Lonely Man of Cake

March 25, 2007


Filed under: Academia,Culinary,General,Israel,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 5:02 pm

Balashon has a nice piece regarding the etymology of the word חזרת (hazeret), which is said by the Mishna (Pesahim 2:6) to constitute one of the viable alternatives for Maror, the bitter herb which was once consumed together with the Pesah sacrifice and is nowadays eaten symbolically at the Seder.

He notes that none of the great lexicographers offered an etymology for the word, which he suspects might be related to the root חזר (to return).

Immediately upon reading his post, I felt a sneaking suspicion that the word derives from the name for a Greek vegetable. After poking around a bit, I came up with a suitable candidate – the horta (pictured), which is said to be a little bitter.

At this point, I hypothesized that חזרת is a corrupt Hebrew transliteration of the Greek horta (χορτα). If transliterated correctly into Hebrew, the word should resemble this:חורת. There is already a resemblance between the word in question, חזרת, and the Greek vegetable, חורת.

You’ll then ask why our pronunciation of חזרת (hazeret) sounds nothing like hort(a). I consulted with one of the better manuscripts of the Mishna, MS Kaufmann (excerpt below, courtesy of the Jewish National and University Library Online Treasury of Talmudic Manuscripts). You’ll see that the difference between the vav and zayin, is quite subtle, much like it is in modern Hebrew print; the difference of one small jutting piece.

As for the pronunciation of the word, we know that MS Kaufmann was vocalized secondarily, i.e., not by the scribe responsible for the manuscript, but by a later hand. Thus, he may have pointed this word not according to a received tradition, but according to his own judgment.

Though pure conjecture, and though I have not looked in any books, which would be the responsible thing to do before making such a sweeping assertion, I think that this theory might actually hold some water. I’ll annotate as soon as I get to the library.


1 Comment »

  1. I’m not sure about the protocol in these cases – do I post the comment in my blog or yours? In any case, I’ve replied to your original idea in my comments here:


    and I’ll follow the comments in this post as well to see if there are any new developments.

    Comment by Dave (Balashon) — March 25, 2007 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

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