Almost all Hebrew words are built upon root letters called a shoresh (שורש, "root"), and are formed in such ways where small manipulations can create many different but related meanings. The election season gives us a great opportunity to see the adaptive use of Hebrew roots – most of them ancient in origin – for modern usage. Below are some of the words which are commonplace during the election cycle in Israel.
What does it mean to be a leader? In Hebrew, the word for leader, manhig, derives from the same root as the words linhog (לנהוג, "to drive") and minhag (מנהג, "tradition"), the root being N-H-G (נ.ה.ג.) Also, the Hebrew for "to behave" shares the same root (l'hitnaheg, להתנהג).
The word for "president" comes directly from the Torah. Nasi (נשיא) was used to describe tribal chieftains, leaders of each of the 12 tribes of Israel (Numbers 4:34). It shares a root with the word laset (לשאת, "to lift" or "to carry"; root: N-S-A, .נ-שׂ-א). This same root was also used to create a modern word in Hebrew: masait (משאית, "truck").
Israeli Parliament: Knesset
The Knesset (כנסת), is Israel’s 120-member parliament. This number (120) is no coincidence – it is the same number of members as the the Jewish legislative body discussed in the Talmud which existed in the land of Israel at the beginning of the Second Temple period (6th century BCE). The word Knesset is connected by root to the words kenes (כנס, "convention") and beit knesset (בית כנסת, "synagogue," lit. “house of assembly”). These words also share a root with the Hebrew word for knisah (כניסה, "entrance").
The word mu'amad comes from the root A-M-D (ע-מ-ד), which is a root shared with many words in everyday Hebrew. Two prominent examples that connect in meaning are the words la’amod (לעמוד, "to stand") andamidah (עמידה, the central prayer in every service, lit. "standing"). We also see this root used in the phrase emdat hatzba'ah (עמדת הצבעה, "voting booth"). Mu'amad literally means “one who is stood.”
The word l'hatzbiah (להצביע, "to vote") can also mean "to point" or "to indicate." These words are all related by their root to the word etzbah (אצבע) which means "finger." In the US, we use the expression “by show of hands” because we raise our hands to voice our opinions in person. Israelis raise their hands with an index finder extended, which might connect back to the root connecting both the Hebrew words for "finger" and "voting."
Other words to explore on your own
- Elections: Bkhirot (בְּחֵרוּת)
- To Choose: Livchor (לִבְחֹר)
- Minister: Sar (שָׁר)
- In what ways is "leadership" within Judaism comprised of "driving" and "tradition"? In what ways is leadership behavior-based?
- What is the role of a president or leader in Israel or any country? How might "carrying" be associated with leadership?
- What connections can be seen between government, gathering, entering, and synagogues?