By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 4, 2008

Chalifah means a suit in modern Hebrew. Traditionally a very un-Israeli item of clothing, globalisation has made suits far more visible, sometimes even worn with ties.

The word is used twice in the story of Joseph, both times in the context of Israelites who need to be made presentable in Egyptian society. First, Pharaoh's servants bring Joseph a new suit of clothes when he emerges from several years prison looking, presumable, pretty grungy (Genesis: 41:4).

Next, Joseph himself orders chalifot simlaot, a change of clothes (Genesis 45:22), to be brought to spruce up his brothers when they arrive in Egypt after their dusty journey from Canaan (which shows, perhaps, how far Joseph has assimilated Egyptian standards of proper dress).

Chalifah comes from the word chalif meaning to change, which explains why the word also means a successor or replacement. In this sense it entered Arabic as Caliph, ruler, meaning the one who succeeded the previous Caliph.

    Last updated: 4:42pm, November 4 2008