Monday, June 19, 2006


After yesterday's post about lishkah, I thought I'd try to tackle a big etymological mystery that may have a connection.

The word is pareve (or parev or parve or parevine) פרווה and it means food that is neither meat nor dairy. Stahl quotes a journal that came up with no less than 15 different answers to the question: what is the origin of the word pareve? He doesn't give their answers, so I'll list here what I can pull up.

Menachem Mendel wrote about this a few months ago. After quoting some theories (which we'll review) he writes:

Thanks to some of what I found on the web I arrived at an article by David L. Gold, an authority on Yiddish. The article's title is "Towards a Study of the Origins of Two Synonymous Yiddish Adjectives: Pareve and Minikh" in Jewish Language Review 5 (1985). Gold's conclusion is that the origins of pareve are probably Latin by way of Czech and Polish. The Latin word par means pair. In Czech we find parovy and in Polish parowy. Pareve foods can be "paired" with either milk or meat. Since Latin did not influence either Czech or Polish until the Christinization of their countries, Gold dates these words to no earlier than the ninth or tenth centuries and that "there would be no problem of chronology if we posited that pareve is of immediate Czech or Polish origin." In Gold's opinion "the Polish-Czech hypothesis is the only one tenable one in light of currently available data."

A commenter that post, Joe in Australia had another suggestion:

I always assumed that it meant "little" or inferior (Latin parvus). That is, it referred to things like bread that had not been improved with dairy or animal fats.

A good source for etymologies of Yiddish words is the Mendele discussion list, where Les Train wrote:

I understood that pareve came from Old Czech or Old Polish, and ultimately from the Latin parus - meaning equal, neither more to one side than to another (latin par- and slavic ov-/ev- suffix). Thus, pareve means neither here nor there; just as much milekhdik as fleyshik.

Also on Mendele, Alan Astro wrote:

Professor Herbert H. Paper once suggested that etymologically pareve may be related to French pareil ("same, similar"; the final L is not pronounced as an L but as a y glide). Other Romance words in Yiddish also occur in the religious sphere: bentshn, tsholnt, orn ("to pray" in Western Yiddish), leyenen (which would include reading from the Torah). In modern French, c'est pareil is commonly used to mean "it doesn't matter which one."

Another good list is Mail-Jewish. Perets Mett wrote in 2005:

The Yiddish word for steam is 'pa-re' - surely from a Slavic root. Now steam has no taste smell or colour, it is truly neutral. So anything which is neutral is 'steam-like' or 'pare-v' using the 'v' adjective marker.

(On Mendele, Reuven Frankenstein expanded on this idea by saying that pareve meant "cooked in steam, neither with butter, nor with lard".)

In 1994 Stuart Einbinder wrote:

I was told many years ago that the etymology of the word pareve was from the Spanish verse "PARa todo los VEces" ("for all times"), meaning that the food could be eaten at all times.

Also that year, Rabbi Shalom Carmy wrote:

I suspect that Parve means "poor" from the Latin. The Masora Gedola is called, in Latin, Masora Magna; Masora Ketanna=Mesora Parva.

And in response to a query of mine in 1999, Joseph Geretz wrote:

There was a chamber in the Bais Hamikdash (Holy Temple) called the Bais HaPareve (the Pareve chamber). This chamber was half in the Ezras Kohanim and half in the Ezras Yisrael, 'neither here nor there' so to speak. Therefore, the term Pareve has come to mean neither meat nor dairy.

This connects back to lishkah, for it was also known as Lishkat HaParva. According to Jastrow under פרווה:

Parva, name of a Persian builder and magian, from whom a compartment in the Temple was supposed to have been named.

Another Temple related explanation is from Macy Nulman in The Encyclopedia of the Sayings of the Jewish People, as quoted in The New Joys of Yiddish:

Pareve is derived from parbar, a Talmudic word pertaining to a small passageway in the Temple that "helped to make the whole Temple court fit for the consumption of most holy sacrifices and the slaughter of minor sacrifices."

The Hebrew word here is פרבר, also spelled פרור. Klein defines it as "a structure attached to the Western side of Solomon's temple", and from here we get the modern Hebrew word for suburb - parvar - (I assume due to the way the suburb is "attached" to the city).

Aish HaTorah also has a couple of suggestions:

The Yiddish word "Pareve" may have its roots in the Hebrew word "Pri" - meaning fruit. Fruit is, of course, neither dairy nor meat. In Yiddish, "ve" is frequently added when turning a noun into an adjective.

Alternatively, in old French, "parevis" is the term used for a vacant lot in front of a Temple. This vacant lot stands between the mundane street and the sanctified house of worship. Similarly, Pareve food lies between the two extremes of dairy and meat.

How many do we have so far?

Of course it is clear that the more suggestions we find, the less likely it is that we can say with certainty that one is correct. But the "correct" answer isn't really what interests me this time. What this really shows is just how interesting etymology can be - to the point that everyone wants to come up with a possible answer. If there weren't words like pareve, it wouldn't be nearly as fun...

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