Mr. Spock is dead

A hero of my childhood has died. Leonard Nemoy, better known as Mr. Spock on Star Trek, is dead. I have spent countless hours watching the series (re-runs, I’m much too young), the movie, I have read every Star Trek novel I could get my hands on and played Spock in countless hours of make-believe stories. Now he is dead. It feels like part of my childhood has ended.

Star Trek may not be Jewish, but it represents many Jewish values. Spock, like every person aboard the Enterprise, was honest, trustworthy and reliable, behaving with intelligence, sensibility and integrity. If I had to chose one word, I would say he was a real mentch. Spock tried to maximize his abilities and to become more than he was. He never stopped learning. But instead of being focused only on his own gain and advancement, he also selflessly gave everything for the community when needed. In the words of Spock himself: "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few".

Spock has values that he takes pride in and defends. But instead of isolating himself, he reaches out to other cultures and tries to understand them. The mission of the Enterprise is to "seek out new life and new civilizations". With the understanding that we might not love everything about a different culture, nor do we need to love it, but we should normally respect it. The crew of the Enterprise often treads the fine line between respect for others and standing for their own values. Because if we tolerate everything, our values become arbitrary. But if we cannot accept the rights of others to lead their lives according to their values, we become tyrants. And sometimes we might even need to rethink our values in light of the new things we have learned.

Star Trek, with Spock as one of its central and most well-known figures, shows us a future we would be proud to have. A time to look forward to, a united earth with no wars. Where people work together with respect and integrity. Where there is tolerance, but also a grounding in values. Where the pursuit of knowledge is one of the greatest goals. Maybe even a time that has messianic traits.

The world has lost a symbol. But, with the words of Dr. McCoy when Spock dies in "The Wrath of Khan": " He’s really not dead, as long as we remember him". And we will.

Goodbye Mr. Spock. We will miss you.

Going kosher, step by step

Going kosher seems a daunting task. There are so many rules, so many details to consider! I certainly know that in the beginning I felt I would never be able to do all of that. So is it useless to try? No. The secret lies in going slowly, step by step. And then suddenly, the task is not so daunting at all.

Here is a proposal for small steps to try one after the other. How long you stay at each step or if you switch them around somewhat is up to you. But whatever you do, don’t take on too much at a time. Do one step and stay there until you are comfortable and it comes automatically. Only then continue. Don’t despair if you fail now and then. It might take months, a year or even longer. It does not matter. It is a process of internalization that everybody has to tackle at his own pace. And how hard it is depends also on your surroundings. If there is no way of getting kosher meat for you, you can still do other things.

So here is my proposal for steps:

  1. Avoid insects in your salad and vegetables, i.e., wash them properly – that wasn’t so hard, was it? In fact, you may already do that.
  2. Eliminate animals that can never be kosher from your diet, e.g., pork, shellfish, rabbit, snake, shark, eel, …
  3. Avoid milk-meat combinations that were cooked at the same time or are eaten together, e.g., pizza or lasagna with meat, cheeseburger, sauces for meat that use cream, …
  4. Avoid eating milk and meat at the same meal, e.g., no coffee with milk after a steak, no yoghurt dressing for the salad before the steak, …
  5. Buy only kosher meat at a kosher butcher.
  6. Wait the appropriate amount of time between eating meat and milk (check with your local rabbi).
  7. Separate your dishes, one set for meat, one for milk.
  8. Check the kashrut for non-meat products and buy only those with kosher symbols or if they are on the kosher list (depending on your country). This is again best done step-by-step, chose two items you buy regularly and switch to a kosher version, then another two, until everything you buy is kosher.
  9. Kasher your kitchen.

Congratulations! You made it!

I know many people who have different standards in their home and outside. This is ok. For example you are at step 5 in your home, but at your mother’s you are still at step 3 because she refuses to buy kosher meat. That is fine for the time being. Honoring your parents is also very important and they should not become resentful towards your new (or new-found) religion. Take your time and let them make their own journey alongside you. Or if you are completely kosher at home but still eat vegetarian meals in your non-kosher canteen at work. Chose the pace you are comfortable with and don’t try everything at once.

