Friday, April 13, 2007


Reader Mordecai asked the following question:

Many years ago, I attempted to discover the origin of the use of the Hebrew/Aramaic word "b'gilufin". I was reading an Israeli newspaper that described two woman throwing bottles off a roof. The police investigated and discovered they were "b'gilufin." This word is used regularly in Hebrew (and Yiddish) to mean "inebriated"

I tracked the word down to one of Isaac Luria's Shabbat table hymns - Atkinu S'udata for S'udah Shlishit.

While Lurianic Aramaic might be out of your expertise, my question is really how a word from a relatively obsure Kabbalistic poem whichs means "engraved" in Aramaic came to mean "drunk" in Hebrew.

Good question. I am familiar with the word, but it's origin (and perhaps meaning) is not widely known. This site collects comments on a Ynet article, where the writers (tongue-in-cheek) asked where the town of Gilufin is...

The word gilufin גילופין and other derivatives of the root גלפ appear in the Talmud Yerushalmi, midrashim and the Targumim (for example Shmot 39:6). It always means "to engrave, carve". Klein writes that it is a:

Hebraization of Greek glyphein ( = to hollow out, engrave, carve), which is cognate with Latin glubere ( = to peel, shell)

From glyphein we get the words hieroglyphic and glyph, and from glubere we get glume.

Hesder Oleh brings up an interesting question: is גלפ related to קלפ ? If the word can mean in Greek "to carve" and in Latin "to peel" then shouldn't these two Hebrew roots with the same two meanings also be connected? As Joel points out in the comments there, Jastrow connects the two. Neither Ben-Yehuda or Klein make a connection, but I think the jury's still out. They both have similar meanings, both entered Hebrew around the same time, and we've seen that gimmel alternates with kuf.

Ben Yehuda also mentions that Low writes that there is an Akkadian root gallabu, cognate to the Hebrew גלב (Yechezkel 5:1) meaning "to cut, shear", leading him to believe that perhaps the root is Semitic, and not Greek.

However, no where here have we seen any indication that any of these roots mean "intoxicated." Neither Ben Yehuda nor Klein include that meaning in their dictionaries. Assuming that this wasn't an early version of "hammered" or "smashed" (chiseled? carved?) - where'd the jump come from?

Mordecai's answer is hinted to in the question itself. First of all, he notes that b'gilufin means "intoxicated" in Yiddish as well. Secondly, he writes that he found the word in the piyut Atkinu Seudata (which he helpfully included as well):

יְהוֹן הָכָא. בְּהַאי תַּכָּא. דְבֵּיהּ מַלְכָּא בְּגִלוּפִין

This can be literally translated as "May they be here, at this table, where (the name / form of ) the King is inscribed."

Even-Shoshan does include a definition of b'gilufin as "lightly intoxicated", and writes that it was apparently borrowed, in a humorous fashion, from our piyut. But it still isn't clear how the connection developed.

Interestingly, Artscroll hints to it in their translation of the piyut, by including an extra word:

"May they be here at this table / in which is inscribed the King in joy"

Where did they get the word "joy" from? It certainly isn't one of the words of the piyut.

Yehuda Liebes provides us the answer in this article. He quotes Kaddari (of whose Biblical dictionary I refer to often, but here there's a book by Kaddari called מירושת לשון ימי הביניים - Meyerushat Lashon Yemei Habeinayim) and writes that the verse is saying that "The presence of God (the King) is hidden (carved) in the Shabbat table." The Hassidim, who would drink alcohol at Seuda Shlishit, felt that God's presence could be felt in their "higher spiritual level."

So this meaning of b'gilufin was most likely found in Yiddish, and only later entered Hebrew. Proof of this comes from an essay by the early Zionist Yehoshua Barzilai (1854-1918), a contemporary of Ben Yehuda, who writes here:

הביאוני לידי מצב רוח עליז מאד. הייתי "בגלופין", כמו שהחסידים אומרים

"... brought me to a state of great joy. I was 'b'gilufin', as the Hassidim say..."

Apparently at that time the word did not have widespread exposure, and therefore needed to be explained (and perhaps this is why the meaning didn't make it into Ben Yehuda's dictionary.)

If anyone has access to Kaddari's book, perhaps we can get even more of an explanation...

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