HEBREW BOOK TITLES


Bible

A number of book titles are mentioned in the Bible, i.e., "Book of the Generations of Man" (Gen. 5:1), "*Book of the *Covenant" (Ex. 24:7 etc.), "Book of the Wars of the Lord" (Num. 21:14), "Book of Jashar" (Josh. 10:13; II Sam. 1:18), and "Book of Chronicles of the Kings of Judah and Israel." The Pentateuch itself is variously named as the "Book of the Law of Moses" (Josh. 8:31) or the "Law of God" (Josh. 24:26), later becoming the *Torah in short, or Ḥamishah Ḥumshei Torah ("Five Books of the Torah") or Ḥummash. Together with Prophets and Hagiographa this became in due course the Bible (Gr. Βιβλία lit. "Books") or in Hebrew Kitvei ha-Kodesh ("Holy Scriptures"). A term like Ketuvim originally described the Hagiographa only, but then was extended to the entire biblical canon. Still later, the title Esrim ve-Arba'ah, the 24 books (of the Bible) occurs. The *abbreviation תנ״ך (Tanakh), the first letters of the three sections in the Hebrew Bible – Torah, Nevi'im, Ketuvim – is now the most popular term. The term Mikra (or Kera) is also used in the Mishnah and Talmud for the Bible (or a verse thereof; Ned. 4:3; Shab. 63a; Ta'an 5a; TJ, Ket 35:3). For the titles of individual books in the Bible, in particular of the Pentateuch, it is necessary to go back to the Septuagint where they appear as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, terms describing, more or less, the contents of the books. In later Hebrew usage, the first or one of the first words of each book (Bereshit, Shemot, Va-Yikra, Ba-Midbar, and Devarim) was adopted as a title, which was a widespread practice among Greeks as well. Titles in Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha describe putative authors and/or contents (e.g., Wisdom of Ben Sira).

Talmudic Era

In the Mishnah and Talmud the names of orders and tractates reflect contents rather than authorship, but the unwieldy size of tractate Nezikin, homonymous with the entire order, led to its being divided into Bava Kamma, Bava Meẓia, and Bava Batra ("the first, middle, and last gate"). Chapters, which were not numbered, are quoted by one or several initial words. Alternatives to the title Talmud ("study") are Gemara ("learning"), or the abbreviation שַׁ״ס (shas), for Shishah Sedarim, the six orders of the Mishnah and Talmud, a title which resulted from the Church's banning of the Talmud and the consequent censorship. The oldest Midrashim, like the commentaries on the books of the Pentateuch, take their titles either from these books (e.g., Torat Kohanim "priestly law" but later *Sifra), from their use as textbooks (e.g., Sifrei de-vei-Rav, "schoolbooks"), or from their hermeneutic character (*Mekhilta). Aggadic Midrashim bear either the generic name of Midrash added to that of the biblical book (e.g., Midrash Shemu'el or Midrash Tehillim) – sometimes with the word Rabbah ("great") added (Midrash Bereshit Rabbah, see *Genesis Rabbah etc.) or that of a talmudic teacher reputed to be its compiler (e.g., Midrash Tanḥuma, which is also called Yelammedenu from the characteristic opening phrase of each chapter, and the Pesikta de-Rav Kahana). Later Midrashim have more fanciful titles (see below) such as Lekaḥ Tov ("Good Teaching," Prov. 4:2), Shoḥer Tov ("Seeker of Good," Prov. 11:27), etc. Midrash אבכיר (Avkir) derived its name from the initials of the concluding peroration. אמן בימינו כן יהי רצון ("Amen, in our days, may it be [His] will").

In geonic literature titles express the general nature of their compilations, such as Halakhot Gedolot or Halakhot Pesukot ("Great Rules"; "Decided Rules") or these together with the author's name (e.g., She'iltot – ritual questions (and answers) – of Aḥai Gaon; the seder of Rav Amram, or of Saadiah Gaon).

Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, with the great increase in Hebrew literature of all sorts, there was a proliferation of titles, which may be roughly classified as follows:

NAMES AS TITLES

The names or abbreviations of names of the leading exegetic or halakhic authors are now used to describe their works, such as Rashi (whose Talmud commentary was also called by the generic name Kunteres, from commentarius), RaSHBA (R. Solomon b. Abraham Adret), RoSH (R. Asher b. Jehiel), Mordecai (b. Hillel), etc. often the particular nature of the work (tosafot, "glosses"; ḥiddushim, "novellae"; she'elot u-teshuvot, "responsa") is indicated in the name. Later the names of authors appear as part of titles taken from a biblical phrase such as Ein Ya'akov (Deut. 33:28) by Jacob ibn Ḥabib; Kaftor va-Feraḥ (Ex. 25:33) by Estori Farḥi; PaḤad Yiẓḥak (Gen. 31:53) by Isaac Lampronti or Magen Avraham by Abraham Gombiner. Combinations of names with the word beit ("house of"), sha'ar or sha'arei ("gate" or "gates of"), minḥat and korban ("offering of "), derekh ("way of "), even ("stone of "), yad ("hand of "), etc. are very frequent. While almost all titles in medieval (and post-medieval) religious literature began with the word sefer ("book of ") in some cases the word maḥberet or maḥbarot ("composition of ") was used in combination with the author's name, e.g., Maḥbarot Menaḥem (b. Saruk, a dictionary); Maḥbarot Immanu'el (of Rome, poems). The author's desire for anonymity, stemming from a genuine or assumed modesty, was in constant conflict with that of perpetuating his or his father's name; the result was devious titles, both concealing and revealing. Thus Joseph ibn Kaspi ("silver," of L'Argentière, 13th–14th centuries) incorporated this byname in all his works: Adnei Kesef ("Sockets of Silver," Ex. 26:19), Haẓoẓerot Kesef ("Silver Trumpets," Num. 10:2), Kesef Sigim ("Silver Drops," Prov. 26:23), etc.

TITLES REFLECTING CONTENTS

In the Middle Ages this way of titling books was widely adopted. Saadiah Gaon called his treatise the Book of Beliefs and Opinions, and the title of Judah Halevi's philosophic dialogues, Kuzari ("The Khazars") reflects their imaginary framework. Similarly, titles such as Ibn Gabirol's Mekor Ḥayyim ("Source of Life"), Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, and Albo's Ikkarim ("Principles") express the basic idea or purpose of the works in question. In the same vein Maimonides called his code Mishneh Torah ("Repetition of the Torah" alluding both to Deut. 17:18 and to Judah ha-Nasi's Mishnah), though it was later called the Yad ha-Ḥazakah ("The Strong Hand," Deut. 34:12), since the numerical value of yad is 14, the number of books into which the code is divided. There are several works called "Book of Precepts" (Sefer Mitzvot), one by Maimonides (originally in Arabic), one by *Moses of Coucy, and the Sefer Mitzvot Katan of *Isaac b. Joseph of Corbeil. Israel Najara wrote a short manual of sheḥitah for youngsters, to which he gave the equivocal title of Shoḥateiha-Yeladim ("Slaughterers of Children").

METAPHORICAL TITLES

These occasionally overlap with the previous categories, as can be seen from examples mentioned above. However, most of these fanciful appellations do not provide the uninformed reader with any clue to the true contents of the work. Jacob b. Asher called his code Arba'ah Turim ("Four Rows") from the four rows of precious stones on the high priest's breastplate (Ex. 28:17); Joseph Caro named his code Shulḥan Arukh ("Prepared Table"; Ezek. 23:41); and Moses Isserles titled his annotations to it Mappah ("Tablecloth"). Early halakhic compendia bore such titles as Eshkol ("Cluster of Grapes"), and Shibbolei ha-Leket ("Gleanings of Corn"). In his work Levushim ("Garments"), Mordecai Jaffe named each of the 10 sections with one of the epithets of the biblical Mordecai's attire (Esth. 8:15). Solomon ibn Gabirol called his astronomic treatise Keter Malkhut ("The Royal Crown"); the kabbalistic classic is known as the Sefer ha-Zohar ("Book of Splendor") and kabbalistic literature in general indulged in euphuistic titles which usually expressed some mystical idea as well; e.g., Eẓ ha-Ḥayyim ("Tree of Life") by Ḥayyim Vital and Tomer Devorah ("Palm Tree of Deborah") by Moses Cordovero.

