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Yarok ירוק in modern Hebrew means green. What color does it refer to in Mishnaic Hebrew? I have heard that it refers to yellow and not green because the Mishna in Sukkah (on 34b) discusses a citron which is "Yarok like a leek" implying that plain yarok is not like a leek, ie not green. ShmuelBrill in a comment says that Yarok sometimes means yellow and sometimes means green. It seems odd to me that one word would mean two colors. Can anyone explain?

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    It's the color that a zav turns. As the verse says (Lev. 15:8), וְכִי יָרֹק הַזָּב. :)
    – Alex
    Mar 25, 2012 at 3:45
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    It should not "seem[] odd to [you] that one word would mean two colors", or what you consider two colors, any more than it should seem odd to a Russian that you call pale and dark blue by the same word "blue". (Those are two different colors in Russian.) The naming of colors is very much culture-dependent. See, e.g., en.wikipedia.org/wiki/….
    – msh210
    Mar 25, 2012 at 3:48
  • @msh210 I don't have a problem with it seeming odd to me. If that's the answer then so be it, but as a native english speaker it will always seem odd to me.
    – Double AA
    Mar 25, 2012 at 3:53
  • Congratulations! This question has won the weekly topic challenge for the week of Vayikra 5772!
    – msh210
    Mar 29, 2012 at 17:34
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    See the color entry on Jewish Encyclopedia, under "Scarcity", and especially this book.
    – WAF
    Dec 21, 2012 at 5:23

6 Answers 6

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Tosafos on succah 31b sv "Hayarok KeKharti" translate the word yarok in several different ways. Furthermore, rashi and several ashkenazi rishonim usually translate "תכלת" as "yarok", which could suggest that yarok means blue (unless they are saying that techelet is green...). Rav Yosef Dov Soloviechik has been quoted as saying that yarok in rashi means blue. This is also what the sifsei chachamim say.

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    Do you have a source for your quotation of R Soloveitchik?
    – Double AA
    Mar 25, 2012 at 3:49
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    as for the quote from the Rov, people in Rav Shachter's shiur in YU have told me that R Shachter has quoted the Rov as saying that.
    – moses
    Mar 25, 2012 at 4:10
  • You quote Tosfos as defining "yarok" as a few colors. Their first suggestion, vert (green in French, grün in the German in which the Mesores HaShas translates it), is the equivalent of the English "green." The discussion continues, but I won't quote it in my answer, because Moses already has. I would like to point out that the Tif'eres Yisra'el (to Brachos 1:2) also defines "karti" as grün, and "yarok" is equivalent to "karti." It seems that the Tif'eres Yisra'el agrees with that first answer of Tosfos.
    – b a
    Dec 20, 2012 at 6:37
  • Rashi was not Ashkenazi... Dec 23, 2012 at 1:16
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Yarok in Nidah seems to mean a golden yellow color. However, there is some discussion that it may mean green. If I'm not mistaken, there is also some discussion about what "golden yellow" means, leading to an implication that it may, in fact, be a shade of red.

Confused yet? I sure was. I'll have to look at the sources again to find out what they really say, but I remember thinking this was really bizarre.

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    You seem to just be adding to the question. Did you mean to write this as a comment? Should I convert it to one?
    – HodofHod
    Mar 25, 2012 at 1:45
  • @hodofhod I plan on looking this up to firm it up, but it is intended as an answer (at least a partial answer).
    – Seth J
    Mar 25, 2012 at 1:54
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    @ Seth, any update?
    – HodofHod
    May 9, 2012 at 15:16
  • Not yet........
    – Seth J
    May 9, 2012 at 19:31
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Jastrow describes the colour as "light-colored, yellow or greenish," presumably based on the mishnaic sources he cites.

However, Sokoloff translates ירוק as "yellow" and (oddly) ירק as "green" in his Babylonian Aramaic dictionary. In his Palestinian Aramaic dictionary he translates ירק as "green, yellow".

The entry in the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon for ירוק notes:

It is unclear if there is a difference in shade among dialects. If so, it is that in Jewish dialects it is more yellowish than not.

But see also the translations of the root ירק and its other derivatives (see bottom of page), which generally agree here with Sokoloff. The comment there states

yrq is the color of vegetable matter, from yellow-green to blue-green.

Yarok, therefore, seems to have generally been a yellowish/greenish colour—at least during the rabbinic period.

