpaal noun of טלל, and אצטלית לבן merely a synonym of בגדי לבן in the same Mishnah, meaning ‘covering’, i.e. a suit of clothes, whereas the plainer form טלית is used for cloak or sheet. From among the vocables reclaimed for the Semitic store on the same principle, one more may be mentioned here. איצטמא or איסטמא is a derivative of צמם, and, as such, a phonetic and actual equivalent of the Biblical צַמָּה, and the meaning of the Hebrew word should be learned from its well-defined Aramaic representative: ‘something which restrains the flying locks’ (Sabbath 57ᵇ), i.e. a hair-band worn, as we further learn from the discussion concerning ist’ma, under the hair net or cap. To uncover the צמה (Isaiah XLVII, 2) therefore means to throw off the matron’s head-cover and appear as a slave. The variant אסט׳ for אצט׳ in these forms is a common phenomenon in Talmudic orthography.
In connection with this noun formation it may not be out of place to note that Ithpaal or Ithpeel nouns sometimes drop the initial Aleph, in which case they may resume the regular order of consonants, which is inverted in the verb. Thus טצדקא (M’naḥoth 41ᵃ) is formed from אצטדק, the Ithpaal of צדק, ‘to justify one’s self’ (compare Genesis XLIV, 16), and means justification, excuse. Another טצדקא is formed from the root סדק, and means split, breaking through, damage (Baba Ḳamma 56ᵃ). טצהר (Giṭṭin 86ᵃ) is an Ithpeel noun of צהר (= זהר), and means a shining white spot, a suspicious symptom of leprosy; and, indeed, Alfasi reads צהר. 1 The Mandaic dialect offers analogies to these formations (see Noeldeke, Mand. Gramm. § 48, sq.).
The enlargement of stems by the prefix ש is well known in the Aramaic Shafel, but evidences of this same process are to be met with also in classical Hebrew. We have קוץ and שקץ, מוץ and שמץ, להב and שלהבת, and many more. More frequent is the use of the prefix ת for the formation of verbal nouns, as תְּפִלָּה, תְּרוּמָה, &c. Such verbal nouns may again become the basis for the formation of nominal verbs, as התפלל, ‘to pray’, which only by a stretch of the imagination can be explained as a plain Hithpael. So also הִתְרוֹעֵעַ, ‘to shout’ (Ps. LXV, 14; LX, 10; CVIII, 10), is to be taken as a derivative of תְּרוּעָה. The Talmudic Hebrew offers these formations in abundance, as הִתְחִיל from תְּחִלָּה, תָּרַם from תְּרוּמָה (see Abraham Geiger, Die Sprache der Mischnah, § 7).
On this principle of enlarged stems many words in this Dictionary have been regained from foreign origin for Semitic citizenship, e.g. תריס, ‘shield’, and its derivatives in Hebrew and Aramaic, שוכתא and שתך (see the Dictionary s. vv.).
The same letters, ש, ת, ס, and also ז, are used as intensive suffixes. The Biblical רטפש and פרשז have been explained by some as enlargements of רטף (= רטב) and פרש respectively. Be this as it may, the Talmudic Hebrew and the Aramaic possess such intensive suffixes. פרכס belongs to פרך, ‘to crush, grind, scrape’, and the various significations of this enlarged stem and its derivatives can easily be traced back to the fundamental meaning (see Dict. s. v. פרכס I and II). Only to one derivative of פרכס reference may here be made. אפרכסת is ‘the grinder’, i.e. the hopper in the mill, and were it not for the tenacious prejudice in favor of foreign etymologies, no scholar would ever have thought of resorting for the original of ăfarkheseth to πρόχοος or ἅρπαξ, neither of which has any connection with the grinding process. 1
Enlargements by suffixed ד have been recognized in פרקד and אפרקיד. More frequent is the formation by prefixed ד־, originally the demonstrative or relative pronoun. In the Dictionary these forms are designated as Difel, Dispeel, or Dithpeel nouns. The well-known דביתא in the form of דביתהו ד־ for ‘the wife of’ furnishes the key for the explanation of words like דמחמרא, דימחמרא (Targum Isaiah XXIII, 13; XXX, 2, for Hebrew מפלה); דאיסקרתא, contracted דיסקרתא, an enlargement of קרתא, ‘private town, settlement’; דישתקא and דיסתקא, a denominative of שקא, ‘handle of an axe’ (Syr. אסתקא and דסתקא); דיסתודר (Sabb. 48ᵃ), ‘shreds of a turban’ (Ms. M. סודר), and many more.