Going kosher is like a diet or in fact any other deep change in your habits. If you want it to stick, you need to go slow and give yourself the time to make it an integral part of your self. Good luck!

[Edit Feb 25th: Adding separate dishes]

What makes eggs (non-)kosher?

When I started observing kashrut, the first question I had about eggs was whether they were considered to be milchig (dairy) or fleishig (meaty). They are produced by animals like milk, so that could be an argument for treating them like dairy. On the other hand they are "potential meat" in the sense that they could develop into a bird, so that could be an argument for treating them like meat. In the end, I learned that eggs are considered parve (neutral, neither milk nor meat) – which of course fits best!

So what makes an egg kosher? Simple, it has to come from a kosher bird (see the list of kosher birds). Most commercially sold eggs in Western countries are from chicken (or they are labeled as non-chicken and much more expensive if not), so there shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

The only complication is that eggs may contain blood spots. If you crack open an egg and find blood, you should discard the egg. It is a good practice to open the egg into a separate bowl before putting it with the rest of the eggs/dough/whatever you are making to avoid having to throw out the other food if one egg has blood. Boiled eggs need not be checked, but some have the custom to discard the egg when they see a red spot during peeling. Kashrut agencies and kashrut books contain detailed advice about what sort of spots eggs can contain and in which cases you should discard them (e.g., Eggs and Blood Spots by the OU).

This should cover everything for the home-use of eggs. Industrial egg products are a very different story and may require supervision (if you really want to know why… R. Zushe Blech: Industrial Eggs – Not As Simple As It May Seem).

What makes a piece of meat (non-)kosher?

If you buy a piece of meat in a kosher supermarket, what exactly is it that makes it kosher? Or the other way around, what is wrong with a normal piece of meat I buy at a random supermarket?

Basically there are four things that need to be (properly) done to any piece of meat to make it kosher:

  1. The meat must come from a kosher animal.
    Basically, a land animal has to have split hooves and chew the cud (see this post for details), there’s a limited list of allowed birds (see this post for details). Meat from a non-kosher animal, e.g., pork, can never be kosher, no matter what you do.
  2. The animal must be slaughtered properly.
    It is forbidden by Torah to consume blood (Leviticus 7:26). The main goal of Jewish slaughter (shechita in Hebrew) is to get as much blood out as possible, while being as fast as possible in order to cause as little pain as possible. This is accomplished by cutting the throat in one quick stroke with a very sharp knife. Also the internal organs are inspected for any things that may make it nonkosher. There are lots of specific rules and the slaughtering has to be performed by a trained professional.
  3. The correct parts of the animal have to be taken.
    The sciatic nerve and specific fats around the vital organs may not be eaten and have to be removed. Again, the rules are very specific and you need to be trained to do this right.
  4. The meat must be soaked in water and salted.
    Again, the goal is to get the blood out. The meat is soaked in water for more than 30 minutes, then salted and left to lie in salt for an hour, then rinsed and washed.

At least the first three steps and most of the time also the last step is done at the kosher butcher, so you need not worry about it too much from a practical point of view. If you are ever in the situation where you have to soak and salt your meat, refer to a book or a competent rabbi for the details (e.g. there are a few pages about it in "The practical guide to Kashrus" by R. Shaul Wagschal).

Note that the above rules apply to land animals and fowl, they do not apply to fish. Fish have to have fins and scales to be kosher, but they do not have to be drained of blood and do not have to be slaughtered in a specific way. Any part of fish can be eaten.

I hope this clarifies a bit what distinguishes a kosher piece of beef from a non-kosher one. The whole process is done by a person trained in slaughtering and the relevant rules who is called shochet. There is no rabbi or clerical person needed. No "blessing of the meat", mystical ceremony or anything is done. Jewish slaughter is a traditional way of getting the blood out.

Is it antisemitism to vandalize a synagogue?

Last summer, in the wake of the Gaza war, some youths threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue. The judge has now ruled that there was no antisemitic background to the act. Several people have protested that any act against a synagogue should be classified as antisemitism (e.g., Leonid Goldberg: Fehlurteil in Wuppertal [German]). In this case I agree that the background was probably antisemitic. If the attackers really only wanted to protest against Israel’s war, why would they chose a Jewish target? It is antisemitism to hold all Jews responsible for the politics of Israel.

