Word of the Day Matkonet Shabbat: Working Less, Despite What Pharaoh Tells You

The word matkonet appears in the Book of Exodus, and workers at Hadassah Medical Center are taking the tradition forward.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

Hadassah nurses and other hospital workers walked out of the wards for three hours Sunday and then went back to providing emergency-only services at the capital’s two hospitals run by the deficit-ridden Hadassah Medical Center. Hadassah, it turns out, hasn’t paid the full salaries it owes for January.

Before shifting to an “emergency schedule” last week, Hadassah workers announced they would be on matkonet Shabbat, a “Shabbat schedule” that also provides reduced services, but not quite as reduced as the emergency schedule currently in place. The term refers to the reduced capacity over the weekend.

Matkonet generally refers to “structure,” “format” or “framework.” It can also mean “measurement” or “quantity,” as in the biblical episode in which Pharaoh imposes worse conditions on his slaves by insisting they gather the straw themselves while making the same number of bricks. (Sound familiar, hospital workers?)

“Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore. Let them go and gather straw for themselves,” Pharaoh says (Exodus 5:7). In the next verse, he continues: “And the tally [matkonet] of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish aught thereof.”

Drop the –et off matkonet and you get matkon, which means “recipe.” So while a matkonet Shabbat has to do with reduced services, matkon leshabbat (“Shabbat recipe”) may land you with grandma’s best brisket.

And while we’re talking about Shabbat, or the Sabbath (also the generic word in Hebrew for “Saturday,” regardless of one’s religious affiliation), it’s interesting that a matkonet Shabbat can be part of labor sanctions, since both Shabbat and shvita, meaning “strike,” have their roots in the word for “rest.” (Ditto for “sabbatical,” or shabbaton.)

Just as God ceased his labor on the seventh day, so, sometimes, do Israelis who have that rare job making them work on the Sabbath.

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.

Matkonet Shabbat. Reduced services throughout the centuries.

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