Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Outer planets update

(Crossposted to Jewschool.)

Back in January, we posted about the contest to come up with Hebrew names for the planets Uranus and Neptune, as part of the International Year of Astronomy. Some of you may have submitted entries. The finalists have now been announced!!!

The two contenders for the planet hereunto known as Uranus are:

  • Oron - “The name means ‘little light’ , and it hints at the faint light of the planet as seen from Earth due to its great distance from the sun. The name Oron sounds similar to the foreign name [Uranus] and helps in remembering it.”
  • Shahak - “The proposal follows the meaning of the name Uranus, the name of the god of heaven. In Hebrew tradition there is no parallel name for the god of heaven (besides the name of the Supreme God). The word ’shehakim’, in rabbinic literature, indicates one of the seven firmaments, and is also found in our Hebrew, and thus the singular form Shahak is appropriate as a proper name for the planet.”

And for Neptune:

  • Rahav - “The proposal follows the meaning of the name Neptune - the name of the god of the sea. The name parallel to it in Jewish tradition is Rahav - the name of the master of the sea. Thus, for example, the Babylonian Talmud explains the verse [JPS translation: 'By His power He stilled the sea; By His skill He struck down Rahab'] (Job 26:12) as describing the victory of the master of the sea. The name Rahav bears mythological connotations like the Latin name.”
  • Tarshish - “This is the name of one of the stones of the breastplate [Exodus 28:20] whose Aramaic translation (Onkelos) is ‘the color of the sea’ (among other opinions) — and this is also Neptune’s color as seen from Earth — bluish-green. ‘Tarshish’ is also connected to the sea in its other biblical use: the name of a place on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, whose identification is not certain (recall the flight of Jonah the prophet to Tarshish). And on the phrase ‘the ships of Tarshish’, Rashi says ‘Tarshish - name of a sea’. In rabbinic literature and in liturgical poetry ‘Tarshish’ is a synonym for sea, and also a name of angels. Thus the name Tarshish combines the connection to the sea (like the Latin name) and the mythological foundation (angels).”

I was one of 25 entrants (including an 8th-grade class in Netanya) who submitted “Shahak” for Uranus, and congratulations to ADDeRabbi, one of 15 people who submitted “Rahav” for Neptune!

So the next step is voting! The vote is being conducted online. Unfortunately for those of us outside Israel, the ballot asks for a te’udat zehut (ID number), so only Israeli citizens can vote. If you’re eligible, vote!!! The fate of two planets is in your hands. The winners will be announced in December at the conclusion of the International Year of Astronomy.


  1. I was sure Shachak/Rahav would never win. Now I am not so sure. I will definitely vote for them.

    (For extra credit: Pluto: Dumah.)

    I had thought that Tarshish was Tarsus. (Not to say that Rahav is unambiguously a sea word.)

    Shevach Not'nim lo Kol Tz'va Marom! Eh, you can't win them all.

  2. I and most of my family voted for Oron and Tarshish (why vote for an avodah zara deity?).
    Poor Pluto, demoted from being a planet to a mere "TNO" (trans-Neptunian object) or "Kuiper Belt Object", so it doesn't look like it will get a chance for a Hebrew name.

  3. OTOH,

    שבח נותנים לו כל צבא מרום
    תפארת וגדולה שרפים ואופנים וחיות הקודש

    For Tarshish and Oron, it really doesn't work as well.

  4. Im sort of surprised Noah wasn't suggested for Neptune.