But I also think that it is dangerous to generalize too much. Every case should be judged based on the actual facts. Not every act against a Jew or Jewish property is automatically antisemitic. A certain portion is just random criminality. If you shout "antisemitism" too often, you are not going to be believed when it really matters.

Two examples to make my point. First, an example from my community. One Saturday morning the congregation arrived to see a small wall in front of the synagogue destroyed. Antisemitic vandalism was of course the first thought, but as it turned out it was just drunken party goers who happened to walk by and destroy random objects all along the street. As a second example, take the process against Nechemya Weberman, an orthodox Jew and convicted pedophile. Many people shouted antisemitism. Is it antisemitism to punish wrongdoings if the offender is a Jew? No, it is not, every criminal should be punished, irrespective of his/her religion.

So is it really such a strange question to ask whether vandalizing a synagogue is antisemitic? No. Antisemitic motives should rank high on the list of possible reasons (as should anti-islamic feelings for mosque, anti-abortionists for an abortion clinic, etc), but the actual reasons may be different.

What is the purpose of life?

No, I’m not trying to give the definitive answer here (which btw is 42). When I am depressed, I very much doubt that my life has any meaning. I am not going to win the nobel price, write music like Bach, books like Goethe, or prevent the third world war or anything really important. So does my life matter?

“Limdu Heitev” (Yeshayah 1:17) – “Learn to do good” says Rashi. We do not find anywhere in the Torah that man is commanded to be a lamdan and expert in all fields of the Torah. For the goal of learning Torah is not to be a lamdan, but rather a good person; to do good and to be good to others.
(Rav Mendel of Kotzk, cited from rationalist Judaism blog)

Somehow, this is consoling. Don’t try to gain immortality by being the best [scientist|musician|polititian|writer|…] that has ever lived. Try to be a good person, be good to others. And of course, if it makes you happy, or if it makes you a better person, be the best [scientist|musician|polititian|writer|…] you can be! But your life is not wasted if you are not one of the five most important people on earth.

List of kosher insects

Well this is an easy post. The short answer is: Avoid insects, they are not kosher (see Deuteronomy / Devarim 14:19).

Simple, you might think, I don’t care for them anyway. Well – are you sure you are not eating insects? There are two ways that you could be. First, you overlooked them in your vegetables or fruit (a lot can be said on the matter, see e.g., the Star K guide for vegetable inspection or Failed Messiah’s Rabbis Ban Strawberries – Again). The solution to this problem is awareness and thorough washing. Second, some food additives are made out of insects (Non-Vegetarian Food Additives) and they cleverly hide behind the innocuous label "natural flavor". To ensure none of them are in your food, you would have to trust some supervision, either by rabbinic or vegetarian/vegan institutions.

The long answer starts with the fact that there are some exceptions to the rule, insects you are allowed to eat. This needs a source:

All winged swarming things that go upon all fours are a detestable thing unto you. Yet these may ye eat of all winged swarming things that go upon all fours, which have jointed legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth; even these of them ye may eat: the locust [arbeh] after its kinds, and the bald locust [sal’am] after its kinds, and the cricket [chargol] after its kinds, and the grasshopper [chagav] after its kinds. But all winged swarming things, which have four feet, are a detestable thing unto you.
(Leviticus / Vayikra 11:20-23)

This lists four types of locusts that you may eat. But before you run out to the meadows… only these four species of locusts are permitted. One of them has been identified to be the schistocerca gregaria, the most common variety in North Africa (Rabbi N. Slifkin: The Locusts Are Coming! Yum!). So unless you know how to identify this type of locusts, maybe you should refrain from eating them. As an aside: Locusts are not meat according to halacha, like fish they are parve.

