Tuesday, June 20, 2006


After discussing gimmel, here's an interesting word that might have a connection. Gematria גמטריה - refers to a system where each Hebrew letter has a numerical value, and therefore words are represented by numbers as well.

The most obvious origin of the word would be the Greek geometria (later English geometry) meaning "measurement of earth". Alan Cooper wrote in Mail-Jewish that:

Shaul Lieberman derived gematria from geometria, and this interpretation was supported in the article in Tarbiz ... by S. Sambursky, Tarbiz 45 (1975/6) 268-71; also in English, in Journal of Jewish Studies 29 (1978) 35-38.

However, Horowitz writes that the "word sounds like 'geometry' but has absolutely nothing to do at all with that word". He claims that gematria "really means the way of reckoning where gamma גימל equals tria, three".

Klein rejects both of these approaches, and says it is probably "a metathesis of Gk. grammateia (=play upon letters), from gramma (= letter; lit. 'that which is written')." This would seem to be connected to another theory that Alan Cooper mentioned:

Bacher derived it from grammateus, which is simply the Greek equivalent of Latin notarius ("stenographer"), the basis for the term notariqon.

I'll end off with a quote from Pirkei Avot:

רבי אלעזר בן חסמא אומר, קנין ופתחי נדה הן הן גופי הלכות. תקופות וגמטריאות פרפראות לחכמה.

"Rabbi Eliezer Hisma said: the laws of bird offerings and the the laws regarding the beginning of menstrual periods are essentials of the Halakha. The calculation of the equinoxes and gematria are the desserts of wisdom."

So while this might not be the most essential subject, it's still nice to have dessert now and then...

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