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קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ: כִּי קָדוֹשׁ, אֲנִי
”Be holy for I (God) am holy"

This verse in Leviticus 19:2 seems to demand that Israel should sanctify herself to the level of God’s holiness.

But in reference to God, the word קָדוֹשׁ holy, is spelled in full, with a ו (vav) and when it refers to human beings, the word is spelled missing that vav, קְדֹשִׁים, instead being spelled with only the cholam dot.

Is there any significance to this difference in spelling with regards to how we should interpret this command of God? It's not the difference in singular/plural that I am asking about, but whether the adding (or ommission) of the vav in the word for holy mean anything with regards to the interpretation of this verse or to the meaning of the concept of holiness?

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The use of the extra waw (ו) in Leviticus 19:2 is a spelling variant known as full (מלא) spelling. Other letters, notably yod (י), or the letter he in word-final position are also used for full spelling. When these letter could be used but are not, the spelling is called "missing" (חסר, or sometimes "defective" in English, although there is no "defect") spelling. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_spelling for more background.

The use of full spelling in the MT of the OT is not consistent. There is no discernible semantic implication of full or missing spelling although the attempt at reading meanings into these variations is a popular eisegetical exercise. So this is not a grammatical issue, it is purely orthographical. The origin of these variants is not known.

Examples of adjectival kadosh in "missing" spelling (without the waw) are:

  1. Exodus 29:31
  2. Leviticus 6:9,19,20
  3. Leviticus 21:7,8
  4. Leviticus 24:9
  5. Numbers 6:5,8
  6. Deuteronomy 26:19
  7. Isaiah 49:7
  8. Psalms 65:5
  9. Nehemiah 8:9,11

Examples of adjectival kadosh in "full" spelling (with a waw) are:

  1. Exodus 19:6
  2. Leviticus 7:6,
  3. Leviticus 10:13
  4. Leviticus 11:44,45
  5. Leviticus 16:24
  6. Leviticus 19:2
  7. Leviticus 20:26
  8. Leviticus 21:8
  9. Deuteronomy 7:6
  10. Deuteronomy 14:2,21
  11. Deuteronomy 23:15
  12. Deuteronomy 28:9
  13. I Samuel 2:2
  14. II Kings 4:9
  15. Isaiah 4:3
  16. Isaiah 6:3
  17. Isaiah 40:25
  18. Isaiah 12:6
  19. Ezekiel 39:7
  20. Hosea 11:9
  21. Psalms 22:4
  22. Psalms 99:3,5,9
  23. Psalms 111:9
  24. Job 6:10
  25. Ecclesiastes 8:10
  26. Daniel 8:13
  27. Nehemiah 8:10

Judging by the preponderance of the full spellings of kadosh, we can surmise that it represents the normative vocalization. Then the question in Leviticus 19:2 is, where did the waw go in kedoshim (קְדֹשִׁים)?

The answer to that question is that the form קְדֹשִׁים is a contextual form, spoken together with other words in a sentence and is subordinate to the final word in the phrase, תִּהְיו, "you should be", so that it's vocalization is slightly contracted: the waw is shortened to a cholam dot and the kamatz under the initial kof is shortened to a shva na.

There is one instance of a full spelling of kedoshim, in Hosea 12:1. That instance can probably be explained as intending to indicate that the word is intended to have the primary stress in its clause.

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The vav here to my understanding is used to indicate that the second holy is the same as the first. It’s not a different kind of holy, not a new type, or new version but it’s identical. It is emphasizing that the Holy is exactly the same and therefore doesn’t leave room for ambiguity.

For example

Be holy as I am (the same) holy.

Or

In the way that I am Holy, you be Holy in the exact same way.

A fabricated example in English would be

  • Paul picked up a hammer and with the same hammer nailed shut the box
  • Paul picked up a hammer and with vavhammer nailed shut the box

To answer your question, yes God is asking Israel to be as set apart, as He is set apart.

The diacritical niqqud is a recent addition and mostly used to indicate vowel placements in order to know how to pronounce the word and get a clearer understanding of the original non diacritically spelt word.

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  • Your answer appears to be correct though I am unqualified to actually say so, but it would not be considered up to snuff on this site because it lacks a source for the information you provided. Can you please provide a source from a grammar or something and I'll be happy to upvote this peaceful answer. Thanks. – Ruminator Feb 21 '19 at 17:39
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Qadashim is simply the plural form of the singular adjective used of God, qadosh. Although indisputably used adjectivally here, qadosh and qadashim are actually nouns—"holy ones;" "holy one." If you didn't use the plural here in reference to Israelites, it would sound something like 'be you a holy [Israelites]' to native speakers' ears.

The form of a word often changes in Hebrew between the singular and plural, and construct forms. Here, the vav, which serves as a vowel indicator, is omitted, among other things, since the plural form doesn't have an o sound anymore. (It does not mean there is a different meaning to the word when this form change occurs.)

