Word of the Day Parasha: Your Weekly Portion of Scandal

The Hebrew word for the weekly Torah portion is also used in Israel to refer to headline-grabbing titillation.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
A terrible scandal!
A terrible scandal!Credit: Courtesy
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

The portion of the Torah that is read aloud in synagogue every week is called parashat hashavua, "the portion of the week," or just the parasha (pronounced pa-ra-SHA in Israel, and known in the English-speaking Jewish world as the PAR-sha). But in modern Hebrew, "parasha" is also the go-to word for “affair” — not the kind that the monotheistic faiths frown on married people having, but the sort that means “story,” “case,” “scandal” or anything ending with “-gate.”

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This sense of "parasha" is used at the end of the Book of Esther to describe the tale of her fellow hero of the Purim story, Mordecai: “the full account of [parashat] the greatness of Mordecai, how the king advanced him” (10:2).

Sometimes, the whiff of sex implied in “affair" makes the word a particularly suitable translation for parasha, as in recent Hebrew headlines referring to the “sexual assault parasha in Hollywood,” about allegations of an underage sex ring in late 1999 and 2000, and the "sexual harassment parasha that is inflaming Silicon Valley,” about what Wired called charges that the popular social coding site GitHub had “an oversized tolerance for inappropriate behavior.”

Hollywood

And what about the parashat hashavua? Well, this week’s Torah portion, called Kedoshim (“Holy”), lays out prohibitions on the kind of sexual activity, such as adultery and incest, that — at least when Hollywood, Silicon Valley or prominent politicians are involved — can sometimes become the makings of a scandalous parasha.

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.

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