Sunday, April 02, 2006


Many people are surprised by the violent answer to the wicked son in the Haggadah, when we are told to "hit him in the teeth". However, that is a mistranslation. The text says הקהה את שיניו - "blunt his teeth" - not הכה את שיניו - "hit him in the teeth." What is the meaning of the verb hakheh?

The root קהה means to "be blunt, be dull." The connection to teeth appears In Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 31:28-29: אָבוֹת אָכְלוּ בֹסֶר; וְשִׁנֵּי בָנִים, תִּקְהֶינָה - "Parents have eaten sour grapes and children's teeth are blunted." This blunting of teeth is referring to the opposite of the ideal state - healthy teeth are assumed to be sharp. The midrash in Yalkut Shimoni (Eicha) describes Yitzchak as הבן שנתן לו בקהיות שנים למאה שנה - "the son that was given to (Avraham) when his teeth were blunt (i.e. he was in his old age), when he was one hundred years old." Jastrow provides a number of examples of the use of the root קהה - and while they differ, they all derive from the same meaning - dull or blunt.

The root קהה seems to be connected to the similar sounding root כהה - which means "to grow dim, faint" and later "to become dark". Both קהה and כהה are according to one theory the root of a word that many strongly associate with Pesach - coffee. The American Heritage® Dictionary claims that coffee comes from the Arabic word qahwa meaning "dark stuff", and is related to the Arabic word kahiya, "to be(come) weak", which is connected to both קהה and כהה.

This is certainly not the only theory. Many others say that the word coffee comes from the Ethiopian region of Kaffa. Stahl and others say that qahwa originally referred to a type of wine. Now, imagine how awake you'd be after four cups of coffee at the end of the Seder!

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