St. Peter quotes this passage in Greek, but preserves the noun-for-adjective original to the Hebrew (i.e. doesn't here Grecanize the Hebrew when translating into Greek):

1 Peter 1:15-16 (DRB) But according to him that hath called you, who is holy, be you also in all manner of conversation holy: Because it is written: You shall be holy [lit. "holy ones"], for I am holy [lit. "a holy one"].

Both St. Peter and Jesus give the impression that "Be you holy" is certainly a call to personal holiness, not some 'accredited righteousness' which doesn't correspond to or mean a resultant personal holiness, as in modern interpretations.

As we see above, how we live is what is meant by "be holy," according to St. Peter.

Reading more of the context further proves this:

1 Peter 1:15-17 (DRB) But according to him that hath called you, who is holy, be you also in all manner of conversation holy: 16 Because it is written: You shall be holy, for I am holy. 17 And if you invoke as Father him who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every one's work: converse in fear during the time of your sojourning here.

('Conversation' is an archaic word which means 'general conduct.')

And as I said, Jesus interprets it as moral perfection of life:

43 You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: 45 That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? 47 And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? 48 Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.

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  • I think sara is asking why holy is spelt with the vav instead of without. קדשׁ / קדושׁ Not so much why the grammar demands it be plural and singular. I may have misunderstood the question, so I’ll stand corrected if I’m wrong. – Nihil Sine Deo Feb 21 '19 at 14:26
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    The form of a word often changes in Hebrew between the singular and plural, and construct forms. Here, the vav, which serves as a vowel indicator, is omitted, among other things, since the plural form doesn't have an o sound anymore. One word doesn't mean something different than the other or anything. – Sola Gratia Feb 21 '19 at 14:49
  • No I’m not suggesting that either variant has a different meaning ( quite the opposite) but despite both קדשׁ / קדושׁ taking the singular form they are spelt differently. And Sara is asking why is the vav used? I guess in her example she adds another layer because of the plurality, singularity aspect. You are attributing the vav, as best as I understand you, to the plural form and the sounding. That may very well be the case here, yet there are instances where holy is used with and without the vav for almost identical sentence structure. Japanese can interchange L & R so is קדשׁ / קדושׁ same? – Nihil Sine Deo Feb 21 '19 at 15:01
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    Edit made: My question indeed was about why in the one instance the word holy is spelled with a vav and in the other case it's spelled without it. – sara Feb 21 '19 at 16:50
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The verb תִּהְיוּ (tihyu) is conjugated in the plural number, from the root form (lemma) הָיָה (hayah), “to be.” Since no subject occurs immediately adjacent to the verb, then it is assumed to be אֲתֶּם (attem), “ye”—the 2nd person, plural number, (masculine) personal pronoun, in agreement with the preceding masculine plural noun בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל (benei Yisraʾel)—“the children of Israel,” to whom Moses was speaking.

קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדֹושׁ אֲנִי יַהְוֶה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם
kedoshim tihyu ki kadosh ani Yahveh eloheikhem

In the first part of the clause, the verb תִּהְיוּ is functioning as a linking verb, connecting the implied plural subject אֲתֶּם (“ye”) to the predicate adjective קְדֹשִׁים (kedoshim)—“holy.” In Hebrew grammar, adjectives decline according to gender (male, female) and number (singular, dual, and plural).1 2 Hence, the adjective קָדֹושׁ (kadosh)—which is actually the adjective declined in the masculine gender, singular number (i.e., the lexical form), becomes קְדֹשִׁים (kedoshim), declined in the masculine gender, plural number, as indicated by the plural ending (ים-) and slight change in diacritics.3 Again, this is necessary so the adjective קְדֹשִׁים can agree in number (and gender) with the implied plural (and masculine) pronoun אֲתֶּם—which refers to the masculine plural בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל (benei Yisraʾel).

In the last part of the clause, the adjective remains as קָדֹושׁ (masculine gender, singular number) because the subject of the implied linking verb אֶהְיֶה (ehyeh)—“[I] am”—is אֲנִי יַהְוֶה (ani Yahveh)—“I, Yahveh”—a masculine gender, singular number subject.

In summary, קְדֹשִׁים is used in agreement with a (masculine) plural subject, while קָדֹושׁ is used in agreement with a (masculine) singular subject, all according to the rules of Hebrew grammar.


Footnotes

1 Pratico and Van Pelt, p. 60, 7.2
2 They can also have absolute and construct forms when functioning substantively (as a noun).
3 due to propretonic reduction

References

Pratico, Gary D.; Van Pelt, Miles V. Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

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  • 1
    And now I see that you were concerned about male and chaser spelling, not the difference in spelling between singular and plural declensions. Oops. – Der Übermensch Feb 24 '19 at 5:01
  • Yes that’s what she was asking but I still appreciate your response, so leave it up. – Nihil Sine Deo Feb 24 '19 at 5:28

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