Feb 23, 2009

Argh! Ye Words Lack Meaning!

Every now and again, I come across a word in the siddur that throws me for a loop. I say it, and say it, and don't always know what it's meaning is. In the case of the word that's perplexed me this time -- selah (סלה)-- there was no translation worth offering in the siddur. It's translated as, well, selah. So, after a very, very long time of reciting this word without really knowing what I was saying, I finally looked it up. 

The discovery? No one really knows what it means (oh joy!). Some think that it was a marker for musicians back in the day, since the term appears at the end of a lot of the Psalms. One guy thinks that the word is really "celah" and means "to weigh." Far fetched, me thinks. Some think that it might relate to a city in the time of David/Solomon known as Selah, and others think that maybe it means forever (think: olam?). There are a few who thought it was merely a marker ending and starting a paragraph. Today it's translated sometimes as "think about it" or "praise the lord." Other times, like in my siddur, it's just selah.

An interesting aside since there's really no answer to this little nugget of prayer that's driving me nuts: Furman Bisher, legendary former sports editor and current columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has for decades signed off his columns with "Selah."

Fascinating. Maybe I should make it my life's work to uncover the true meaning of the word selah.



4 comments:

Mottel said...

Most translate it as "Forever" (similar to the words Netzach and Va'ed)

Daniel Saunders said...

Surely it's not a word with no meaning, but a word with too many possible meanings?

Schvach said...

Doesn't the same problem exist for the word 'amen', which some assert isn't even Hebrew?

Chaviva said...

You all make very good points -- especially you, Daniel. And Schvach, I'd forgotten entirely about amen. It's another one of those anomalies!

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