Locusts have not played a big role on the menus of most kashrut observing Jews until in 2013 a swarm of a kosher locust species crossed the border from Egypt into Israel. This lead to quite a few culinary experiments, you can get a taste [pun intended] of it through these articles (Adventures in Locust Hunting, Eating locusts: The crunchy, kosher snack taking Israel by swarm). If you happen to come across some kosher locusts, here are a few recipe ideas: Locust Chips (French Fries), Honey Spiced Locusts, Moshe Basson’s locust pasta. Enjoy!

Hating Amalek

The command to hate and wipe out Amalek (including innocent babies) is a troubling one for many modern Jews. You can avoid thinking about the whole thing by arguing that anyway we do not know who is Amalek today, but that doesn’t change the moral dilemma. Rabbi Sacks asks a different question, not about the morality, but about the reason behind the command:

We are commanded not to hate Egypt, but never to forget Amalek. Why the difference? The simplest answer is to recall the rabbis’ statement in The Ethics of the Fathers [5:16]: "If love depends on a specific cause, when the cause ends, so does the love. If love does not depend on a specific cause, then it never ends." The same applies to hate. When hate depends on a specific cause, it ends once the cause disappears. Causeless, baseless hate lasts forever.
[…]
That is why are commanded to remember and never forget Amalek, not because the historic people still exists, but because a society of rational actors can sometimes believe that the world is full of rational actors with whom one can negotiate peace. It is not always so.
(Rabbi Sacks: The Face of Evil)

When people hate you for a reason you can address this reason. You can argue, discuss facts, make them understand your point of view, understand theirs, modify circumstances and behaviours, find a compromise, and generally negotiate and come to a solution. In the Torah, these are the Egyptians [maybe not every one of them, but the leaders].

When people just hate you and afterwards come up with reasons for it, there is nothing you can do. If you remove the reason for their hate, they will just find another reason. That is Amalek, they had no dealings with the Israelite and still attacked them. There’s no point in trying to resolve the conflict as there is no reason for it.

The challenge is to see when it’s one or the other and concentrate your energy on those people that have valid reasons for their hate and try to arrive at a common ground.

List of kosher fish

In addition to the rules about animals on land and in the sky, there are rules for everything that is in the water. Fish need to have fins and scales (both!) to fall into the category of kosher. No other fish or water animals are allowed. These rules come directly from the Torah:

These ye may eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales may ye eat; and whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye shall not eat; it is unclean unto you.
(Deuteronomy / Devarim 14:9-10, there’s a similar part in Leviticus / Vayikra 11:9-12)

This includes only the "stereotypical fish", i.e., what a child will draw if you say "draw a fish". In particular it means the following is NOT kosher:

  • Shrimp, crab, lobster and all other crustaceans
  • Oysters, clams, mussels, and all other molluscs
  • Squid, sepia, octopus and similar
  • Sea cucumbers, starfish, sea urchin and similar
  • Jellyfish
  • Sea turtles
  • Sea snakes
  • Frogs and all other water-dwelling amphibians
  • Crocodiles and all other water-dwelling reptiles
  • Whale, dolphin and all other "fish-like" mammals (no scales)

I live very far from the sea and I do not eat fish. So I have no idea what the different sorts of fish look like. Also the halachic definitions of fins and scales are somewhat different from the scientific definitions. So for a complete list of kosher fish I’ll just link you to the CRC list of kosher fish. I’ve also seen such a list in many books or how-to-s on kashrut. When in doubt, ask your local rabbi or kashrut organisation!

There is no prohibition about fish blood, so you may kill fish any way you like. You do not have to remove the blood like you have to for mammals and fowl. So you can just go into any supermarket and buy any fresh fish as long as you can be certain that it is from a kosher species (or you buy it whole and check fins and scales). With canned or frozen fish there might be problems with additional ingredients, e.g., the oil, or the processing pipeline being used for non-kosher food also, so it’s better to rely on some supervision.

The general rules are that "what comes from a kosher animal is kosher, what comes from a non-kosher animal is non-kosher". So caviar or fish roe is only kosher if the fish it comes from is kosher. Wikipedia claims that "most caviar consists of sturgeon eggs", which might be problematic as there is controversy about whether sturgeon is kosher. The same issues apply to fish gelatine, it may be problematic if made out of non-kosher fish like shark or catfish.

