By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 6, 2008

Among the wonderful things about speaking Hebrew as an everyday language, there are also occasional jarring moments. These occur when a word of exalted origin descends to a particularly grubby station.

An example is the word parashah. In Modern Hebrew, it has come to mean an episode or story, particularly of a scandalous nature. So having endured the parashah of Ehud Olmert’s various luxury homes, we are now in the midst of the parashah of the envelopes stuffed with wads of cash, which really ought to send him packing.

Parashah, of course, means a section or paragraph of the Torah. It comes from the verb parash, meaning to depart or turn aside, from which we get the word meaning separation or distinction. The parashiyot, which divide up the Torah mostly according to subject matter, were the original Jewish divisions in the Torah, the chapters being of Christian origin. The parashiyot that we have today are based on those specified by Maimonides, which are in turn based on those he found in the Aleppo Codex, a Torah manuscript copied around 920, of legendary authority and accuracy. Parashiyot Hashavuah are the 54 sections of the Torah that are read publicly in synagogue, and studied weekly for their contemporary relevance.

Last updated: 3:23pm, June 5 2008