Thursday, September 13, 2012

Efrat - What's in a Name?

When we moved to Israel 20 years ago, we came directly to a town in Gush Etzion, named "EFRAT". Well, we thought it was named "Efrat". But from the moment we arrived, we found out that there was a controversy about the name of our town.
Most residents called it Efrat, but the government called it "Efrata". Some signs said, "Efrat," and some said, "Efrata."
Places in Israel are very often named after their ancient location in the Bible. Efrat, with a population of more than 1500 families, is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. It stands next to Bethlehem, where the Matriarch Rachel was buried. It is the place where King David shepherded his sheep, where Ruth gleaned her barley in the field of Boaz.
The first reference to Efrat is in book of Genesis, 35:19, "And Rachel died, and was buried on the road to Efrat, which is Bethlehem." The Hebrew words "on the road to Efrat" is "derech Efrata". The "a" means "toward" in Hebrew.
But there are debates by people who understand grammar, and those who understand the Tanach (the Bible), and those who have different opinions in every direction. Did Rachel die on the road to Efrat or on the road to Efrata? I don't know.
In the book of Ruth 4:11, there's no mention of going "to" anywhere, and yet we read, "...May you prosper in Efrata and be famous in Bethlehem."
Plus, in Psalms 132:6, we read, "Behold, we heard it in Efrata..."
So, where have I lived for the past 20 years? Well, if you looked at road signs, I lived in Efrata. But if you asked me, I lived in Efrat.
Finally, the debate is over. Israel's State Commission on Names has decided recently that the official name of my soon-to-be-city is "Efrat".
Hooray, now I know where I am - Efrat, the capital of Gush Etzion, the heart of Judea, the home of our forefathers and our great-grandchildren, IY"H. 
Efrat - a town of chesed (loving kindness) that is connected to our Jewish heritage and history, no matter how you spell its name - Efrat!!


  1. This is just a minor difference, unlike other places such as Chalomish/Neve Tzuf.

  2. Hebrew, after all, is, er, Hebrew.

    So, this bit: "'derech Efrata'. The "a" means "toward" in Hebrew..." is awkward as Hebrew has no "a".

    May I suggest this?

    "derech Efrata". The "a", actually the Hebrew letter 'hey' vocalized with a kamatz, signifies a movement toward something or some place in the Hebrew or indicates direction. It's termed the the paragogic vowel.

  3. Your article is very interesting. I just returned from a 10 day trip to Israel. The main thrust of our trip was to pray at the altars of Abraham. Quite a journey actually. On the journey, there were several occasions where we passed signs to Efrat and Efrata. There is a town in Pennsylvania (US) named Ephrata. I have also been curious about the real birthplace of Jesus. IS Efrat (a) the Bethlehem Efrata?