List of kosher birds

We’ve talked about the kashrut rules about animals on land, now let’s talk about animals in the sky. The topic is a bit more complicated as there are no rules given (there are some in the Talmud, but they are a bit unclear and rather indications than signs). The only thing given in the Torah itself is a list of forbidden birds (in two slightly different versions):

And these ye shall have in detestation among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are a detestable thing: the great vulture, and the bearded vulture, and the osprey;
and the kite, and the falcon after its kinds;
every raven after its kinds;
and the ostrich, and the night-hawk, and the sea-mew, and the hawk after its kinds;
and the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl;
and the horned owl, and the pelican, and the carrion-vulture;
and the stork, and the heron after its kinds, and the hoopoe, and the bat.
(Leviticus / Vayikra 11:13-19, the other version with a few differences is in Deuteronomy / Devarim 14:11-18)

So in theory this is good news, apart from these few birds we can eat all others! But unfortunately there is a problem. The identity of most of these birds is unknown or at least debated. Don’t be fooled by the given English names. Over time the exact meaning of the Hebrew words has been lost and we don’t know which species they refer to (Wikipedia on kosher birds, R. Jack Abramowitz: 157. Chicken!: The prohibition against eating non-kosher birds).

So if we don’t know what the non-kosher birds species are, what can we eat? How can we be sure any bird is not on this list? Well, we can eat every bird that we have a tradition for that it is kosher. This is the knowledge passed down from a time where people spoke ancient Hebrew and knew exactly which birds the Torah tells them to avoid.

So which birds are these? Well, these are the typical ones you will likely find in your local kosher shop:

A few more birds that you might not find in a store, but that are still kosher as some communities have traditions about them. The hunt for traditions of the Jewish communities is ongoing, so expect a few birds added to this list in the future. This is what I was able to find for now:

Fowl has to be slaughtered and prepared according to the same laws as other meat. Their meat is forbidden to eat with milk, just like the meat of land animals. The eggs of kosher birds are themselves kosher, those of nonkosher birds are not kosher.

List of kosher land animals

I have found the search term "split hoof animals list" in my search terms and thought this shouldn’t be hard. So let’s start with the land animals. Land animals need to have (completely) split hooves and need to chew the cud as. Only animals with both signs are kosher. The rules come directly from the Torah:

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: These are the living things which ye may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is wholly cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that may ye eat.
(Leviticus / Vayikra 11:2-3, there’s a similar part in Deuteronomy / Devarim 14:4-8)

Which animals are those? I am not a rabbi nor a kashrut expert, I am only using Google and Wikipedia. When in doubt about some exotic animal, ask your local rabbi or kashrut organization!

Let’s start with the animals that everybody knows, i.e., those animals that are universally recognized to be kosher and that are commonly sold:

  • cattle
  • goat
  • sheep

There are of course different breeds (e.g., for cows Texas Longhorns, Holstein Friesians, etc.), but they are all kosher.

And some other animals that are recognized as kosher and are listed on most lists (e.g., CRC Kosher Animal List), articles or books. The names do not identify a specific species, but rather a family of species. For example there are several kinds of antelopes all over the world. But they are all kosher:

  • deer
  • ibex
  • antelope
  • gazelle

And now for some more exotic animals that nonetheless are kosher (not an exhaustive list):

You can see where these animals live on this nice little map of kosher animals worldwide. Note that the animals have to be slaughtered in the proper way in order to get kosher meat. This will probably mean it is impractical to get kosher meat for many of them (e.g., the giraffe). There are also some opinions that we need a tradition to eat a given animal, this would exclude the more "exotic" ones from the list, as there is no such tradition for them.

Shtisel [movie/series recommendation]

I am currently watching an Israeli series called “Shtisel" (שטיסל). It takes place in a charedi (ultraorthodox) neighborhood in Jerusalem. But it’s not your usual frum-versus-secular thing. The series offers a glimpse into the life of some people who happen to have a lifestyle that appears very foreign to us but in the end they are just people like we are.

