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The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Amen, Meaning and Origin

Leetal Rivlin from Katzrin, Golan Heights, Israel wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

What are the origins of the word amen? When does it first appear in the Torah? When does it first appear in other religious practices? Thank you.


Dear Leetal Rivlin,

"Amen" first appears in the Torah in Bamidbar, Numbers, in chapter 5, verse 22: "And the woman shall say 'amen, amen'." The context there is that a woman is being administered an oath. Saying amen is her acceptance of the oath as true, and that she accepts the consequences of the oath if she is lying. In this sense, the word amen means "true."

The letters of amen, "alef mem nun," are also seen by our Sages as an acrostic hinting to the phrase "(K)el Melech Ne'eman" - "G-d, the faithful King."

Perhaps the first place it can be seen as said in a "religious" ritual is at the end of Psalm 41, which ends the first of the five books of Psalms. There, King David says, "Blessed is the L-rd, G-d of Israel, for ever and ever; amen and amen." This verse is very similar to what we call a "blessing," and it ends with "amen."

Sources indicate that amen was said after blessings at least as early as the beginning of the Second Temple period. There's no evidence that this was when it was first introduced, and it very likely goes back much farther.

Sources:

  • Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 119b, Ta'anit 16b


 
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