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Hebrew word of the week: Elul

The Hebrew exiles in Babylonia remained loyal to Judaism but were also influenced by the Babylonian culture, including borrowing the names of the months from the Babylonians.
August 13, 2015

The Hebrew exiles in Babylonia remained loyal to Judaism but were also influenced by the Babylonian culture, including borrowing the names of the months from the Babylonians.* Indeed, the names don’t have any Hebrew etymology. The rabbis tried to Hebraize Elul by interpreting it as an abbreviation: Ani Ledodi Wedodi Li —  “I (Israel, Jewish people) am my Beloved’s (God), and my Beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3). However, the Akkadian (Babylonian) name elulu means “bringing in (crops), harvest,” a cognate of the Aramaic ’alalta “crops, income”; me’alle shabbetha / yoma Tava, “entrance (Eve) of Sabbath / holiday.”

The month of Elul is followed by Tishre, whose name stems from Akkadian Tashritu “beginning (of the year),” a cognate of the Aramaic root sh-r-y, “begin; have breakfast.”

*English, by contrast, kept the pagan names of the weekdays: Sunday, Mo(o)nday, etc., even after the conversion to Christianity.

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

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