I occasionally see Pirke Avot 1:18 recited as saying that on three things העולם קיים, and occasionally as on three things העולם עומד. Is there a reason for the discrepancy between Kayam and Omeid?

  • "רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַדִּין וְעַל הָאֱמֶת וְעַל הַשָּׁלוֹם," where do you find קיים here? – Al Berko Sep 23 '19 at 10:18
  • @AlBerko Some variant quotations of the mishnah. Just google the phrase to see several examples. (including those helpfully listed by Maurice below). – Zarka Sep 23 '19 at 15:03
  • They are both very similar, but עומד has a sense in English of “establish”, like to begin something. קיים has a sense of “maintenance”, like sustaining something continuously. – Yaacov Deane Jul 20 '20 at 10:52

Avot 1:2 and Avot 1:18 both say עוֹמֵד , but קיים is a variant of Avot 1:18. Rabbenu Yonah, commenting on Avot 1:2, says:

הוא היה אומר על שלשה דברים העולם עומד. ר"ל שבשביל דברים אלו נברא העולם. כי למטה הוא אומר על שלשה דברים העולם קיים ואינם אלו שזוכר כאן. על כן צריכין אנו לפרש כי עומד שאמרו ר"ל שנברא העולם בשבילם מפני שהם רצון הקב"ה. ר"ל שנברא העולם בשביל בריותיו שעתידין להיות רצון לפניו על ידי עשיית אלה הדברים. ואלו השלשה הם עמוד גדול שבשבילם יגיעו לכל הדברים שאמרו חז"ל שהעולם עומד בשבילם:

He would say, "On three things the world stands": This means to say that because of these things the world was created. As below (Avot 1:18), it states, "On three the things the world subsists," and they are not those that it mentions here. Hence, we need to explain that when they said "stands," it means that the world was created for them, since they are the will of the Holy One, blessed be He. This means to say that the world was created for His creatures that in the future would fulfill His will in front of Him through these things. And these three are a great pillar, such that on account of them, we are able to get to all of the [other] things that the sages, may their memory be blessed, said that the world stands because of them.

For reference:

Pirkei Avot 1:2 -- שִׁמְעוֹן הַצַּדִּיק הָיָה מִשְּׁיָרֵי כְנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים: Shimon the Righteous was one of the last of the men of the great assembly. He used to say: the world stands upon three things: the Torah, the Temple service, and the practice of acts of piety.

Pirkei Avot 1:18 -- רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַדִּין וְעַל הָאֱמֶת וְעַל הַשָּׁלוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (זכריה ח) אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם:
Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel used to say: on three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said: “execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16).


The root קום is from earlier strata of Biblical Hebrew. Later Hebrew uses the near-synonym עמד.

Here are some examples of קום and עמד in similar contexts early and late texts illustrating the diachronic shift:

קום > עמד (Rooker, Biblical Hebrew in Transition: The Language of the Book of Ezekiel pp. 149-152)

The last example illustrates well that the Rabbis considered קום and עמד to be approximately synonymous.

The form קום is rare in Rabbinic texts, appearing only about five times in the Mishnah, while עמד appears many hundreds of times.

Thus the instances of קיים may be vestigial, or archaisms. There is also a small possibility that it remained dialectal, or even was a late, Biblicizing change.

  • קיים is borrowed from Aramaic, not derived from the biblical root קום – b a Mar 18 '20 at 11:29
  • @ba It is, according to the Historical Dictionary Project and Rav Milim. What makes you think that this is not the case? – Argon Mar 18 '20 at 15:28
  • 1
    Because קיים is a word in Aramaic and not a word in Biblical Hebrew, and all (or almost all?) קַטָּל nouns are borrowed or derived in imitation of Aramaic words. You can connect it with the root קום after the word is already borrowed into Hebrew, but this doesn't tell you about the history of the word (for comparison: type חיור, which is clearly borrowed from Aramaic, into the Historical Dictionary Project, and it will tell you that the root is חור). In other words: קיים isn't an archaism or Biblicism (how could it be, if it never appears in Hebrew parts of the Bible?), but an Aramaism – b a Mar 19 '20 at 13:25
  • @ba There was a general aversion in the rabbinic period to the root קום. At the risk of being circular, we see that the root of קיים was considered to be קום by the rabbis since it was viewed as a dual to עמד (cf. the book I show above!). The usage of the root is likely an attempt at archaism, irrespective of whether it is a biblical word or not. (Incidentally, both dictionaries come up with the root חור for חיור. Sokoloff's Jewish Aramaic dictionaries also list the root of קיים as קום) . – Argon Mar 19 '20 at 15:00
  • There was a general aversion to the verb קם, but not to the word קיים, which was common. You have to judge by the lexical item, not by the root, which doesn't tell the whole story (חור a case in point). For comparison: we might say that משפט is an archaism because it derives from an older well-known lexical item, and the meaning is elsewhere replaced by דין. But if the Biblical word מָדוֹן were used in Mishnaic Hebrew (and it seems that it isn't) - even though it's derived from the common root דון - it would have to be described as an archaism, because the lexical item itself was supplanted. – b a Mar 19 '20 at 17:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .