Some Hebrew Links.

1) Balashon investigates the word charoset חרסת, “a condiment made of fruits and spices with wine and sugar, used to sweeten the bitter herbs eaten on Passover night.” He begins with the seemingly “obvious and convincing” etymology given by Klein, “Probably formed from חרס cheres (=clay), in allusion to its claylike color,” and comes up with some interesting material:

Ronnie Haffner, of the site Safa Ivrit, suggested to me that perhaps the suffix –et ת- at the end of some Hebrew words means “leftovers after production”, so pesolet פסולת – “chips, stone dust” is what is leftover after carving פסל, and nesoret נסורת – “sawdust” is what remains after sawing נסר. So if this pattern holds, charoset could be the potsherds, which are left after breaking pottery.

A parallel approach is mentioned by Jastrow, who in his entry for charoset suggests we also look at his definition of the Aramaic הרסנא harsana – “fish hash.” He quotes Jacob Levy, who in his dictionary, like Kohut, says that charoset is of Arabic origin. Harsana, according to this theory, derives from the Arabic root harasa – which Klein says is cognate with the Hebrew haras הרס (“throw down, tear down”) and means “he crushed, squashed, pounded.” This Arabic root is the source of the spice paste “harissa”, due to the crushing of the peppers in a mortar. This is an interesting theory, for if charoset is cognate with haras, then it has no connection with clay at all (since we saw that the Biblical Hebrew form of cheres is חרש, which is not connected to הרס.) Kohut’s theory, on the other hand, still maintains a connection between broken pottery and charoset.

2) Alan Millard responds to Douglas Petrovich’s claim that “some of the thirty or so inscriptions engraved on stone monuments around the Egyptian turquoise mines at Serâbîṭ el-Khâdim in western Sinai mention biblical figures” and that Hebrew is the language “behind the proto-consonantal script”; he concludes: “Petrovitch’s blog does not offer any grounds for accepting his ideas. Many scholars have written about the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions, some examining the originals themselves, none agreeing completely on their decipherment, for anyone to present such astonishing claims for his research to the general public in a book as Petrovitch has done, seems irresponsible.” Ouch! (Thanks, Paul.)

3) Elon Gilad discusses the history of the word Jew; the subhead provides a nice summary: “The word ‘Jew’ originates with the ancient Israelite kingdom of Judah, but what its name means is a matter of great controversy. It could even mean ‘Thank God’.” (Thanks, Kobi.)


  1. I’ll be curious how people respond to the ideas that charoset has “a” color (though browsing google images, some charoset seem more homogenous in color than the charoset I’ve been exposed to), and that different clays are consistently the same color. My take, that’s a tremendously unconvincing etymology.

    I like when he quotes from a woman asking ‘what’s the Greek for charoseth.” Would I be entirely wrong in translating what they give as the word for the Passover treat as “baptismal material.”

  2. Charles Perry says

    I would be more impressed with the Arabic etymology if charoset were spelled with he in Hebrew, rather than cheth.

  3. The Talmud says that charoset is eaten in remembrance of the mortar that the Jewish slaves used to bind the bricks in the building of the store cities for Pharaoh. I don’t have any idea what the etymology is, but the food is supposed to be thick, pasty, and mud-colored.

  4. The -et is not indicative in general of things thrown away. The only Biblical examples I can think of are XǝXōXet קְטֹרֶת qǝṭōret ‘incense’, and perhaps נְחֹשֶׁת nǝḥōšet ‘copper’. Other -et nouns include sōlet ‘semolina’. The Academy of the Hebrew Language’s lovely searchable database of post-biblical Hebrew sources lets you search by template, and there are plenty of non-throwaway meanings for this particular template in Mishnaic, Medieval and earlier sources. Not all are ‘material’ type nouns, either.

  5. Those should all be short o’s, not long ō’s.

  6. Other biblical examples: kǝtonet ‘shirt’; kǝtovet ‘writing’; yǝxolet ‘ability’.

  7. @Y: I’m quite confident that Balashon is familiar with all of those words. When he relays a suggestion that “perhaps the suffix –et ת- at the end of some Hebrew words means ‘leftovers after production'”, he can’t possibly mean anything like “there’s a suffix –et ת- at the end of some Hebrew words; perhaps it [always] means ‘leftovers after production'”; rather, he must surely mean something like “there’s a suffix –et ת- at the end of [many] Hebrew words; perhaps in some of them it means ‘leftovers after production'”.

  8. He quotes an unpublished comment by Ronnie Haffner of Safa Ivrit, who I’m sure is also familiar with all of these words, but who I suspect had an idea but didn’t think it through. In fact, pǝ‘olet nouns are used as ‘discard’ nominalizations in a small minority of the biblical and early post-biblical examples, and usually derive transparently from a verb with a ‘discarding’ meaning. So xăroset ‘discarded pottery’ < xeres ‘pottery’ would be unusual.

  9. My Hebrew is rudimentary, but the word kǝtonet immediately recalls the famous kǝtonet pasim, rendered either “coat of many colors” or “coat with long sleeves.” How about “extreme shirt”?

  10. Pas/passīm was interpreted as something to do with the colors or the patterns of the clothing by some medieval commentators, but I can’t tell on what grounds. This article (in Hebrew) argues that kǝtonet passīm is probably an item of clothing with long sleeves and legs, which reach the palms and the feet. This argument rests on three points:
    —The other mention of a kǝtonet passīm in the Bible is Tamar’s, in Samuel II 13:19. Josephus Flavius says (Antiquities 7:8:1) that Tamar “rent her loose coat [χιτών, < Semitic], for the virgins of old time wore such loose coats tied at the hands, and let down to the ankles, that the inner coats might not be seen.” The verse also implies that a kǝtonet passīm is some sort of an overcoat, mǝ‘īl.
    —Some piyyutim refer to the white overcoat of the Temple’s Great Priest as kǝtonet passīm, or even just passīm. They, again, cover the limbs fully, as far as the palms and the feet.
    —פִּסַּת יָד pissat yād ‘a pissā of the hand is an older term for the palm of the hand. פִּסָּה pissā and פַּס pas plausibly share the same root.

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