Morsels of Hebrew Grammar  
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Parashat Toledot 5761


What is hazeret?

Rashi comments that the written form of the verse 'There are two nations in your belly' (Gen. 25:23) means 'There are two haughty ones in your belly' and explains that it refers to Antininus (a descendant of Esau) and Rabbi (Yehuda the Prince, a descendant of Ya'akov), on whose table there was an uninterrupted supply of radish and hazeret. What is hazeret?

In our generation we have merited to witness the rebirth of the Holy Tongue in the Holy Land, so that even young children playing in the streets converse in Hebrew. However in the course of time language changes - the language of the Mishna differs from the language of the Bible - so that we find the Gemara observing 'The language of the Torah stands alone and the language of the Sages stands alone.' It follows that the language of our own days must also be very different. Indeed one must take care not to interpret words in texts from previous eras in accordance with the meanings of identical words in use today.

Hazeret is a case in point. Anyone who enters an Israeli greengrocery store or supermarket today and requests hazeret will receive horseradish (chrein or krein in Yiddish). This understanding has legitimacy, but is only found in relatively recent sources (Mishna Berura, 203:10; Tiferet Yisrael, beginning of Kilayim). In Rashi and Rashi's sources hazeret did not mean horseradish. Indeed when discussing the vegetables which may be eaten for the mitzva of eating bitter herbs at the Passover Seder we find hazeret as the first on the list (Pesachim 39a). The Gemara translates hazeret as hassa in Aramaic, Rashi translates it into French as letuga, and the Be'er Heteiv (473:11) translates it as laetikh in Judeo-German. These words have a strong historical-phonetic similarity to the English word 'lettuce', particularly if we remember that the original sounds of the letter 'c' were [g] and [k] ('C' Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). The Hayyei Adam (130) who is quoted by the Mishna Berura (473:34) rules accordingly - that one can rely on the opinions (of the Hakham Tzvi and of the emissaries from the Holy Land) that the hazeret mentioned in the Talmud for purposes of eating bitter herbs on Passover is salatn (lettuce, called in spoken Hebrew hasa the source of which is the Aramaic translation of hazeret - lettuce in Mishnaic Hebrew).

We can now see that although in recent sources and modern speech hazeret means horseradish, in the early sources - the Mishna, the Gemara, the laws of Passover Seder, and in the Rashi we quoted above - hazeret means lettuce.

I will be happy to receive comments on these notes in English on Hebrew grammar related to the week's Parasha.
Good Shabbos, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919


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