Rep. Emanuel Cleaver by the Forward

‘Amen and a-woman’ leaves Republicans and Democrats squabbling and Hebrew scholars scratching their heads

Hebrew etymology is trending on Twitter after Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, ended his opening prayer to the 117th Congress with the phrase “amen and a-woman.”

“May the lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace — peace in our families, peace in this land and there I ask, oh lord, peace even in this chamber,” said Cleaver, a United Methodist pastor who was first elected in 2004.
“We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and God known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and a-woman.”

Representative Cleaver was first called out by a Republican colleague, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania, who incorrectly identified ‘amen’ as a Latin word.

In fact, it is Hebrew. And has no etymological connection to the English word ‘man,’ according to Webster’s Dictionary. It means “so be it,” and shares a root with the Hebrew word for faith, emunah.

The Talmud also offers an alternative folk explanation of the word’s origin, as an acronym of the Hebrew phrase “El, Melekh Ne’eman” which means: “God, the true king.”

And thus Hebrew etymology became a popular topic for those watching the Congressional session on Monday morning sparking heated debate across social media.

Some saw the Cleaver’s effort at inclusivity as an insult to both traditional prayer and the Hebrew language.

Others found the turn of phrase an amusing attempt to nod at the role of gender in faith and religion.

Authors

David Ian Klein

David Ian Klein

David Ian Klein covers breaking news and international Jewish communities for the Forward. You can reach him at Klein@forward.com and on Twitter @davidianklein .

Congress prayer leaves Hebrew scholars confused

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‘Amen and a-woman’ leaves Republicans and Democrats squabbling and Hebrew scholars scratching their heads

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