By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 15, 2010

"This is a perfect place to have an etnachta from our hike and have lunch." So might a tour guide in Israel suggest a short break in the itinerary. Etnachta is an Aramaic word deriving from the word nach, meaning rest.

Etnachta is one of the biblical cantillation symbols first developed in talmudic times and codified by the 10th century. Like all of the cantillation symbols, an etnachta is a form of punctuation. The specific role of this wishbone-shaped symbol is to divide a verse into two parts. When coming across an etnachta, one pauses, rests.

The etnachta's position often reveals interpretative insights. In Exodus 35:30, God announces the appointment of Bezalel as builder of the sanctuary. "See, the Lord has called by name [etnachta] Bezalel, the son of Uri." The etnachta after "by name" argues against reading the verse simply as God's calling Bezalel by his name. Rather, it suggests a process of investiture having to do with the power of names.

Nowadays, there are more than a few cafes and B&B's in Israel called Etnachta. It is lyrical term recalling the Jewish people's love of the Bible and the great care with which we read it.

Last updated: 11:21am, July 15 2010