Hebrew Word of the Week: ‘atseret

The last day of Sukkot is known as Shemini ‘Atseret. It seems to be connected to the common verb ‘atsar, “stop, halt, arrest”; and by a semantic extension, “stop work (similar to Shabbat); assemble, celebrate, etc.,” as in Leviticus 23:36: “The eighth day … is a solemn gathering (‘atseret); you shall not work at your occupations”; and from a religious assembly, to any assembly, including ‘atseret
“(They are all adulterers), a band (gang) of cheats” (Jeremiah 9:1).

In modern Hebrew: ‘atseret klalit “(United Nations) General Assembly”; ‘atseret zikkaron/hityaHdut “commemoration ceremony”; ‘atseret Hagigit “festive ceremony”; ‘atseret-‘am/hamonit “mass convention”; and ‘atseret matemaTit “factorial arithmetic  progression.” 

Other derived words: ‘atsor (עצור) “stop (sign)”; ‘ótser “curfew”; ma‘atsar “arrest, imprisonment”; ma‘atsor “(car) brake; inhibition”; ma‘atseret “olive press”; ‘itsur “stop, consonant”; ‘atsirut “constipation”; and yoresh ‘etser “crown prince, heir to the throne.” 

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