The Hebrew Word for ‘Law’

Today’s ‘Parashah’ {פרשה} (weekly Torah portion) is ‘Chukat’ {חקת} (‘decree’ or ‘law’). This is the sixth ‘Parashah’ in the Book of Numbers and can be found in Numbers Numbers 19:1–22:1.

The Hebrew root of the name of our weekly Torah portion is H-K-K {ח-ק-ק}. This Hebrew root relates to the wider concept of ‘law’, ‘statute’ or ‘legislation’. In Modern Hebrew the meaning of the word ‘Chukah’ is constitution and that is a good example of the ‘Hebrew logic’ which creates a strong connection between ‘law’ and ‘constitution’.

Interestingly, the initial meaning of this Hebrew root (H-K-K) talks about ‘to engrave’ and can still be found in the Hebrew adjective ‘Chakuk’ which means ‘engraved’ or ‘carved’ but also ‘statutory.’

In ancient times, when a king or a ruler determined new laws (or wanted to ‘brag’ about his victories in the battlefield) he ordered to engrave the new laws on a stone in the town center – usually at the market place. Over the years, the act for carving the new laws in stone (and the term for law itself) were associated and became the same thing in Hebrew.

Today, in the Modern State of Israel, the ‘Kenesset’ (the Israeli Parliament) is also called ‘Bet a-Mechokekin’ {בית המחוקקים} which is the ‘legislative body’ and literally means ‘the house of the lawmakers’ in Hebrew.