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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Names

Israel

By Jeff A. Benner

This name has been translated several different ways including "he wrestles with God", "Prince of God", "he struggles with God", and several others. The name "Israel" is actually a complete sentence in one word. The name has three components - Y, SR and AL. The "Y" is a prefix meaning "he". The "AL" usually pronounced as "el" is the Hebrew word for "God". The "SR" is the part that seems to cause most of the problems in translation.

The Hebrew word "SR" literally means "turn the head". It is often translated as "prince" or "ruler", one who turns the head of the people. The feminine form of this word is "SRH" or "Sarah". Abraham's wife Sarah was very beautiful and probably "turned the head" of the men who saw her. Another word related to "SR" is yasar meaning "discipline". When you discipline your children you are turned their head from a path of bad to a path of good.

Because the "Y" is in front of the word "SR" we know that this is a verb and not a noun (this is standard Hebrew grammar) and can literally be translated as "he turns the head of God". The way I like to understand this is that when Israel (either Jacob or his descendants) speaks to God, God, the father of Israel, stops what he is doing and turns to his son and says "What do you want my son".




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