A very old word, quite common in the Bible and in other Semitic languages, including brit melaH “fellowship over a meal”* (Numbers 18:19); a sacred offering to God (Leviticus 2:13); and the custom of adding salt after the ha-Motsi’ grace over bread. However, the most famous reference is to the pillar of salt of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26); and yam ha-melaH, known as the “Salt Sea” (Deuteronomy 3:17), or the Dead Sea (medieval sources).
Salt’s importance is shown through words such as: memullaH “salty; shrewd”; Arabic maliH “good”; salary from Latin salarium means “allowance to buy salt”; salad is “salted (vegetables)”; and without it food would be tasteless (Job 6:6); not to mention Salt Lake City and Salzburg.
Not to be confused with melekh “king”; mal’akh “angel”; mallaH “sailor.”
*Bread and salt signify alliance and friendship, used in greeting ceremonies in many cultures. It is said about very close friends that they ate bread and salt together.
Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.