Friday, December 11, 2009

treif and taraf

We previously looked at glatt, which went from describing a particular stringency regarding the lungs of cows, to describing extra kosher food in general. A similar example can be found in the word terefah טרפה, which in the Torah (as in Shmot 22:30) refers to an animal whose "flesh (was) torn by beasts in the field." The root טרף means "torn to pieces". In Talmudic Hebrew, the meaning of terefah was extended to mean "a clean animal inflicted with an organic defect, a mortal injury, or a fatal disease" (Sarna on Shmot 22:30, see also Kehati's introduction to Hullin 3:1).  And later, the term expanded to include all non-kosher food, and the adjective taref טרף was adopted (Klein points out that this is a "back formation from terefah, which was regarded as a feminine adjective.) From taref, we got the Yiddish treif, which can mean anything not "kosher", even non-food items.

But as we mentioned above, the original meaning of the verb as "to tear away." In Biblical Hebrew teref could also mean food in general, such as in the phrases טֶרֶף, נָתַן לִירֵאָיו - "He gives food to those that fear Him" (Tehillim 111:5) and וַתִּתֵּן טֶרֶף לְבֵיתָהּ  - "She provides food for her household" (Mishlei 31:15). Certainly neither case is talking about treyf food!

A related sense of טרף is "to mix, confuse". The Talmudic term for a beaten egg is ביצה טרופה - beitza terufa. A person who is mixed up, disturbed, confused is  מטורף metoraf - which in Modern Hebrew means "insane". And just as in English, where the word "mad" means insane, but "like mad" means "with excitement or enthusiasm", so too does metoraf mean in Israeli slang not only "crazy", but "excited, exceptional, unbelievable" and בטירוף b'teruf means "with excitement."

But there's a similar sounding slang term that isn't actually related to the root טרף that we've discussed so far: אטרף atraf. It means "great excitement" (Rosenthal) and Milon Morfix actually defines it as "craziness, insanity; hysteria, stress". However, it derives from an Arabic word meaning "rare" or "interesting". Stahl writes that in Literary Arabic, tarf means "eye", and the verb means "to stare, gaze, glance". From here developed the meaning "to look at something new", and tarif means "new, rare, interesting" (the English word tariff is not related). Another aspect came out of the sense of looking from the corner of the eye, and taraf can mean "periphery, extreme, end, side, coast". From this Arabic word, the Spanish cape of Trafalgar got its name - Tarf al-Gharb (Cape of the West) or Tarf al-Ghar (Cape of the Cave). (The 1805 Battle of Trafalgar is commemorated in London's famous Trafalgar Square.)

This got me thinking - are there any Hebrew words cognate to this Arabic root? It looks like there's a good chance. In Bereishit 8:11, we find the following phrase: וְהִנֵּה עֲלֵה-זַיִת טָרָף בְּפִיהָ. "And there, in its bill, was a taraf olive leaf." Some commentaries, such as Rashi, explain taraf as a verb, meaning "plucked", relating it to our earlier understanding of taraf as "torn". But according to Cassuto, this is a difficult explanation, and we should rather view taraf as an adjective meaning "fresh", which is cognate to our Arabic root meaning "new". Cassuto claims that this is the view of most commentaries, and I have seen it in Ben-Yehuda, Kaddari and Daat Mikra.

So we've gone from an animal with a fatal disease, to a fresh, new leaf. Pretty metoraf, no?

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