Word of the Day / Hatzi Heder: Half a Room of One’s Own

It’s supposed to be a mini-bedroom, but sometimes this dodgily defined real estate entity doesn’t even offer elbow room.

A Craigslist ad posted in the Boston area a few days ago seeking a female undergrad to share a room in a two-bedroom apartment called the available space “half a room.” In Israel, though (as in some other countries), half a room, or hatzi heder, is not 50 percent of a normal-sized bedroom but a miniature entity in its own right. Buyers beware: Its exact nature is elusive and constantly changing.

Under Israeli building laws, a hatzi heder (technically a hadron, meaning “small room”) must be at least six square meters (64.58 square feet) and, according to a recent Channel 2 report on the matter, must have its own door and window. “In popular usage, a hadron is a “hatzi heder,writes Haifa-based firm Ben-Ezra Engineering & Architecture in an explanation of building terminology: “a space in an apartment that is smaller than a room, but whose purpose is nonetheless to be used as a residential room.”

Just try telling that to the people who write real estate ads, though.

Every once in a while, it really is a small, sometimes oddly shaped room with a door and a window. If you see that while going apartment hunting, count yourself lucky. Though it is called a hatzi heder, ads generally describe these spaces in writing as “.5,” as in a 3.5-room apartment. Since the living room is counted as a room in the Israeli real estate world, that would actually be a two-bedroom apartment plus the mysterious half a room.

I’ve seen a few apartments in which the half a room is a narrow mini-bomb shelter (or mamad, which all Israeli apartments built since 1992 are legally required to include) that is located next to the kitchen and is used as a pantry/laundry room. In others, it’s a mamad inside the master bedroom, in which case it functions like a walk-in closet (actually called a “closet room,” or hadar aronot).

I’ve seen a hatzi heder that was nothing but a little alcove near the front door used by the owner’s son as a place to play the drums, and a real estate agent recently told me that the half-room of an apartment he was trying to sell was actually just a desk in the corner of the living room.

But the biggest stretch of the word that I’ve seen was in an apartment in Jerusalem that was advertised as having 1.5 rooms but was actually a tiny shoebox of a studio housing a couple and a baby, with the curtained-off top bunk of a bunk bed in the living room/kitchen/bedroom functioning as the hatzi heder.

In Geneva, Switzerland, the sublet of a five-square-meter (54-square-foot) half-room sparked a protest in July because it was being rented out for the equivalent of $585 a month.

But in Israel, the half-room is making a comeback, if a Ynet article on the subject from earlier this year is to be believed, because with a proper half-room buyers can feel like they have an additional bedroom without having to shell out hundreds of thousands of shekels more for those few extra meters. That’s the theory, at least. In practice, a hatzi heder doesn’t always leave you with enough room to swing half a cat.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

Ofer Vaknin