Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 9 May 2009 / 14 Iyyar 5769

Vatik in Judaism

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Josh in PA
Dear Rabbi,

I have heard of the term “vatikin” used in Jewish contexts, I think in prayer, and I was wondering if there is any relationship between that word and the Vatican? Or is this just a coincidence?

Dear Josh,

Perhaps the most well known Jewish use of the term “vatikin” is in reference to the time of the morning prayers. The Talmud discusses the time period for reciting the morning Shema, commenting that the ideal time, which was the time that the meticulous men of old would recite it, is just before sunrise so that their silent amida prayer would commence with the rising sun. The word used for these pious, elderly men is “vatikin”. Often pronounced “vasikin” in the Ashkenzic tradition, the term has come to refer to the early morning prayer service itself rather than its strict meaning applying to those who used to pray then. This early morning minyan is also called “netz”, an abbreviation of “Hanetz HaChama” which means sunrise.

Another use of the term “vatik” is in reference to a long-time, dedicated and expert disciple. In Hebrew, and throughout the Talmud, this is expressed by the phrase “talmid vatik”.

A third well-known context where this term is found is in the spiritually uplifting song or niggun called “Yedid nefesh” which is traditionally sung during the third and final meal of Shabbat through twilight into dusk and nightfall. This moving poem-song which expresses the longing of the Jewish people for G-d and the final redemption is comprised of four stanzas, each starting with the letters of G-d’s name yud, hey, vav and hey. The third stanza thus starts with vav: “Vatik, yehamu na rachamecha v’chusa na al ben ahuvecha…” where “Vatik” refers to the Ancient and All Knowing G-d. (The verse means: G-d, may Your mercy be aroused and please take pity on the son Your beloved...)

From these contexts we see that “vatik” in Jewish terms means age-old, dedicated and consistent and of expert knowledge.

While many might be inclined to ascribe these qualities to things pertaining to the Vatican, no etymological authority I’ve seen has made such a claim. Rather, the various reference materials ascribe the term Vatican to the name of its location prior to Christianity – Mons Vaticanus. However, some suggest that the mount was so called after the seers, called “vates” in Latin, who supposedly delivered oracles there in times of old. [Interestingly, the meaning of the word “vatic” in English is oracular or prophetic.] According to this, there might be some ancient, common, albeit indirect, relationship between the Jewish and Latin uses of “vatic/k”.

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