ל as a formative suffix appears in classical Hebrew, as כרמל, חרגל &c. (See Gesenius Thesaurus sub littera ל.) Of Talmudic Hebrew there may be mentioned here אַרְבֵּל, עַרְבֵּל (from ארב, ערב, to knit, interlace), meaning sieve, from which the verb (רבל) אִרְבֵּל, to sift. Correspondingly the Aramaic ארבלא, ערבלא, is sieve, the verb ארבל, to sift, shake, ערבל, to confound (compare the metaphor in Amos IX, 9), and ערבלאין, mixed multitude.
It would have been superfluous to refer here to that well-known enlargement of stems by suffixed ל, were it not that even for so common a utensil as a sieve foreign languages have been ransacked, and arb’la or ‘arb’la has been found in the Latin cribellum. The enlarged stem ארבל finds a further extension in סרבל, for which verb and its derivatives the reader is referred to the Dictionary itself.
Reduplications of entire stems or of two letters of triliteral stems are well known. But there appear also reduplications of one letter employed for enlargement. גוגלתא = גלגלתא, דידבא = דבדבא, לשישית = לשלשת, which may be explained as contractions, find a counterpart in דשתנא, thresher or grist-maker, which is a reduplication of דוש or דשש.
These reduplications are especially remarkable for the transpositions of the radicals with which they are frequently connected. The stem געגע appears as a reduplication of געה, געא, in the sense of lowing, roaring, and figuratively of longing for and howling against. But it also occurs as a transposition of עגעג, a reduplication of עוג, with the meaning of rolling around. מלמל, from מלל, interchanges with למלם, signifying to talk against, murmur. כַּסְכַּס, apocopated כֶּסֶךְ, is a transposition of סכסך. שלשל interchanges with לשלש in the nouns שלשול and לשלשת, with their Aramaic equivalent לשלושתא, and in the contracted forms לשישית and שלשושית.
It need scarcely be said that these outlines of Talmudic etymology by no means exhaust the subject. They have been given a place here for the purpose of showing the basis upon which the work has been constructed, and as a justification of the author’s deviation from the views hitherto prevailing on the subject under consideration.
A few remarks on FOREIGN WORDS in the literature which for the sake of brevity is here called Talmudic, may not be out of place in this preface.
The intercourse between the Jews of the Talmudic ages with Greek and Latin speaking gentiles was not only that of trade and government, but also of thought and ideas. Along with the apostles and teachers of young Christianity, and even before their time, Jewish champions of religion and morality lectured in the private rooms of princes and princesses, noblemen and matrons. Instances of intimate association of prominent Jewish teachers with emperors, kings, philosophers, and scholars and their families are related in the Talmudic records in numbers large enough to account for the adoption of words like philosophy, astrology, epilogue, &c., not to speak of such terms as were borrowed by the Jews together with the objects or ideas which they represent. A footstool was called hypopodion, a tablet pinax; the profligate gourmand’s emetic taken before meals, or rather between one stage of the banquet and the other, was called by its jocular name ἀποκοτταβίζειν (to play the cottabus), and adopted in the general medical sense; and so forth.
This accounts for the large number of Greek and Latin vocables in the so-called Jerusalem Talmud grown up under the Greco-Roman influences of the Cæsars, and more still in those Targumim and Midrashim which were compiled in the Byzantine empire. The Agadah, taking its illustrations from the daily environment, speaks of Cæsar, Augustus, duces, polemarchi, legiones, matrona, schola, &c., while in legal discussions the institutions of the governments, in so far as they influenced or superseded the Jewish law, had to be called by their foreign names. Agoranomos and agronomia, angaria and parangaria, epimeletes, epitropos, bulé, and innumerable other terms were embodied in the Jewish vocabulary, although not always dislodging their Hebrew or Aramaic equivalents.
Owing to copyists’ mistakes and acoustic deficiencies of transmission in distant ages and countries in which these foreign words were but vaguely understood, the student has on this point to contend with a vast number of corruptions and glossators’ guesses at interpretation. In most cases, however, these corruptions are recoverable through the medium of correct or differently corrupted parallels. אנדוכתרי (אנדכתרי, אונד׳, Giṭṭin 20ᵃ), not recognized by the commentators, and probably no longer understood by the Babylonian Rabbis, who received the word from Palestine together with the legal subject with which it is connected, fortunately finds a parallel in a worse copyist’s corruption in the Jerusalem Talmud, namely הרנירק טיאניס (Yer. Giṭṭin IV, 45ᵈ), and both in אנטוקטא (Treatise Abadim, ed. Kirchheim, ch. IV). A combination of these corruptions together with an examination of the subject under discussion leads to vindicta or vindicatio(-nis) (see Révue des Études Juives, 1883, p. 150). It should be said, however, that this is one of the worst corruptions the author has met with.