In the EHLL article "Color Terms" (by Tamar Sovran), the following, however, is stated:

The color green (יָרֹק yå̄rōq) in Job (39.8) is related to יֶרֶק yεrεq ‘grass’, to judge by its position vis-à-vis the word מִרְעֶה mirʿε ‘pasture’ in the following parallelism: יְת֣וּר הָרִ֣ים מִרְעֵ֑הוּ וְאַחַ֖ר כָּל־יָר֣וֹק יִדְרֽוֹשׁ || yəṯūr hå̄rīm mirʿēhū || wə-ʾaḥar kål-yå̄rōq yiḏrōš ‘It ranges the hills for its pasture and searches for any green thing’. In Leviticus (13.49) a green mold (נֶגַע יְרַקְרַק neg̅aʿ yəraqraq) is mentioned. The meaning of the expression יְרַקְרַק חָרוּץ yəraqraq ḥå̄rūṣ (Ps. 68.14) is not clear, but the context shows a connection to the shimmering of gold and silver: כַּנְפֵ֣י י֭וֹנָה נֶחְפָּ֣ה בַכֶּ֑סֶף וְ֜אֶבְרוֹתֶ֗יהָ בִּֽירַקְרַ֥ק חָרֽוּץ kanp̄e yōnå̄ nεḥpå̄ bak-kεsεp̄ wə-ʾεḇroṯεha b-īraqraq ḥå̄rūṣ ‘the wings of the dove are covered with silver, and her pinions with the shimmer of gold’.

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Yarok is a term that includes green, blue, and yellow as it can be seen in here:

  1. Rabbinical sources just a few of many

Teshuvot Maharam, Prague, 631

תרלא. ת"ר אשה כי תהיה זבה כו' יכול אפי' זבה מ"מ תהא טמאה (ת"כ מצורע פ"ד) פי' כגון דם מכה או דם העלייה [כקרן] כרכום, כמראה כרכום שקורי' קרו"ג. האי קרן כמו כי קרן עור פניו, כמימי אדמה מפו' בתלמוד איז אדמה ומציף עליה מים [וכמזוג] שני חלקי מים ואחד יין אדום. [וכמימי] תלתן [לחלוח] שבתלתן. האי שחור אדום הי' מתחלתו אלא שלקה והשחיר והני תרי אחריני [כמימי] תלתן וכמימי בשר צלי מלקא לקו ומתחלתן אדומי' היו. דם ירוק דמטהרי' כקבנן דעקבי' בן מהללאל (נדה י"ט ע"א) בין מראה בלויא בין מראה געלב בין גרין כולן בכלל [ירוק הן] דכל ה' דמים המטמאי' באשה נוטי' לצד אדמומית כדמשמע פ' כל היד (שם) מנלן דדם אדום טמא שחור נמי אדום הוא אלא שלקה👈🏻 וכל ג' מראות הללו כולן בכלל ירוק הן. בלויא משיכיר בין תכלת [לכרתי (ברכות ט' ע"ב)] וכרתי נקרא ירוק בפ' לולב [הגזול ל"ד ע"ב] ירוק ככרי ותכלת דומה לים ולרקיע הוא בלויא וגעלב כשעוה [שהוא] ירוק [דאי'] בתוספתא דנגעים (פ"א) ירקרק ירוק שבירוקים כשעוה ואדרבה הוא ירוק שבכולן והוא געלב וירוקה כשרה מדרבי נתן ( חולין מ"ז ע"ב) פרש"י כעשבים והוא גרין.👈🏻

"All the colors blue, yellow, and green are included in the color 'yarok', green."

Mordechai brought in Yoreh Dei'ah 188:1

"What is called 'blue' is included in the category of green".

‎וכן מראה שקורין בל"א בלו"א בכלל ירוק הוא

  1. The Jewish Encyclopaedia talking about Yarok says:

(a) 👉🏻The term "yaraḳ," originally "pale," is used to describe those uncertain colors which waver between green, yellow, and blue. 👈🏻It is applied to the color of vegetation (Job xxxix. 8; II Kings xix. 26; Isa. xxxvii. 27), the fading color of decaying vegetation (Deut. xxviii. 22; Amos iv. 9; Hag. ii. 17), or of a panic-stricken countenance (Jer. xxx. 6). "Yeraḳraḳ" (greenish or yellowish) is used of the appearance of plague-spots (Lev. xiii. 49, xiv.37) and of gold (Ps. lxviii. 13). The term "ḥaraẓ," applied to gold, probably means "yellow."

(b) 👉🏻The same root is used in later Hebrew and Aramaic for green, yellow, and blue (compare Yoreh De'ah, 188, 1). 👈🏻Green is given as the color of leek (Ber. i. 2; Suk. iii. 6), and of myrtle (Meg. 13a). Yellow is the color of crocus (Niddah ii. 6; Ḥul. 47b), of cuscuta (Ḥul. l.c.), and of the yolk of an egg (ib.). The color of the "tarshish" (probably chrysolite or olivin) is like that of clear olive-oil (Num. R. ii. 7). Hence, "moriḳa" (crocus) and "yeraḳon" (jaundice). The verb "horiḳ" (Gen. R. xiii.; Ber. 44b) is used to denote "making pallid," "pale," especially the pale yellowish color of a frightened countenance (Soṭah iii. 4). The same idea is conveyed by the verb "kirkem," a denominative of the noun "karkom" (crocus).

