I am researching some words to see the agendas of translators. One way to understand what a translator knew or cared about is to look for words which have a generally accepted meaning, and an exception -- a case where Jews understand the word to mean something totally different regardless of its spelling or linguistic similarity to the mass of its uses, and se what the translator used. If the translator had access to meforshim or the talmud, he would then have to decide if he wanted to employ the normative translation or the religious interpretation. Not using the Jewish reading would not prove anything on its own, but could establish a pattern for that translator.

The starting example is the word qaran (ray/beam of light) in Shmot 34:30. In most cases, the root refers to horns, but Onkelos and others see the word as a very rare case of the word meaning an emanation of light. Someone outside of the religious world, looking just at the text and the construction of the word would not see that as a popular option.

Are there other words which mean something unexpected only by dint of religious interpretation? So far, I am looking at r-tz-ch (as kill vs. murder), sh-b-t (as week vs. a specific day), and g-r (when to use it as convert vs. anything else). I have discarded k-d-sh, k-p-r and ch-t-a.

Can anyone present a word which usually means X but through tradition, we accept that it means Y?

  • Not sure where you draw the line, but how about k'ruv (the noun) or n-f-sh (the verb)?
    – WAF
    Sep 22, 2015 at 12:40
  • @WAF If you can show me that those roots/words have a general meaning and an exception which is the product of religion, then they would be helpful.
    – rosends
    Sep 22, 2015 at 12:48
  • @WAF Not n-f-sh the noun too?
    – Double AA
    Sep 22, 2015 at 15:00
  • What about מלאכה?
    – Ypnypn
    Oct 22, 2015 at 17:44

1 Answer 1


This example peaked my curiosity when I first paid attention to it:

Exodus 12:9:

Sefaria translation in English

אַל־תֹּאכְל֤וּ מִמֶּ֙נּוּ֙ נָ֔א וּבָשֵׁ֥ל מְבֻשָּׁ֖ל בַּמָּ֑יִם כִּ֣י אִם־צְלִי־אֵ֔שׁ רֹאשׁ֥וֹ עַל־כְּרָעָ֖יו וְעַל־קִרְבּֽוֹ׃

Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; its head with its legs and with the inwards thereof.

Rashbam on Exodus 12:9:1 (Sefaria English):

נא - נראה לשון צלי קדרה המבושל בלא מים ובלא צלי אש הכתוב כאן.

נא , I believe this means a type of frying in a pot but in its own juice (including the blood) not involving water known as צלי קדר, not roasting directly on the fire, as required by our verse here [so that the blood drips off. Ed.].

As you know, the word נא , in almost every other place (IIRC, some commentary mentions that, in fact, this place is the ONLY exception in all of Tanac"h!) means "please".

  • that is an interesting example -- Rashi says that the word "na" here is simply the Arabic for "uncooked". Apparently the Abarbenel says it means "now" while the Ibn Ezra says "the way it is now" (which would mean uncooked). No translator I can find translates it any way other than some form of raw. Were they all acceding to a rabbinic understanding or was there an obvious linguistic imperative?
    – rosends
    Sep 22, 2015 at 17:10
  • @Danno I wouldn't know the definitive answer to your last question. One of the reasons I spec. used Rashba"m (I saw Rash"i, as well) is that the last 2 words הכתוב כאן seem to indicate that this what the verse means hear. I'm inferring that due to the context of everything else surrounding this verse as well as the entire paragraph talking about Karban Pesach, that all the commentaries may have been forced to find some other explanation for the word "na". Though, I agree, that the standard translation, "please" would work, here, it seems syntactically, though, not semantically, misplaced.
    – DanF
    Sep 22, 2015 at 17:48
  • I am now working on "aval" as used in Bereishit 42:21 and explained by Onkelos as "in truth."
    – rosends
    Sep 22, 2015 at 18:13
  • @Danno If it's the verse I'm thinking of, (don't have chumash open, now), you mean the one when the brothers confess to their selling Yosef, right? If that's the verse, I think the meaning "but" may make sense there. Reason - look at the context of what they say afterwords, "..because we didn't listen to our brother's pleas." I.e., hidden msg. - We thought we'd have no problem buying food, BUT, this is the reason why we have encountered all these problems. It's a bit of a stretch, but, it may work, here. Point is, there's no "religious" context within this verse.
    – DanF
    Sep 22, 2015 at 19:04
  • 2
    By the way נא does not usually mean please; that is a drash. it means now. I am not sure it ever conclusively means please on a pshat level. see this article on the topic: parsha.blogspot.com/2005/06/… Accordingly, this answer could not be more wrong.
    – mevaqesh
    Oct 22, 2015 at 3:50

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