Lo, the Fall is Here

Posted on October 25, 2014


On a recent, short visit to the US East Coast, I was treated to the first signs of another brilliant autumn.  Now that I’m home, my feet are comfortably back in flip flops and the main indication that summer is behind us is the supplement of a jacket and another blanket at the end of the day.  Most of the trees in my landscape retain their leaves, and if they lose them, it is done with little fanfare.  Fall, in the Galilee, is felt, if not seen.

Organically, the people who lived on this land throughout most of its recorded history knew basically two seasons, winter and summer, or dry/hot and wet/cool.  In fact, the Israeli linguist Eylon Gilad explains that the terms for autumn and those of the four season cycle are relatively recent linguistic adaptations, reflecting phenomena more familiar to the European settlers of this place.

Stav”, the modern Hebrew word for fall, originally indicated the rainy season, as evidenced by its appearance in the (correctly translated) verse from Song of Songs 2:11: “ For, lo, the winter (stav) is past, the rain is over and gone…” .   Indeed, the passing of autumn as we know it signals the onset of the rainy season, and not its conclusion.

Looking at Hebrew’s linguistic relatives, the Aramaic and Arabic words most closely related to “stav”: “stava” and “shitta” respectively, both refer to winter.  Moroever, the Arabic word that has come to signify autumn, “harif”, closely resembles the Hebrew word for winter, “horef”.

Changes in weather are one way to define seasons – agricultural phenomena are another.  Since olives were first domesticated some thousands of years ago, autumn in the Galilee has been inseparable with their ripening and harvest.  The visual clue that autumn has arrived is the lively activity in the olive groves, where it is fruit, and not leaves, that are falling to the ground.

olive picking