The A-Z of Israel
On 22 January, Israelis will go to the polls. The world watches – but how much do we really know about the country that calls itself “the sole bastion of democracy” in the Middle East?
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Q is for Qoph
This entry was brought to you by qoph – the 19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, an 18-point word in Scrabble, and, in representing the letter Q, 17th in the basic Latin alphabet.
But enough of the maths – the glyph is thought to resemble the eye of a needle, or a monkey (it can be pronounced in two ways – one to mean needle, the other to mean monkey). This is typical of the Hebrew language, which is full of ambiguities. Most modern pronunciation draws from a mixture of Jewish reading traditions.
The earliest examples of written Hebrew date from the 10th century BC. The language stopped being spoken about 200AD, surviving only on paper and in religious rituals, but in the 19th century it was revived and it is now spoken by more than five million people.
Qoph is also a sister of the letter qaf in Arabic; the two languages share Semitic roots, and both are classified as “official languages” in Israel. All government notices must be published in both. In all, however, there are 33 languages spoken in the country – Russian, English, Romanian, Yiddish and others.
Historically Hebrew has been referred to by the Jews as their “holy language”. The Torah is written in Hebrew, and the name itself is thought to derive from a word for the Jewish people – Ibri. This is an adjective thought to spring from the name Eber, an ancestor of Abraham’s, and is possibly also based on a similar word meaning “to cross over” – perhaps referring to the people (the Jews) who crossed over the Euphrates River.
Hebrew was also co-opted by non-Jewish peoples such as the Samaritans, who still use it in religious ceremonies.