Word of the Day / Rav

A word that means 'rabbi' when it stands alone can become a superlative when paired up with other terms.

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden is an arch-terrorist, not the terrorists' rabbi. AP

When U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden last year, Israeli newspapers described the Al-Qaida leader as “rav hamehablim.” If all you knew about bin Laden was that he was a religious guy with a beard and a lot of kids, you might, in theory, have taken that to mean “the terrorists’ rabbi” (especially if the Hebrew term was unhyphenated), just as “rav hakehila” means “the rabbi of the community.”

But wait! What it really means is “arch-terrorist,” a word that in Hebrew does actually have something in common with “rabbi,” and I’m not just talking about the whole facial hair thing. In addition to meaning “rabbi,” “rav” can also denote a person of high standing and is used to refer to people in charge of certain things, like the captain of a ship (“rav-hovel”). It is also used in military ranks, as with “rav-aluf,” the highest rank in the Israel Defense Forces (in English, “lieutenant general”), which is given only to the chief of staff.

“Rav” can also be used as a prefix to indicate “a lot,” as in “rav-hesed” (“one who is very benevolent,” a term used in Exodus to describe God) and “rav-mekher” (“best seller”) – the kind of book that Navy SEAL Mark Owen presumably wants “No Easy Day,” his tale about the mission that killed the notorious rav hamehablim, to shape up to be.