Thursday, April 06, 2006


Karpas and "carpet" have something in common - and no, carpet is not the Sefardi pronunciation.

We all know karpas כרפס is the vegetable - often parsley or celery - eaten as a sort of appetizer at the Pesach Seder. What is the origin of the word?

There are those that claim it comes from the Persian word karafs (or karats, according to Klein), meaning parsley. Others claim that it derives from the Greek karpos, meaning "fruit of the soil." Karpos originates in the Indo-European root kerp, meaning "to gather, to harvest." Other words from the same root include "harvest", and "carpet", because it was made of unraveled, "plucked" fabric.

One very similar word that does not appear to have any etymological connection (some interesting drashot notwithstanding) is the word karpas appearing in the Book of Esther (1:6), meaning "fine cotton or linen". I won't go into detail about that meaning of karpas, since a big post on cotton should be coming up soon. However, Mar Gavriel presents an interesting theory here, that the pronunciation of karpas the vegetable was influenced by karpas the fabric:

According to Prof. Guggenheimer (in his book The Scholar's Haggadah), the words karpas (fine white linen) and karafs (celery) are both Farsi. Whoever provided the vowel-points for the mediaeval song "Qaddêsh u-Rechatz" only knew the consonants KRPS from the Meghilla, so he vocalized them as he had found them there.

Obviously this only fits the theory that כרפס the vegetable derives from the Persian and not Greek, but it's interesting in any case.

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