Word of the Day / Bar: Where the Wild Things Are

The world famous Israeli supermodel name is also the place where everybody knows your name.

With armchair Oscar critics abuzz over Leonardo DiCaprio’s fifth failure to win one of the Academy Awards for which he was nominated (this time for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” for which he was up for best actor and, as producer, best picture), what better time to rub salt in the wound and talk about his ex-girlfriend, Israeli model Bar Refaeli?

Okay, not exactly about her, but about her first name. I mean, who names a child after a place where you go to have a beer or three? Is this one of those conception names that tells the world too much information about what her parents were doing nine months before baby supermodel came into the world?

While I don’t claim to know anything about Bar’s mom and dad, I do know that they were probably not intending to name their daughter after the local watering hole.

The Hebrew word bar (pronounced just like the place where everybody knows your name, except with a trilled “r” sound at the end) can mean “open field” or “prairie” (as in pirhei bar, or wildflowers) as well as “pure” or “clean.”

“Who is she that looketh forth as the dawn, fair as the moon, clear as the sun [bara kehama], terrible as an army with banners?” asks Song of Songs (6:10).

One dictionary defines the termbara kehama as “beautiful, pure, chaste, as chaste as ice, as pure as snow (lit. as pure as the sun).” Most people would agree that at least one part of that definition applies to the woman who is probably the most famous Bar in the world, bar none.

As an adjective, bar is sometimes combined with the word for “heart,” as in Psalms 24 (where it is rendered var because it immediately follows a conjunction): “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart [uvar-levav]” (4).

Bar is also the Aramaic version of the Hebrew ben, meaning “son” or “son of,” and there are many phrases involving bar in the sense of being capable of, fit for, or having a certain quality, in which Refaeli’s first name essentially functions as the suffix “-able” does in English.

This is where bar mitzvah comes in, meaning someone who has come of age in the sense of becoming responsible for performing the commandments. Another bar phrase is bar kayma, meaning “sustainable.” This is also the name of an actual bar – a cooperative vegan restaurant and bar in south Tel Aviv, to be precise.

As for that other upper-case Bar, I suppose she’ll have to figure out just how sustainable her career path is – with or without a famous actor by her side – in a field where aging is frowned upon.

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.