Words of the root חלצ seem to have contradictory meanings. On the one hand it is used in the sense of "removing," as in בית חלוץ הנעל and כי חלצת נפשי ממות. On the other hand, warriors are called חלוצים because they are "girded" with weaponry. So which one is it?

(There is also an apparent third sense in the verse ועצמותיך יחליץ, which Artscroll translates "stengthen." But that might be a metaphorical use of the "girded with weaponry" definition.)

  • 4
    It's not unusual for Hebrew roots to have opposite meanings in different binyanim. That said, two opposing meanings you cite are both in kal.
    – msh210
    Jun 27 '11 at 21:09
  • There are similar words with contradictory meanings in English. "Cleave" for example once meant both to cut in two (the modern usage) and to fuse or join together (hence the King James rendering of Bereishit 2:24 as "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."
    – technorav
    Nov 6 '11 at 17:11
  • @technorav, welcome to the site; I hope you stick around and enjoy it.
    – msh210
    Nov 6 '11 at 18:52

Contradictory meanings within a single root is fairly common occurrence amongst Semitic languages. The phenomenon repeats itself consistently in Arabic and Aramaic, so there's no reason why it wouldn't be the case here.

1) Jastrow's dictionary has all three definitions listed, although he lists Hilutz earlier. According to him, the definition of "strengthening or girding one's self" only occurs in Hif'il, Pi'el and Pa'al.

2) I'm not sure what the Alkalai Hebrew Dictionary says, but since it's one of the most authoritative, I wouldn't be surprised if it gives both definitions. The Modern Hebrew dictionaries I looked at all give the definition of "removing" rather than that of "strength" or "girding yourself with weapons". If someone could verify that, that would be great.

3) There is no direct cognate in Arabic, although a similar sounding root, Khalasa, retains both meanings in verb forms 10 and 2.

Based on this, it seems that both definitions are acceptable, although the one of "girding one' self" is less common. The alternative is a ugly borrowing situation that I don't believe to be possible in which either the Aramaic (if there is a similar word) or Arabic word was incorporated into Hebrew and later on the confusion of /Kh/ and /h/ lead to the words being merged into one.

  • Thanks. I was hoping to find some underlying thread that would unify the two definitions, but that's probably just wishful thinking, I guess.
    – Dave
    Jun 28 '11 at 5:13
  • The only way I can think of unifying the definitions is that girding yourself for war or "in strength" is in some way the equivalent of separating yourself or removing yourself from a group of people.
    – Zvi
    Jun 28 '11 at 16:52

For native Hebrew speakers, the meaning carried by the various forms of the חלצ root are all variants of "extract" or "remove". The word חלוצים is better translated as "pioneers" - e.g. those extracted first from the camp. See ואנחנו נחלץ חושים לפני המחנה and the other forms of this root in the passage in Numbers 32:1-32.

The Parshanim have given some additional meanings to the word יחליץ you mention from Isaiah 58:11 - including "strengthen", "girden with weapons", "save", and "rest" (as used in the רצה והחליצנו passage of the ברכת מזון in Shabbat). However, I would venture that the linguistic source of this case also lies around the "extract" meaning, perhaps in a sense that has evaded these parshanim.


חלצ has a cognate in Arabic. In Modern Standard Arabic خلّص carries meanings of 'removing' in the sense of 'purify, make clean'(source: Al-Maany, Hans Wehr). In the colloquial dialects in Egypt and the Levant its predominate meaning is 'to end (doing an activity)'.

  • 1
    Hi Rob, welcome to the site and thanks for adding this fact! This sounds like a comment on the question rather than an answer in its own right, since it does not definitively explain the Hebrew root.
    – WAF
    Jan 9 '17 at 19:33
  • @WAF What does not being definitive have to do with not being an answer?
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 9 '17 at 19:56
  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya Rob! Consider registering your account to fully utilize the site's features. Consider also taking this short tour and or reading this useful short Beginners' Guide.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 9 '17 at 19:58
  • "Which of two Hebrew roots is this?" is not answered by "this one is an Arabic root.". @mevaqesh
    – WAF
    Jan 9 '17 at 19:59
  • @WAF I agree. Luckily that wasn't the OP's question. Rather, the OP asked about the meaning of a Semitic root (incidentally an off topic question). This answer presents a range of meaning of that root in a closely related language.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 9 '17 at 20:03

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