Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where did the word Karmelit come from?

 WHAT IS THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE WORD KARMELIT?

A karmelit is a property domain that is considered by halacha to be neither private nor public. Examples include the sea, open country, narrow streets and cul-de-sacs. According to the Rabbis, the word has three possible derivations,

RASHI says that the word comes from Isaiah 10:18, where the word כַרְמִלּ֔וֹ (Karmilo) is used to mean "fruitful garden" People generally don't walk through such gardens, nor are they used by private individuals.

TOSFOS says karmelis relates to Rach u'Mal, a reference to grain that is neither wet nor dry. Likewise a Karmelis is neither private nor public property.

RAMBAM says karmelis  is a corruption of "k'Armelis" -- "like a widow. A widow is not married, but she no longer retains the status of a virgin. Likewise a Karmelis is neither private nor public property.

I don't really buy any of these explanations, though I guess they are plausible. 

A karmel is a fruited garden, so I suppose a semantic shift such as the one Rashi suggests may have occurred, (though its very unlikely that the word karmelis was invented whole cloth based on a verse.) 

The explanations suggested by Rambam and Tosfos seem to me to be less compelling, but I concede that if either "'Armelis" or "Rach u'Mal" were ever used to designate something's hybrid statuses, the corruptions they propose may have developed.  

I checked the usual places to see if karmelis relates to a Greek  Latin or Aramic phrase, but came up empty. Readers? 


Search for more information about the karmelis at4torah.com  

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