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Palestine / Philistia; 'The Pale'/ and M-W2

Posted by GPP on August 13, 2003

In Reply to: Palestine / Philistia; 'The Pale'/ and M-W2 posted by janes_kid on August 12, 2003

: : : : : : : : I have found references to "Pale" with a capital P referring to Ireland. But "..Russian Jews from the Pale.." struck me as being curious (Source was a book review in a magazine in a waiting room. Perhaps boredom had me seeing things.) Were/are there Russian Jews in Ireland.

: : : : : : : I too thought that the "Pale" meant the area around Dublin under English control, but our forum friends have shown that it was used elesewhere. Search for 'Pale' in the archives for more.

: : : : : : I think that "pale" is short for "pallisade" - the pale surrounding an encampment was a wooden fence of rough-hewn timber. I think it served two purposes - to keep livestock in and to keep predators out. "Beyond the pale" meaning outside society appears to have a particular historical meaning, but there is no reason why "the pale" should be limited to one particularly famous pale. I was recently informed that locally one could still see the pale of an ancient deer park (I think the enclosure was 500+ years ago).

: : : : : : Anybody consider that the Pale in question might be the area of Palestine? Just a thought.

: : : : : The original meaning of 'pale" is a long stake or stick... think Vlad the Impaler. It also came to mean a fence or fortification made up of stakes. 'Palisade' is not an abreviation of pale but a word that comes from the same root. It's an interesting question about whether the world 'palestine' has its root in the word 'pale'. For some reason I thought this expression did have a specific connection with Jewish history but I can't find any reference to it now.

: : : : So I didn't mention that the fence-posts were sharpened like stakes.

: : : : As for Palestine - I've just done a quick bit of research and it appears that the name is fairly modern - modern Palestine covers an area that was previously in the historic areas of Judah and Israel. It was difficult to find anything because of the heated politics - but it appears that the area has always been ruled by whoever was the biggest cheese in the region - Babylon, Egypt, you name a middle-eastern empire and they stomped all over it. Difficult to get a simple fact such as where the name came from without getting Zionist conspiracy theories rammed down your throat. Mind you, I haven't forgiven the Normans for conquering us, nor the Vikings. I think we should have compensation from them - oh, and the Romans. Where does it end?

: : : Sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounds... it was a pre-coffee post... you're right on base. I'll be sticking my nose in the tent if anyone wants me...

: : Without having bothered to look anything up, I'm quite positive that "Palestine" is a variant of Philistia, which, again not checking the facts, I understand to have been west of Judah and Israel, along the coast, in the general area of Gaza.

: : Yes--The Times Atlas of World History, 1979, p.67: "Some forty years later [than 1232 B.C.], Ramesses III overthrew another coalition of Sea Peoples, but some of them, notably the Philistines, afterwards settled on the coast of Palestine, which still bears their name." The borders kept changing, but Judah and Israel were both essentially inland states, Judah to the south between Philistia and the Dead Sea, and Israel to the north. Partridge gives the root as Hebrew "Pelesheth". M-W2 gives for "pale" meaning stake, fence, enclosure, etc, "4. A territory or district within certain bounds or under a particular jurisdiction." In this sense it includes English-held areas in Ireland around Dublin, in France around Calais, and in Scotland. The same sense is meant in the expression 'beyond the pale', as beyond the limits, privileges or protection of the Church.

: : Also from M-W2: "Jewish Pale. In Russia, a region with boundaries frequently changing, established in 1786 by ukase of Catherine II, in which Jews were compelled to live. In general it comprised certain towns in southwestern Russia and Poland."

: Does "M-W2" refer to the big old Websters 2nd international? BTW is "Jewish Pale" in the archives are is this a case where the discussion perhaps gives us a better result?

Yes, sorry for not being more clear; this is indeed the unabridged dictionary I was looking in (I don't have a copy of M-W3). The entry for 'pale', which I'm not quoting in full, gives 'English Pale' (capitalized) to include the historically occupied and/or protected areas listed above; and the entry also says "see Jewish Pale", again capitalized, which is listed as a separate entry in the dictionary. There's no indication in that dictionary whether the "English Pale" and the "Jewish Pale" may be the only two such specific uses of that term.

Encyclopaedia Britannica (Univ of Chicago, 1946) gives this entry [v.17, p.114]: "Pale, used as a historical term, is a district marked off from the surrounding country by a different system of government and law or by definite boundaries. The best known of the districts was the "English pale" [n.b., not capitalized here] in Ireland, dating from the reign of Henry II, although the word "pale" was not used in this connection until the latter part of the 14th century. The pale varied considerably according to the strength or weakness of the English authorities, and in the time of Henry VIII was bounded by a line drawn from Dundalk to Kells, thence to Naas, and from Naas east to Dalkey, embracing, that is, part of the modern counties of Dublin, Louth, Meath, and Kildare. The pale existed until the complete subjugation of Ireland under Elizabeth; the use of the word is frequent in Tudor times. There was an "English pale" or "Calais pale" in France until 1558, extending from Gravelines to Wissant, and for a time under the Tudors an "English pale" in Scotland."

This encyclopedia doesn't show a "Jewish Pale" in its index, but the entry for "Jews" [v.13, p.59] states "The central and western European lands had practically all granted equality of rights to their Jewish inhabitants by 1870, but the Jew [sic] in these lands formed only a minority of world Jewry. The masses of Jews lived in eastern Europe, in Russia, Poland and Rumania, amidst veritable mediaeval conditions. Russia, bitterly anti-Jewish, inherited the largest Jewry in the world when, in the years 1772-95, she shared in the partition of the old Polish republic. These Jews were "frozen" in the eastern provinces of the empire into a Pale of Settlement, and here they remained from 1791 until World War I. The attitude of the Russian rulers toward the Jews in this huge ghetto from the time of Catherine the Great (d. 1796) to Nicholas II (d. 1918) was marked by curious inconsistencies: by occasional periods of sympathy and by the grossest brutality... They were driven out of the villages in the border lands, herded into the ghettos created within the larger ghetto of the Pale, [etc]."

Google returns multiple hits for both terms, "Jewish Pale", and "Pale of Settlement". M-W2 doesn't mention the term "Pale of Settlement". Despite the lowercase usage in the first Britannica entry, I believe it's better form to capitalize the word when referring to either of these historically specific pales, as used in the second entry. The two articles will have had different authors, using different usage styles.

See also: the meaning and origin of 'Beyond the pale'.