Languages are logical, they say. The development of a language, on the other
hand, often defies logic. How else can we account for the existence of four
Hebrew words for "crown" in a culture that, to say the least, is
wary of kingship?
Each of these four has developed in its own way. The Shabbat morning amidah
prayer tells us that Moses wore a
(kelil tif'eret), "crown of glory," on his head. This word
has to do with wholeness, perfection and culminations. Perhaps that is why
it is also related to the word for bride, (kallah),
who, it appears, in ancient times, would wear a(kelil),
crown, on her head during her
A second term for crown is (atarah),
from the verb
(atar), "He encircled." The (atarah)
was the crown given to King David.
In the Torah, the word is often found coupled with a word for beauty, as in
the metaphorical expression(ateret
tiferet), "crown of splendor." Obviously, a crown is an adornment
of great significance. For example, the famous expression
(ateret zekenim benei banim), "The crown of the elderly is their
is not only a crown. It is more and more frequently a name given by proud
parents to their daughter. The word also designates a rectangular-shaped piece
of cloth adorned with silver or sometimes hand-embroidered
and attached to the edge of the
(tallit), prayer shawl. There are those who would argue that the most
culturally significant use of the word (atarah)
can be found on the Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall in Jerusalem. There, in the
always-bustling Cafe Atara, you can rub elbows with Israeli poets, novelists
The least common word
for crown is(nezer),
the word used for the diadem brought to King Joash at his coronation.
Strangely, the word most associated with a crown, (keter),
has nothing to do with David, Solomon or any other king of Israel. (keter)
is found in Scripture only once in the Book of Esther. Pirkei Avot
(Ethics of the Fathers) tells us that while there are traditionally three
"crowns," in Judaism the crowns of Torah, priesthood, and
kingship there is a fourth crown that supersedes all three, and that
(keter shem tov), "the crown of the good name."
In modern Israel,
(keter) is the very good name indeed of a distinguished publishing
house. If you look at the spine of one of the volumes of the Encyclopaedia
Judaica, you will see the letter "EJ" surmounted by a crown;
the logo indicates that this important reference tool was published
by the Keter Publishing Company.
Speaking of publishing, (koteret),
a word derived from the root (khaf,
tav, resh), denotes the headline of a newspaper or the title of
a book. A slick, glossy magazine in Israel, now defunct, was called
rashit), literally, "head headline." The word (koteret)
can also be found in an architectural drawing, where it depicts the
capital of a column in a building, and in the garden
in the flower's corolla.
originally meant to surround, to encompass. This meaning had both a bad sense
the wicked (makhtir)
the righteous (Habbakuk 1:4) and a good sense the righteous
(yakhtiru) the Lord (Psalm 142:8). This latter sense, which implies
glorification, can also be found in modern Hebrew headlines, in the phrase,
(hikhtiru et malkat ha-yofi), "Beauty Queen Crowned."
A interesting false cognate is found in the Hebrew word for village leader,(mukhtar),
which sounds as though it should come from our root, but doesn't. Rather,
it derives from an entirely different Arabic root for chosen one, hence, "Mukhtar."
There are crowns and there are crowns. If you overhear an Israeli say
sam li keter zahav), be assured he is not talking about being the
succussor to King David but rather about the gold crown his dentist
put in his mouth. One of the most beautiful of the Sabbath table songs
contains the verse (de'eh
hokhmah le-nafshekha ve-hi kheter le-roshekha), "Seek knowledge
for your soul and it will be a crown for your head."
To see how quirkily languages develop, we need only remember a fifth
Hebrew word for crown. During the British Mandate, one might speak of
"crown," a coin that was worth five shillings. That the word
no longer exists is a logical development not only of language but of
history as well.
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