Another class of corruptions owes its existence to the natural tendency to adapt foreign words to the organic peculiarities of the people. The people pronounced Andrianos or Andrinos more easily than Hadrianos; unkeanos was more congenial than okeanos, agard’mos and agromos are popular mutilations of agoranomos; גלגטיקא and כלכדיקא are organic transformations of lectica; although the correct forms Hadrianos, okeanos, &c. are by no means infrequent (see Collitz, The Aryan Name of the Tongue, in ‘Oriental Studies’, Boston, 1894, p. 201, note).
Otherwise the foreign consonants are transliterated as faithfully as can be expected with national organic peculiarities as different as the Aryan and the Semitic. Transpositions of rd and dr, frequent even in Hebrew or Aramaic home-words, or sch for x (chs), need hardly surprise any one. Thus הרדוליס and הרדבלא go side by side with אדרבליס, for hydraulis; סקימיון stands for xenium; דוכסוסטוס for dyschistos, and so forth.
As to vowels, the Greek η and the Latin ē are, as a rule, represented by י, the Greek οι by ו or וי, whereas the Greek ευ frequently appears as יו. The Greek υ and the Latin u keep their place as midway between vowels and consonants, so that they may be transcribed by י, ו, or ב. The last is especially the case in diphthongs, so that בולבטס is met with alongside of בולווטס, and בוליוטס for βουλεύτης.
Short vowels, except in cases of heavy accumulations of consonants, are most frequently ignored. This omission of vowels, congenial as it is to the Semitic spirit, means a loss of soul to the Aryan words, and offers difficulties not easily overcome.
The laws of transliteration of Greek and Latin loanwords are exhaustively treated in Samuel Krauss, „Griechische und Lateinische Lehnwörter in Talmud, &c.“ (Berlin, S. Calvary & Co., 1898). It is to be regretted that the proclivity to find Latin and Greek in words indisputably Semitic has led the author into a labyrinth of fatal errors.
Persian words are now and then encountered in the Talmud as remnants of the first period after the Babylonian exile, when the new Jewish commonwealth was organized under the Persian empire, and more still as modern arrivals of the time when Babylonia grew to be the centre of Jewish lore.
Arabic elements of direct importation, barring explicit linguistic references, came along with Arabic objects of trade, but there should be a considable reduction from the number hitherto accepted in Talmudic lexicography. The Hebrew and Aramaic of the Talmudic period had little to learn from a people which after the close of the Talmudic era became the world’s teacher.
The difficulties besetting the study of Talmud and Midrash will be overcome in the degree in which modern scholars will take it up for philological and archæological purposes as adjuncts of those who are too much engrossed in its practical and doctrinal side to allow themselves time for what seems to them unessential. But even what has been heretofore rediscovered, as it were, thanks to the labors of Leopold Zunz, Samuel Loeb Rapaport, Heinrich Graetz, Zacharias Frankel, Michael Sachs, Solomon David Luzzatto, Abraham Geiger, M. Joel, Joseph Perles, Alexander Kohut, and a host of others, is enough to prove the marvellous familiarity of the Rabbis with the events, institutions, and views of life of the world outside and around their own peculiar civilization. What is more, we have been familiarized with the philosophical impartiality and sober superiority with which they appreciated what was laudable and reprehended what was objectionable in the intellectual and moral condition of the ‘nations of the world’, as they called the gentile world around them; kings and empires, nations and governments, public entertainments and social habits, they reviewed through the spy-glass of pure monotheism and stern morality.
In conclusion, the author begs to state his indebtedness to Jacob Levy’s Targumic and Neo-Hebrew Dictionaries, where an amount of material far exceeding the vocabularies of the Arukh and Buxtorf’s Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum is accumulated, which alone could have encouraged and enabled the author to undertake a task the mere preparation for which may well fill a lifetime.
Thanks are also rendered here for the munificent subventions which enabled the author to publish a work by its nature requiring great pecuniary sacrifices. To the list of subscribers mentioned on the title sheet of the first volume, the following should be added: Mr. Emanuel Lehman, Mr. Louis Stern, the Honorable Isidor Straus, the Honorable Oscar S. Straus, all of New York, and Judge Mayer Sulzberger of Philadelphia (additional subscription). It gives the author considerable pleasure to place among the subscriptions a gift of the school children of the Congregation Rodef Shalom of Philadelphia, on the occasion of the seventieth birthday of its Rabbi Emeritus.
The author also expresses his gratitude to the friends who have assisted him in the arduous task of proof reading, among whom special mention is due to Miss Henrietta Szold, of Baltimore. He also acknowledges his obligation to the Rev. Dr. S. Mendelsohn, of Wilmington, N. C., for the index of Scriptural citations appended to this work, a contribution which, the author is confident, will be welcomed by all Biblical students.
The religious sentiments inspiring the author at the completion of his labors of five and twenty years are too sacred to be sent abroad beyond the sanctuary of heart and home.
Philadelphia, May, 1903.