Tuesday, February 23, 2010


We just dealt with some words for crops of debated identity - here's another one, but with a Purim connection. Early in this site, we discussed the Purim food hamentaschen, which literally mean "poppy pockets". The Hebrew word for poppy is pereg (sometimes parag) פרג. It is found in the plural - פרגין - in the Mishna (Sheviit 2:7, Chalah 1:4) and in the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 13b), listed together with other crops that aren't full grains like shumshum1 שומשום - sesame and orez אורז - rice.

Most of the commentaries do identify pereg with poppy. For example, the Aruch defines it as the Latin papaver, and Rashi on Rosh Hashana uses the Italian word maco, whose cognates are found in a number of European languages. The Rambam on Sheviit translates pereg as khashkhash - the Arabic word for poppy. Many of the later European rabbinic works use the German (and Yiddish) word mohn.

However, some more modern scholars disagree with this assumption, and say it is a type of millet. Ben Yehuda quotes Hrozny (found here in the original German) as saying that pereg derives from the Sanskrit word priyangu, meaning "foxtail millet" (or "panic seed".)  Feliks has two more reasons to choose sorghum millet over poppy: pereg is mentioned in the mishna as a summer crop, and is used to make bread, both of which fit millet much more than poppy. And he also quotes Rabbi Natan Av Hayeshiva (one of the Eretz Yisrael Geonim, whose text was found in the Cairo Geniza) who identified pereg as dura דורה - sorghum, described here as a "summer crop of millet."

The above arguments seem pretty convincing to me, but it doesn't take away the Purim connection to poppy. Luckily the name hamentashcen was never Hebraicized to kiseipereg...


1. However some European Jewish scholars did identify shumshum as poppy. See Responsa Melamed Le-Ho'il 1:87, Encyclopedia Talmudit "chametz" footnote 709, and Jastrow on שומשמא.

No comments: