Word of the Day / Memshala

The Hebrew word for government may seem simple, but take a closer look and you'll realize that, like politics, it's actually quite complex.

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It seems straightforward enough to say that Israel's 33rd memshala (mem-sha-LA) will be sworn into office Monday. But wait a second – what exactly is a memshala anyway?

The word can have broad connotations, meaning "dominion" or "rule" in a loose way, as in the jobs of the sun and the moon as described in Genesis 1:16: "And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day (lememshelet hayom), and the lesser light to rule the night (lememshelet halayla); and the stars."

The standard definition of memshala is "government," though, and it is indeed the 33rd government that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed, though the ministers being sworn in are more accurately referred to as cabinet members.
That brings us to what is probably the most confusing element of this word, which is that in modern Hebrew memshala often refers specifically to the Israeli cabinet rather than to the government as a whole. This, in turn, makes it all too easy to get the ministers of the cabinet (as in the memshala) mixed up with the ministers of the kabinet (kah-bee-NET).

Sure, it's technically the same word, but it doesn't refer to the same government institution. In Israel the kabinet is actually a subset of the full cabinet, an inner cabinet of senior ministers that is tasked with focusing on matters of national security.

Though the composition can vary, by law the kabinet must include at least the prime minister and the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, justice, public security and finance. When not being referred to simply as the kabinet, this inner cabinet also goes by the name kabinet bit'honi (security cabinet) or kabinet medini-bit'honi (political-security cabinet), though it is officially called the Ministerial Committee for National Security Affairs.

A more genuinely Hebrew word was used in Golda Meir's day, when the inner forum of policymakers was known as her mitbah (kitchen) or mitbahon (kitchenette), because that room of her home was the place where she often met with political leaders and advisers when she headed the country in the early 1970s.

As Meir never told Moshe Dayan during the Yom Kippur War: If you can't take the heat, get out of the mitbahon.

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.

When Golda Meir told politicians, 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of my kitchen,' she meant it. Literally.Credit: AP

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