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Can someone help me translate the following verse (Joel 1:8). I have very limited hebrew but i would like to know the word used in hebrew. The word maiden / virgin. (Almah / Betulah)

ח. אֱלִי כִּבְתוּלָה חֲגֻרַת שַׂק עַל בַּעַל נְעוּרֶיהָ:

Chabad Translation

Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.


I use The Stone Edition

Lament like a maiden girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth!

My wife asked me this question as to why virgin would have a husband. Or why the writer chose that word. My assumption is that, they are engaged to be married but don't "know each other" yet.

A girl or young woman, esp. an unmarried one.

Thank you for your help.

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I think it just means that right now she doesn't have a husband, but nontheless a good question. +1 – Hacham Gabriel Aug 13 '13 at 15:16
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The word here is "betulah", which specifically means "virgin." ("alma" is simply "young woman.") Many translators prefer "maiden" as it implies virginity but it's less explicit.

Your assumption is basically correct. The Torah has laws about what happens if a "betrothed" (i.e. married, but unconsummated) virgin cheats on her husband, or is raped. (Deuteronomy 22:23--27, see also Exodus 22:15.) I haven't checked the commentaries but that's most likely the simplest reading of the verse in Joel, they were "betrothed" and then she lost him.

Long ago, a couple would be "betrothed" for a complete year before actually moving in together and consummating their marriage. This was a much stronger arrangement than today's "engagement", and it required a full-blown divorce to terminate. In today's Jewish weddings, "betrothal" happens when he hands her the ring under the chupa, and they go home together that night. Much shorter wait. (In Ashkenazic ceremonies, they even get ten minutes of privacy in the middle of the wedding.)

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Thank you for your help. Makes it clear. – Banjamin Aug 13 '13 at 15:39

The word means "virgin". M'tzudas David (commentary on Joel) says it refers to someone mourning over her first husband, that is the husband she had married when she had been a virgin. (Hence also the "husband of her youth" bit.) A woman is closer, he explains, to such a husband than to a second husband.

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