Sunday, February 19, 2006


I started a new masechet of Mishna today, and found the origin of a very topical word in Israel these days.

The first Mishna of the second chapter of Yoma discusses which kohanim would perform certain parts of the Yom Kippur service. If two kohanim competed for the same task, whoever got there earliest would have the privilege. But if they both got there at the same time:

הממונה אומר להן הצביעו

"The administrator would say to them 'put out a finger' (hatzbiu)".

The kohanim would stick one or two fingers out, and the administrator would then choose between those who stuck their fingers out. Why did they stick their fingers out, the gemara asks? Because it is prohibited to count Jews (who were promised to be uncountable), so they counted their fingers instead.

The verb hatzbiu comes from etzba אצבע - finger. This of course, led to the modern Hebrew term to vote - l'hatz'bia.

I had previously thought that perhaps the origin of l'hatzbia as voting came from צבע tzeva - color. I guess I connected it with the way the Iraqis and Afghans voted in their first election - by dipping their fingers in ink.

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