The actors themselves are not orthodox, but apparently they have done quite some research to keep it as close to the real world as possible. The series has won many prices in Israel. You can watch the trailer on youtube:

The first and second episode are also available on youtube. From there on you can continue watching on Sdarot.tv.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for my knowledge of Hebrew?) I haven’t been able to find English subtitles, so I’m watching in Hebrew with frequent pauses to look up things in a dictionary. But so far I love it (I’m in the middle of the first season)!

Divinity of Hebrew – wavy wheels

Another fun word game (if you are new to this, read my first post on word derivation fields first):

The root letters of גל, refer to things which move or are removed. In English, to reveal, a wave, a wheel, feces, to cut off and exile, have no word connection. But in Hebrew, reveal – gimel lamed vav tav, wave – gimel lamed, wheel – gimel lamed gimel lamed (double gimel lamed because it’s always moving), feces (removed from the body) – gimel lamed lamed, cut off – gimel lamed vav ches, exile – gimel lamed vav tav.

The alphabetically sorted (by three-letter root) version:

גל — gimmel lamed — gal — wave
גלגל — gimmel lamed gimmel lamed — galgal — wheel
גלל — gimmel lamed lamed — ? — feces [* see below]
גלוח — gimmel lamed vav chet — ? — to cut off [* see below]
גלות — gimel lamed vav tav — galut — to reveal [* see below]
גלות — gimel lamed vav tav — galut — exile

Errors (as far as I can tell with my dictionary, I’m not a native speaker): For "feces" my dictionary has "glalim" (same root). In "to reveal" there is a copy/paste error, the given word is "exile", "to reveal" is "gilah" (same two-letter root). My dictionary offers many things for "cut off", none of them connected to gimmel lamed. The root "gimmel lamed chet" occurs as a verb "gileach" which means "to shave" though — close enough in meaning.

Omissions, i.e., other words with gimmel lamed not on the list:
גל — gimmel lamed — gal — pile
גל — gimmel lamed — gal — to be happy
גלגל — gimmel lamed gimmel lamed — gilgel — to roll
גלב — gimmel lamed bet — galav — hairdresser
גלד — gimmel lamed daled — geled — (botany) scale leaf
גלד — gimmel lamed daled — geled — crust, scab
גלה — gimmel lamed he — galah — to be exiled
גלח — gimmel lamed chet — galach — (literary) priest
גלי — gimmel lamed yud — gali — wavy, undulating
גלל — gimmel lamed lamed — galel — to roll up (also the Torah)
גלם — gimmel lamed mem — golem — golem; dummy
גלם — gimmel lamed mem — gilem — to embody
גלף — gimmel lamed fe — gilef — to engrave
גלש — gimmel lamed shin — galash — to boil over
גלש — gimmel lamed shin — galash — to ski, skate, browse

Semantic coherence: We have movement (wave, wheel, to roll, wavy, to roll up, to ski) and removal (to shave, feces, exile, to be exiled, hairdresser? [removes your hair], to reveal? [remove the mystery]). Plus a few things related to the removal of movement, i.e., static things (pile, scale leaf, crust, to engrave? [tombstones?]). And things I have no idea how to fit into this, not even as a joke: priest, to embody, golem, to be happy, to boil over.

Already the premise that there should be a connection rests on the (coincidental?) English connection between move and remove. Wouldn’t a connection between movement (tezuzah btw, no gimmel, no lamed) and something like walking or sports be more intutive? And between removal and waste or partitioning or something? Sorry, don’t get this one at all.

Divinity of Hebrew – lacking firmness

Because it was so much fun last time, here another word derivation field:

Seemingly disparate words with the letters ches lamed חל, almost always refer to that which lacks firmness. In English, there is no word connection between a hole, dead body, an ill person, rust, sand, fat, milk, the beginning of something, a window, to switch, separation, weakness, removal of something, or a dream. But in Hebrew, these disparate words all have the same root of ches lamed because they all describe things which lack firmness and a basis: A hole – ches lamed lamed, dead body – ches lamed lamed, an ill person – ches lamed hey, rust – ches vav lamed daled, sand – ches vav lamed, fat – ches lamed vais, milk – ches lamed vais, the beginning of something – hey tav ches lamed hey, a window (in old times there was no glass, just a hole in the wall) – ches lamed vav nun, to switch – ches lamed fay, separation – ches lamed koof, weakness – ches lamed shin, removal of something – ches lamed tzadi, a dream (something fleeting) – ches lamed vav mem.

