There’s an increasing interest in using Hebrew and other foreign languages on jewelry and tattoos. Even the Bieb and his pop have latched on to (or fomented) this trend. Whether it’s the mystique of using an ancient language or the beauty and abstraction (to non-speakers) in the script, the appeal is understandable. What is harder to fathom is how careless consumers and artisans can be in getting the translation of their work correct. There’s even a whole website devoted to such disasters.
Why I Googled it: I saw a ring via a Pinterest pin that claimed to have the Hebrew word “Kodesh” (meaning: sanctified, set apart) on it. Knowing some Hebrew, I was curious to know if the word was rendered correctly. Translation and design mistakes frequently occur because the Hebrew alphabet and right-to-left writing are unfamiliar to the artisan and the words do not always translate easily.
What I found out: There are various spellings (in Hebrew) of the word “kodesh.” This is due to the fact that vowels are designated by various symbols below, above, and within certain Hebrew letters. Which means that without vowels, it’s difficult to determine what a word is if it’s taken out of context.
Somewhat predictably, Strong’s Concordance was one of the first search results I checked that proved helpful. I looked up the word sanctified (#6942) and found that the word קדש is often translated as the verb “holy,” “sanctified,” or “set apart.” Wikitionary also captured this definition.
The ring I had seen used the word קדוש (note the additional letter vuv). When I originally searched for קדוש, without vowels, I found it translated as “kadosh,” meaning “speciality.” After additional research with Strong’s (#6918), I found that it is more frequently translated as either the noun or adjective form of קדש. The Hebrew Wikipedia entry(after running it through Google Translate) also supported the alternate spelling of the word.
This would seem to be the more accurate word choice for use on jewelry since it describes the person (or what they’re striving toward). This is the same word that is used in perhaps the most well-known of all Jewish prayers, the Shema Yisrael.
The takeaway: Based on these results, I concluded that the word used on the ring is indeed correct. And, in case you were wondering, Justin Bieber and his dad must have done their research, too, since their ink is the correct way to spell Jesus in Hebrew (which is Yeshua, more frequently Anglicized as the name Joshua).