The *gematria system of using the numerical value of letters and words also played a great part. Thus the responsa of Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran were named Tashbeẓ – this was not only the abbreviation of Teshuvot Shimon ben Ẓemaḥ and the biblical term "chequer-work" (Ex. 28:4), but also its numerical value was 792, the number of responsa included in the work. In some cases an abbreviation based on initials displaced the title in common parlance: a typical example (apart from the classic case of Rashi) is Shelah (for Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit). The author, Isaiah Horowitz, became generally known as Ba'al ha-Shelah, and sometimes by paradoxical rebound the book was popularly called by this latter title. Similarly the Pentateuch commentary ascribed to Jacob b. Asher, author of the Arba'ah Turim, is known as the Ba'al ha-Turim (cf. Zerahiah ha-Levi's commentary Me'orot on Alfasi, known as Ba'al ha-Ma'or).

The importance the Jews attached to a man's literary or scholarly work caused authors like those mentioned above to be known almost exclusively by the titles or abbreviations of titles of their books, such as the SHeLaH just mentioned, or the Ḥatam Sofer (title of Moses Sofer's works: responsa, novellae etc.), the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim (Israel ha-Kohen of Radun, after his ethical treatise of that name), the Ḥazon Ish (Abraham Isaiah Karelitz, after the title of his novellae).

Some titles seemingly chosen simply from biblical personal or place names – e.g., Avi'ezer (by Eliezer b. Joel ha-Levi); Taḥkemoni (by Judah Al-Ḥarizi); Tishbi (by Elijah Levita) – usually contained an allusion to the author's name.

INITIAL WORDS AS TITLES

As with biblical and midrashic literature, medieval works were also occasionally called by their initial word or words, e.g., Tanya, the title of a 14th-century ritual and one popularly given to Shneur Zalman's Likkutei Amarim.

"FOLLOW-UP" TITLES

These were often used for commentaries, like the previously mentioned Mappah for the Shulḥan Arukh. Shem Tov Falaquera gave his commentary to Maimonides' Moreh Nevukhim the title Moreh ha-Moreh ("Guide to the Guide"), and N. Krochmal wrote a Moreh Nevukhei ha-Zeman ("Guide for the Perplexed of the Time"). Solomon b. Abraham Adret's Torat ha-Bayit ("Law of the House," Isa. 30:9) was criticized by Aaron ha-Levi in his Bedek ha-Bayit ("Repair of the House," II Kings 12:6) and this was countered by Adret by his Mishmeret ha-Bayit ("Guard of the House," ibid., 11:6). Samuel b. David ha-Levi's Turei Zahav ("Circlets of Gold") prompted Shabbetai Kohen to write Nekuddot ha-Kesef ("Studs of Silver," cf. Songs 1:11). Further classifications and subclassifications can and have been made. For translators the older Hebrew book titles sometimes present a problem.

MODERN TIMES

While the medieval manner of entitling rabbinic books has continued into modern times, as exemplified by Rabbi A.I. (Ha-Kohen) Kook's responsa (Da'at Kohen, Ezrat Kohen, Mishpat Kohen) and other writings (Iggerot Ra'ayyah, Olat Ra'ayyah, etc. – Ra'ayyah (Rav Abraham Yiẓhaq Ha-Cohen) being an abbreviation of his name), modern writers in Hebrew follow the prevailing standards in Western literature and scholarship, without abandoning recourse to the former Hebrew tradition. Examples are the titles of some of S.Y. Agnon's novels and short stories (such as A Guest Who Stays Overnight, Jer. 14:18) and M. Shamir's King of Flesh and Blood, a frequent midrashic phrase.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.