Friday, March 23, 2007

Did Ben Tsitsis Ha-kesses have long, curly hair? What can we learn from Aramaic and Greek and simple, careful readings of texts?

Avakesh posting about Jewish names quoted a very interesting Avodah post from six years ago, by Yisrael Dubitsky, regarding the name of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Kruspadai, כרוספדאי. (mentioned, e.g, BT Rosh Hashana 16b -- א"ר כרוספדאי א"ר יוחנן שלשה ספרים נפתחין בר"ה אחד של רשעים גמורין ואחד של צדיקים גמורין ואחד של בינוניים).

What sort of name is this?

Targum Onkelos gives the Armaic for tsitsis (Bemidbar 15:38) as כרוספדין.

The learned Dubitsky reminds of the character Ben Tsitsis Ha-keseth, בן ציצית הכסת, one of the wealthy men of Jerusalem, familiar to all children who have spent the Three Weeks at sleepaway camp or who have learned Gittin 56a (the story here). The Gemara there explains his name

"Ben Zizith Hakeseth was so called because his fringes [zizith] used to trail on cushions [keseth]. Others say he derived the name from the fact that his seat [kise] was among those of the nobility of Rome."

Reb Yisrael notes that there is good reason to think that Kruspadai, כרוספדאי essentially meant tsitsis. Alexander Kohut in his Artscroll-approved Arukh Completum notes that in other places in Chazal this Rabbi Kruspadai's name appears in the variants Kryspa or Kruspa. To Kohut this might be a variation of the Greek name Crispus, meaning curly-haired. Was Rabbi Kruspadai curly-haired? Maybe. Note that Ezekiel 8:3 uses the word ציצית to denote a lock, perhaps curl, of hair. (וַיִּשְׁלַח תַּבְנִית יָד, וַיִּקָּחֵנִי בְּצִיצִת רֹאשִׁי And the form of a hand was put forth, and I was taken by a lock of my head.)

But even more interesting might be to get back to Ben Tsitsis Ha-keseth's name. The translation used above (Soncino) follows Rashi, that the tsitsit on his garments dragged on fine cushions as he walked.

But if tsitsit means curly hair too, and if people were so named because of it....perhaps he was so-called because his tsitsit, his long, curly hair dragged on fine cushions as he sat or lay.

Incidentally, it might be nice to quote Israel Abrahams in his By-paths in Hebraic Bookland (pg 64-65) on the Arukh:

It is remarkable, indeed, how well the sense of Greek words was transmitted by Jewish writers who were ignorant of Greek. They often are not even aware that the words are Greek at all; they suggest the most impossible Semitic derivations; but they very rarely give the meanings incorrectly.

Now that's mesorah!

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails