Hebrew word of the week: Yom ’Atsma’ut


What is the connection between ’etsem, “bone,” and ’atsma’ut, “independence”? The root ’-S-m basically means “to be strong, mighty, numerous” (mentioned many times in reference to the children of Israel in Exodus and in the haggadah); hence the meaning “bone,” which is strong, firm, the “backbone” of our body (compared to the soft flesh). This led to the meanings “essence,” “entity,” “oneself,” “independence,” etc. 

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.