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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 '12 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 '12 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 '12 at 3:53
  • Congratulations! This question has won the weekly topic challenge for the week of Vayikra 5772! – msh210 Mar 29 '12 at 17:34
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    See the color entry on Jewish Encyclopedia, under "Scarcity", and especially this book. – WAF Dec 21 '12 at 5:23
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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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    I don't see such a tosfot on sukkah 34b. Maybe you typed the wrong daf by accident? – Double AA Mar 25 '12 at 3:44
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    Do you have a source for your quotation of R Soloveitchik? – Double AA Mar 25 '12 at 3:49
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    i apologize. it is סוכה לא: ד''ה הירוק ככרתי – moses Mar 25 '12 at 4:08
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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 '12 at 4:10
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    I have edited to correct the source reference. In the future please feel free to do so yourself. – Double AA Mar 25 '12 at 4:15
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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 '12 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 '12 at 1:54
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    @ Seth, any update? – HodofHod May 9 '12 at 15:16
  • Not yet........ – Seth J May 9 '12 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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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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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.

  • If the word Yarok simply includes yellow, than what is Tzahov? – Double AA Dec 21 '12 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 '14 at 21:13
  • @SethJ Vayikra 13:30 and follow up to the relevant Tannaitic material. – Double AA Mar 20 '14 at 21:15

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