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December 4, 2016 / 4 Kislev, 5777
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How to Say ‘Secular’ in Hebrew

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חִלּוֹנִי, חִלּוֹנִית

 listen and repeat

In yesterday’s dose of Hebrew, we saw the root for profane or not sacred is ח.ל.ל (kh.l.l).
This is the root of the Modern-Hebrew term referring to someone or something secular or non-religious – חִלּוֹנִי ( listen and repeat) in the masculine and חִלּוֹנִית ( listen and repeat) in the feminine.
For example:
תֵּל אָבִיב הִיא לָרֹב עִיר חִלּוֹנִית.
Tel Aviv is generally a secular city.
Although the root of חילוני and חילונית has two ל (l) letters, only one of them appears those words. If you look closely at the words vocalized – חִלּוֹנִי, חִלּוֹנִית – you’ll notice a dot in the ל letter. That dot compensates for the missing ל, which probably dropped off at some point in history due to difficulties in pronunciation.
This word first appears in Hebrew texts in the Midrash, where it refers to a foreigner or a non-priest and is vocalized חִלּוֹנַי ( listen and repeat).

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Ami Steinberger

About the Author: Ami Steinberger is founder and director of Ulpan La-Inyan.

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