Culture, Israel, Politics

Name these planets!

solar system
Let’s take a break from all the Gaza news and remind ourselves that the universe is much, much larger than these conflicts. 2009 has been declared the International Year of Astronomy (sponsored by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO, along with organizational associates around the world), commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first astronomical observations with a telescope (by Galileo) and the publication of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, two events that could be considered the birth of modern astronomy. The IYA is being celebrated with numerous events around the world, including a contest to come up with Hebrew names for the planets Uranus and Neptune!
You see, the first 5 non-Earth planets in our solar system are visible to the naked eye and were well-known to ancient astronomers. Therefore, they each have long-standing Hebrew names: Mercury is Kochav, Venus is Nogah, Mars is Ma’dim, Jupiter is Tzedek, and Saturn is Shabbetai. However, Uranus and Neptune were discovered in 1781 and 1846, and when Hebrew was revived as a spoken and scientific language, no Hebrew names were chosen; Hebrew speakers (like speakers of most languages) have referred to these planets by the name of a Greek and a Roman god. No more. The science division of the Academy of the Hebrew Language has announced a contest to select authentic Hebrew names. (Pluto has been demoted from planet status, and is therefore not included in the contest.)
Submissions will be accepted any time until Lag Ba’omer (May 12). Finalists will be chosen by a panel of Israeli astronomers and Academy members, and the final decision will be put to a public vote. The winners will be announced over Chanukah.
Be creative! I’ve already put in my submission (though I’m not going to tell you what it is until the finalists are announced). And good luck!

20 thoughts on “Name these planets!

  1. Don’t forget everyone, those aren’t Hebrew words for plows, pillows and hammers. They are the names of ancient near eastern gods and goddesses. Perhaps, in that case, we should adopt the names of modern gods for the new Hebrew names. How about wealth and health? Security and Peace? I’m open for other ideas.

  2. They are the names of ancient near eastern gods and goddesses.
    How do you figure? Other than Tzedek (I don’t know where that one comes from), they are all descriptions of the planets. Kochav = star (or planet); Nogah = illumination; Ma’dim = the reddifier; Shabbetai = of Shabbat (each of the heavenly bodies was associated with a day of the week; cf. Saturn/Saturday in English).

  3. I came up with (and submitted) “Rahav” for Neptune and “Elyon” for Uranus.
    “Rahav” is a biblical name for the sea personified, and according to Bava Batra 74b is the name of the “Prince of the Sea”. I find it to be a pretty good parallel for Neptune.
    “Elyon” seems to be an early name of a Hebrew deity who eventually merged with the Main One. He is introduced (Gen. 14) as “Creator of Heaven and Earth”, and elsewhere is identified as being high up in the sky (II Sam 22:14; Isa. 14:14). Most interesting about Elyon is that Philo of Byblos identifies him as the father of Uranus and Gaia.
    I’ll probably blog about this on my own site, too.

  4. “Tekheilet” for Neptune and “Karti” for Uranus, based on the colors of the planets. The Mishna has two descriptions of the earliest time for tallis & tefillin — one is “when you can see the difference between [the blue] tekheilet [string on your tzitzis] and [the other] white [strings]” and the other is “when you can see the difference between tekheilet and karti.”

  5. From the sublime to the ridiculous… I much prefer some of the above suggestions to mine, but here’s what I submitted, based on names of places that no longer exist:
    Neptune -> Yam -> Yamit*
    Uranus -> Herschel (it’s discoverer, at least as a planet, with a nice Jewish name 🙂 -> Hereshele of Ostropol** -> Ostropol
    * No political intentions in this naming

  6. For Uranus I did “Shahak” (poetic word for heaven, the meaning of Uranus), and for Neptune I did “Livyatan” (ruler of the sea, in a sense).

  7. BZ – I love “Shahak” – especially as a counterpart to “Rahav”; same meter, same archaic Jewish feel.
    “Livyatan” has the same drawback as “Elyon”, in that the term is already familiar from other contexts. Also, “Lavyan” (same root) is the generic word for “satellite” (of both the natural and artificial varieties). Seems that, in general, we’re on the same page.

  8. Ha – I’d considered sending in many of these – tekhelet, rahav, leviatan. I also can’t seem to find info on how Jupiter became Tzedek. My misgiving about rahav and leviatan is that it follows the polytheistic metaphor of the non-Hebrew names. “Tzedek” moves us in a different direction – I like the idea the planets as middot of hashem. Or maybe hapax legomena that connect to biblical verses? Neptune — the most distant planet, for now, could be Avadon, as in Job 26:6 “The netherworld is naked before Him, and Avadon uncovered.”

  9. Just one comment – the planet Mercury’s name in Hebrew is not Kochav (that just means star or planet) – it’s Chama – ???

  10. See this – it’s both. The full name is Kochav Chamah (star of the sun), but it’s also known as just Kochav for short (even though that means just star or planet). Chamah means sun.

  11. Accepted, that is the “full” name. However, in colloquial usage, the name used is Chama, (Even though that is another word for the sun), simply because saying kochav sounds a bit redundant.

  12. Just answering the jupiter difficulties.. I believe Tzedek (Tzedech) means righteous, and that Elohim named all the heavenly bodies for signs and appointed times, a communication of His Word to early man before He took Israel aside and revealed Himself as written in the Torah. Ever since those early days the meanings of the names of the heavenly bodies have been corrupted to suit many religions, but yet as many as 100 are still preserved with the same meaning in all ancient languages.

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