NOTARIKON


NOTARIKON (Gr. νοταρικόν; Lat. notaricum, from notarius, "shorthand-writer"), a system of abbreviations by either shortening the words or by writing only one letter of each word. This method is used in interpreting the Pentateuch and is the 30th of the 32 hermeneutical rules of the *Baraita of 32 Rules. The word is derived from the system of stenographic shorthand used by the notarii in recording the proceedings in the Roman courts of justice (Kohut, Arukh, 5 (1926), 336). The word notarikon occurs only once in the Mishnah (Shab. 12:5). Although there is an opinion that the hermeneutic law of notarikon has biblical authority (Shab. 105a), the Talmud does not use it for halakhic interpretations. It is only employed in aggadah and *asmakhta (support for the halakhah). Nevertheless, there were rabbis who objected to the excessive use of notarikon even in aggadah (Sif. Deut. 1).

The notarikon can be divided into two categories. One kind interprets every letter in a particular word as the abbreviation of a whole word, since "the words of the Torah are written as notarikon" (Mekh. Ba-Ḥodesh, 8). Thus the word נִמְרֶצֶת (nimreẓet, "grievous"; I Kings 2:8) stands for נוֹאֵף, מוֹאָבִי, רוֹצֵחַ, צוֹרֵר, תּוֹעֵבָה (No'ef, Mo'avi, Roẓe'aḥ, Ẓorer, To'evah; "adulterer, Moabite, murderer, oppressor, despised") and the first word of the Ten Commandments, אָנֹכִי (Anokhi, "I") was interpreted to mean אָנָא נָפְשִׁי כְּתָבִית יַהֲבִת (Anna Nafshi Ketavit Yahavit; "I Myself wrote (and) gave [them]" (Shab. 105a).

A second and later application of notarikon consists of breaking up a word into various components. Through this method the name רְאוּבֵן (Re'uven, "Reuben"; Gen. 29:32) becomes ראוּ בֵן (re'u ven, "see (the) son"; PdRE 36) and the word אַבְרֵך (avrekh, "senior adviser"; Gen. 41:43) changes into אָב בְּחָכְמָה ר״ךְ בְּשָׁנִים (Av Be-ḥokhmah, Ra-Kh be-Shanim, "father in wisdom (though) tender in years"; Sif. Deut. 1). Sometimes, one-syllable words are transposed. An example of this is when the noun כַּרְמֶל (karmel, "fresh corn"; Lev. 2:14) is taken to mean רַךְ מֶל (rakh mel, "tender and easily crushed"; Men. 66b). At other times, a word is even transposed although the abbreviation for one of the derived words is missing: מְצוֹרָע (meẓora, "leper"; Lev. 14:2), is therefore taken to mean מוֹצִיא שֵׁם רַע (moẓi shem ra, "slanderer"), although there is no letter shin in the original word (Tanḥ. Meẓora, 4). Conversely, a letter may not be used at all. Words were interpreted through the principle of notarikon even when the words derived from the original did not necessarily correspond to it. Thus nazuf ("under divine censure") is connected with Nezem Zahav beaF ḥazir ("a ring of gold in the snout of a pig"; Avot 6:2). The rabbis made extensive use of the notarikon and the anagram in the interpretation of dreams (e.g., Ber. 57a), and many analogous usages of them can also be found in Hellenistic writings of the period (S. Lieberman, see bibl.). The use of the notarikon was also widespread in medieval homiletical and kabbalistic writings (e.g., Ba'al ha-Turim by Jacob b. Asher). Through such methods of interpretation many words in the Bible became notarikonim. An example of such kabbalistic interpretation is the taking of the word בְּרֵאשִׁית (bereshit, "in the beginning") to refer to the cosmogenic order בָּרָא רָקִיעַ אֶרֶץ שָׁמַיִם יָם תְּהוֹם (Bara Raki'a Ereẓ Shamayim Yam Tehom; "He created the firmament, the earth, the heavens, the sea, and the abyss"). Another example is to interpret bereshit to mean בְּרֵאשִׁית ("created in six primordial days"; Zohar, Gen. Prologue, 3b). According to the Mishnah, Queen *Helena of Adiabene had a golden tablet made for the Temple on which the portion of the *sotah (see *Ordeal) was written in an abbreviated notarikon manner (Yoma 3:10; 37b).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

I.I. Einhorn (ed.), Midrash Tanna'im, 2 (1838), 34cff.; Frankel, Mishnah, index; W. Bacher, Erkhei Midrash (1923), 86f., 233; S. Krauss, in: Byzantinische Zeitschrift, 2 (1893), 512ff.; M. Halperin, Notarikon, Simanim, Kinnuyim (1912); S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (1950), 69ff.; M.D. Gross, Oẓar ha-Aggadah, 2 (1961), 796f. (a list of notarikonim).


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