Thursday, October 19, 2006

eid ul-fitr

Next week the Muslim world will celebrate Eid ul-Fitr - the holiday marking the end of the month of Ramadan. The name Eid ul-Fitr literally means "the feast of the breaking of the fast". Not surprisingly, both "eid" and "fitr" have Hebrew cognates.

Hebrew has two related words meaning festival - עיד and איד . Both refer to non-Jewish holidays, and the first Mishna of Avoda Zara what business practices are permissible for Jews in the days leading up to those days. While our version of the Mishna says אידיהן - their festivals, the Gemara (2a) says that there are those that say the word in the Mishna should be עידיהן , and both versions are correct. Steinsaltz notes that this may be seen as a proof that the Mishna was not originally written down, but passed over orally.

According to Klein and others , the word eid עיד is related to the word od עוד - whose basic meaning is "repeat" or "do again", and therefore eid means "that which returns (every year)". From עוד we get a number of words: ed עד - witness, "someone who repeats what he says, i.e. affirms that it is true" and idud עידוד - encouragement, "do it again!". However, as Mike Gerver points out:

Hebrew מועד, “festival,” in spite of its similarity in meaning and spelling to Arabic ‘id, is not related, but literally means “appointed time,” and comes from the word יעד, “appoint.”

Stahl writes that the spelling איד was probably influenced by another meaning of איד : "calamity, misfortune", and was used derogatively towards the non-Jews, or referred to the difficulties the Jews had during those festivals. Gloating in Hebrew is שמחה לאיד - joy at someone else's misfortune.

Fitr is related to a more recognizable Hebrew root - פטר . The basic meaning of the root is "to break" - and from here the name of the Muslim holiday. In fact, the Arabic word for the breakfast meal in the morning is ftor. From פטר we get a number of words:

  • peter פטר - "first-born", the child that breaks through, opens the womb
  • pitria פטריה - fungus, mushroom. Stahl writes that the name comes from the way the pitria "breaks out" from the ground or the tree.
  • לפטר - to dismiss, release from the sense "to break away"
  • פטור patur - exempt, released from an obligation
  • נפטר niftar - died, originally from the phrase נפטר מן העולם - departed this world
  • התפטר - he quit, released himself
  • הפטרה haftara - the reading from the Prophets after the reading of the Torah. From the meaning "to release" developed a meaning "to conclude", and so it referred to "a conclusion from the Prophets"
Steinberg writes that פטר is related to the the root with similar sound and meaning: בתר - "to cut off".

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