Q&A: What does “shevah” mean in Hebrew and what does it represent in Jewish culture?


When I read this question, I was convinced that it’s about the word שיבה (pron. sheevah), which means “return”, and is key to the notion of return to Zion, which underpins Zionism and modern Israel.

Rebekah Macaby interpreted it to mean שבעה (pron. shiv’ah), which is the masculine form of the word for “seven”, and refers to the seven days that one sits mourning for someone who has died.

Others thought that the question is about שבע (pron. shéva), which is the default and feminine form of the word for “seven”—although the h at the end of the transliterated word seems to suggest one of the other options.

Eli Adler surmises that perhaps the question is about the word שבח (pron. shévaḥ), which means “praise”.

So there you have it—all possible answers to your question—and a beautiful illustration of the mess and the information loss involved in conventional phonetic transliteration of Hebrew into Roman characters. But that’s another discussion.


(Originally written in reply to a question at Quora.com)

1 thought on “Q&A: What does “shevah” mean in Hebrew and what does it represent in Jewish culture?

  1. Crazy: (And I do owe it to both of us to formulate my thoughts and congrats on your transliteration systems; a subject dear to my heart.
    As to the subject at hand: I can at least attest to one (more?) polyglot yid in Israel who read the question and saw in his mind’s eye (7) seven ‘truly praiseworthy’ ‘returning citizens’ who went directly from the airport to their dear departed relative’s home, where they now sit on the floor and converse in hushed tones with fellow mourners. Would I/ could I make that up?
    Moral: if there were ever a great example of the crying need for some sort of ‘info-preserving’ scheme, this is certainly one.
    Agav: I do find myself wondering whether the ‘converse’ problem; (ex: the French/English loan-word word ‘exhaust’ spelled in absurd pigeon-heebie as, basically. egzoz, represents a ‘General Relativity’ question in relation to your ‘Special’ theory and its admirable Solution for Heb-to-Eng/Latin letters.
    I do have quite a bit to say on all of your recent postings; if I note that you appreciate the comments, the ‘revach’ (profit/ bachelor/ space between the floor boards I installed today?) will be all ours/ Cheers/ JS/ Qadima (the Ministry of Signage makes me spell it thusly, ugh!)

    Liked by 1 person

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