Saturday, September 15, 2007

rubia and lubia

In the spirit of the season, I'll open with an apology: I'm sorry I didn't finish all of my simanim posts before Rosh Hashana. I hope I receive from you all selicha and mechila ...

Another one of the simanim is rubia רוביא. This is generally identified as fenugreek (although Jastrow also offers flax seed.) I could not find an etymology for this word, but a number of sources say that fenugreek was known from ancient times to increase milk production in nursing mothers. So perhaps the connection between rubia and רבה - "to increase" is not just a pun.

However, many people (including my family) eat black-eyed peas on Rosh Hashana for this siman. Where did this custom originate?

This source says it is of Sefardic origin:

The custom among the Sefardic Jews of Egypt for the food "Rubia" was black-eyed peas because the Arabic term for the word was "Lubia," pronounce liked "Rubia."

The term is still used in Arabic. Stahl, in his Arabic etymological dictionary, quotes Karl Lokotsch as saying that the word lubia entered Arabic via Aramaic, where it was originally borrowed from the Greek lobos. Lobos meant "pod" in Greek, and is the source of the English word "lobe".

However, there is another opinion as to the origin of the word lubia. Rav Nissim Gaon (990-1062) on Shabbat 90b writes that the Egyptian bean is known as "el-lubia" in Arabic, and it is "a small bean with black in the middle". He then goes on to quote the Yerushalmi (Kilaim, chapter 8):

Rabbi Yonah of Bostra said, from what we see that they call a green Egyptian bean Libyan (lubi לובי), but a dry one Egyptian ... it means that Libya (luv לוב) is identical with Egypt.
So from this source it would seem that the name lubia derives from the location Luv - Libya. There is a nation called Luvim who appear a number of times in the Tanach (Nachum 3:9, Divrei Hayamim II 12:3). There are those, such as Josephus, who identify the Lehavim in Bereshit 10:13 with the Luvim. The Daat Mikra rejects this approach saying that Luv was spelled with a vav, not a heh. However, Cassuto feels that this substitution is not unusual.

In any case, the Luvim (and the Lehavim) lived west of Egypt, but were associated with them. Modern day Libya, also to the west of modern day Egypt, has a name related to Luv (the modern Hebrew name for Libya). However, since a form of the name was found in Ancient Egyptian, Phoenician and Greek as well, it is hard to pinpoint the origin.

Both theories as to the origin of lubia seems logical, but I don't see any way they can both be correct. Perhaps by next Rosh Hashana I'll have a more definitive answer...

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