Translatable but Debatable – רבץ ravatz

by Mark L. Levinson

Last month’s word, להתנוסס  l’hitnossess, was about being positioned high. A nice word for being positioned low is לרבוץ lirbotz, but it too can sometimes be tricky to translate.  If something or someone is described as being down on the ground and I see the verb lirbotz, often I think “Why didn’t the writer just say לשכב lishkav, to lie?  Did he have anything special in mind, or is he simply disdaining to use everyday language and forcing me to find a pompous equivalent?”

Some dictionaries point out that lirbotz is classically something that animals do.  When Isaiah says that “the leopard shall lie down with the kid” and that “there the calf shall feed, and there shall he lie down,” that’s the verb.

Being associated with animals, lirbotz also gets the meaning “(scornfully, of people) hang about, hang around,” according to Sivan & Levenston’s Galil dictionary. shows contexts where the word in English is “lounging” or “vegging.” Morfix includes “(colloquial) to lie around, to hang around, to loiter, to stay” and I guess you could throw in lazing, loafing, lolling, and sprawling.  Dov Ben Abba’s Signet dictionary even says “plague” for people who hang around excessively.

It’s worse than unscientific of me, it’s downright incorrect, but when I see lirbotz I can’t help associating it with בוץ botz, mud, and rather than thinking of calves and kids and pacified leopards, I think of wallowing pigs and hippos.  But to wallow is להתבוסס l’hitbossess.  Also sounds a little bit similar.

 להרביץ l’harbeetz can mean to bring your animals out to where they take their ease.  Jeremiah mentions נוה רעים מרבצים צאן, “an habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down.”  Nothing getting hit but the comfy grass.

So what about the name Ravitz?  Are families named Ravitz supposed to be, ancestrally, people who are glad to stretch out on a deck chair and doze?  No, it seems more likely that they hail from the town of Rawicz, Poland, which according to Wikipedia “was founded by Adam Olbracht Przyjma-Przyjemski for Protestant refugees from Silesia during the Thirty Years War.”  Not even Hebrew-speaking refugees.

And reclining restfully isn’t always what the verb is about in Hebrew.  The same verb can cover the lion that couches, the lion that crouches, or the hen that broods “upon the young, or upon the eggs” (Deuteronomy).  And during the period covered by Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature, Jastrow says that to collapse, “to break down under a load,” was an important meaning, as in Exodus 23:5 which tells what to do “if thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden.”

Not only can an ass rovetz under a burden.  A burden, such as guilt, can be said to rovetz on a person.  As says, “to hang over, to weigh on.”  To be “on your shoulders,” as quotes, or to be on one’s conscience as Ya’acov Levy’s Oxford dictionary notes.

Alcalay’s dictionary includes the example רובצת עליו כללה, “a curse has come upon him.”  The usage for a curse goes back to Deuteronomy.

The thing on top doesn’t even need to sit heavy.  A cloud can rovetz on a landscape — the verb might be “loom,” “float,” “shade” or “shadow,” “overlie,” or “hover.”  A documentary movie, Africa: The Serengeti, recounts that “Long before human memory, the mountains to the east emptied themselves into the skies.  A sea of ash settled across the Serengeti.”  Settling, for the ash, is translated as ravatz.  A settling human being could flop down, recline, or in casual language “crash” for the night.

All the usages seem to have good Biblical sources, and there’s more where they came from. If you have a comment related to this month’s word, please use the space below.  If you’d like to suggest a different word or phrase for discussion, please write to me at  An index of words and phrases discussed so far is here.

Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.