Haifa-a beautiful city on the shore
Periodically we take this space to discuss the Hebraic origin of names of places in Israel. This time let us look at the name Haifa, the third largest city in Israel.
Haifa is a picturesque city located between the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Carmel on the largest bay of Israel's shoreline. The city was not mentioned in the Bible, but Mount Carmel, according to the Text, was the spot where the prophet Elijah challanged the Canaanite prophets of Ba-al and demonstrated the strength of the God of Israel (I Kings 18).
The etymology of the name Haifa is unclear. Some say it is derived from the root ch.p.h meaning 'cover' or 'protect', alluding to mount Carmel which protects the city from natural disasters. Others advocate the theory that the name is the merger of the two Hebrew words: hof, meaning 'shore' and yaphe meaning 'beautiful'. Thus Haifa means beautiful shore.
In the Talmud, Haifa was mentioned as a small fishing village which, as historical lore attests, merged during the time of the Second Temple with a small port town called Shiq-mo-na. The Jewish community blossomed here for many years. However, the invasion by Saladin (1100 C.E), and years later, by the Turkish Ottoman Empire (1516 C.E), resulted in a diminished Jewish presence. Only towards the end of the nineteenth century Jews slowly returned to Haifa. The Tech-ne-yon, for example, was founded in 1912 with the help of German and French Jewish Foundations.
Interestingly, the Talmud criticized the Jews of Haifa for interchanging the pronunciation of the Hebrew letters alef with ayin, hay with chet, forbidding them to pray in public (Megila 24:2). This is ironic, particularly in lieu of the fact that centuries later, it was here, in Haifa, where the so-called "war of languages" took place. At the beginning of the 20th century the Jews of Haifa had to fight insisting that Hebrew, not German be the official language of instruction in schools like the Tech-ne-yon. The slogan for the Hebraists was Yehudi, Daber Ivrit, meaning 'Jew, speak Hebrew.' Needless to say the Hebraists won!
Today, Haifa, the beautiful city on the seashore, is one of Israel's great success stories. It is a thriving cultural and industrial city where schools excel, tourism blossoms, the port flourishes and the Hebrew language is heard freely not only in the schools but from every corner.
Professor Rachel Zohar Dulin teaches Hebrew and Bible at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.