Compare, further, "moriḳa" (saffron-colored), from , a byform of (Levias, "Am. Jour. Semitic Lang." xvi. 250); "ḥardali" (mustard-colored), used of the color of wine (Shab. 63a), "👉🏻ḳela'illan," an adaptation of κελαῖνου (sea-green, blue; compare Krauss, l.c.s.v.).👈🏻

  1. Hebrew color linguistic evolution

“In 1969 the anthropologist Brent Berlin and the linguist Paul Kay published an interesting book: Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution (1969). Their research in the field of color terminology has been highly influential in anthropology and linguistics. They checked how many basic color terms for each language are universal, and concluded that the number of basic color terms in the world’s languages are limited to around 11 universal basic color terms.

Berlin and Kay also depict the evolution of colors term. They realized that the basic terms appear in every language in the same order. The same happened in Hebrew. According to their research the first two basic color terms in every language are שָׁחֹור (black) and לָבָן (white). 👉🏻שָׁחֹור refers not only to black, but to all the cool colors (such as blue, green, grey). לָבָן refers not only to white, but to all the warm colors (such as red, yellow).👈🏻

The third basic color term to enter the language is אָדֹום (red). After אָדֹום comes כָּחֹול (blue), יָרֹוק (green) or צָהֹוב (yellow). We don’t have information about those steps in Hebrew, since they occurred long ago, before the invention of the writing. When the Bible was written the Hebrew language was already at the third phase. It already included 4 basic color names: שָׁחֹור, לָבָן, אָדוֹם וְיָרוֹק (black, white, red and green).

👉🏻The Israelites described the whole colors of the world with only 4 words. Obviously each of the words referred to more colors than it referred to today. The biblical אָדֹום referred to חוּם (brown) as well. The biblical יָרֹוק referred to כָּחֹול (blue) and צָהֹוב too👈🏻.”

“Berlin and Kay marked the four last color terms to enter every language: purple (סָגֹול), pink (וָרֹוד), grey (אָפֹור) and orange (כָּתֹום). And so it was in Hebrew. סָגֹול, וָרֹוד and אָפֹור were invented during the 19th century. וָרוֹד named after the flower with the same color – rose (in Hebrew וֶרֶד). אָפוֹר after the dirt with the same color – ash (in Hebrew אֵפֶר). כָּתֹום was invented only during the 20th century. At the establishment on the state of Israel, Hebrew had not 11 basic terms of color, as Berlin and Kay declared, but a dozen.”

  1. The Tosefta

It compares the strongest green and the strongest red, asking: "What is the greenest of the green?" The answer given by Sumchus was, "like the tail of a peacock."

In fact, a peacock has 365 different colors, with all possible colors, except red and purple or violet.

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Languages have different terms for colors. It's actually quite common for one word to serve for blue, green and yellow. ירוק is a term clearly related to yerakot which comes in the green-to-yellow range, so I would assume that it fills that role.

Why does English have only one word that means kachol and techelet?

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  • This is very possible, but can you source that this factor applies to the word ירוק and perhaps approximately on which wavelengths/frequencies the term ranges?
    – Double AA
    Dec 20, 2012 at 6:14
  • If the word Yarok simply includes yellow, than what is Tzahov?
    – Double AA
    Dec 21, 2012 at 7:30
  • @DoubleAA Sometimes brightness impacts color words - so one word can be "bright yellow/green" and another is "pale yellow/green" Dec 21, 2012 at 16:58
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Anything from yellow to green.

Anthropologists will tell you that different cultures can have words that mean a variety of colors; yet it appears that the color wheel as we know it is universal -- no known language has the same word for a color and its opposite, and no known language uses one word for non-contiguous colors on the wheel.

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  • If the word Yarok simply includes yellow, than what is Tzahov?
    – Double AA
    Dec 21, 2012 at 7:30
  • @DoubleAA, do we have examples of Tzahov in Mishnaic Hebrew? If not, then you need a different word for yellow. Weird as it is, it could be that yellow and green were seen as shades of the same color.
    – Seth J
    Mar 20, 2014 at 21:13
  • @SethJ Vayikra 13:30 and follow up to the relevant Tannaitic material.
    – Double AA
    Mar 20, 2014 at 21:15

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