To put it in a more readable form, sorted alphabetically by three-letter root, the listed words for the two-letter root חל are:

חול — chet vav lamed — chol — sand
חלב — chet lamed bet — chelev — fat
חלב — chet lamed bet — chalav — milk
חולד — chet vav lamed daled — choled — rust [* see below]
חולה — chet lamed he — choleh — ill person
התחלה — hey tav chet lamed hey — hatchala — beginning
חלל — chet lamed lamed — chalal — hole [*see below]
חלל — chet lamed lamed — chalal — dead body
חלום — chet lamed vav mem — chalom — dream
חלון — chet lamed vav nun — chalon — window
חלף — chet lamed fe — chelef — to switch [*see below]
חלץ — chet lamed tzade — chalatz — removal
חלק — chet lamed kuf — chelek — separation [* see below]
חלש — chet lamed shin — chalash — weakness

I won’t go into the underlying problems with word derivation fields in general, using two-letter roots, and not proving that the same field doesn’t exist in another language, read the other post for that. I’ll just concentrate on errors, omissions and semantic coherence for now.

Errors (as far as I can tell with my dictionary, I’m not a native speaker):

  • "choled" means "mole", rust is "cheled" or "chaludah" [minor error, this still contains the same two-letter root].
  • "chalal" means "cavity" in an anatomical sense or "space", but "hole" in a more general sense is "chor" [no lamed].
  • "chelef" is a literary expression for "instead", "chalaf" is to pass time. "to switch" would be "hachlif" [minor error, still same two-letter root].
  • "chelek" means "part", "chalak" means "to share", "chilek" to "divide", "separation" is "hafradah" [no chet, no lamed]. We could go with "chalukah", division [same two-letter root].

Omissions, i.e., other words with chet lamed not on the list:
חל — chet lamed — chal — to occur
חל — chet lamed — chol — secular; weekday
חיל — chet yud lamed — chayal — soldier
חלל — chet lamed lamed — chilel — to desecrate
חלה — chet lamed he — chalah — shabat bread
חלת — chet lamed tet — chalat — to put boiling water on
חלת — chet lamed tet — chilet — to confiscate

Semantic coherence: Ok. So what do we have? We have some things connected to a hole or something missing (window, cavity, removal, mole?), things "lacking firmness" (weak, ill person, dead body, sand, fleeting/changing (dream, beginning, to pass time, to occur, to switch), and objects changing ownership (to divide, part, to confiscate). So far so good.

Problems begin with "to put boiling water on", "milk" and "fat". Yes, they are liquid, but so are many more things, e.g., water, rain, wine and oil. Why should only these three be included. And then we also have the soldier, more connected with strength than weakness. We could explain that away by staying true to the charedi mindset, they lack faith in G-d and try to settle things with arms instead of prayer. We have "secular&qout; and "to desecrate" which might fit nicely into this train of thought, secular people and heretics lack belief and a basis in life. But what to do with "challah&qout;, the Jewish bread for the shabat?

In summary – again, not very convincing, and if only for "challah".

Divinity of Hebrew – chirping flying birds

As discussed before, some people claim to find evindence for G-d in the Hebrew language. One of the supposed "proofs" is the following:

Words [that have similar meanings or some other meaningful connection] which have no connection to each other in other languages, are intricately connected in Hebrew.

First, we should define connection. From the examples that follow in the text, I guess they mean the words share the same root. Like "sing" and "singer" for example. The linguistic term for this is derivation.

Ok, so is this so special? That words are derived from one another in one language and not in another should be no surprise. Otherwise translating would be trivial! For example if I look at German and English (two very related languages) I can still find many cases where words are derived from each other in one language, but not the other. One simple example for the German root "fahr-":

fahren (to drive, travel), Fahrt (the drive, ride), Fahrer (driver), Einfahrt (driveway), Ausfahrt (exit), Fähre (ferry), verfahren (to get lost while driving), …

While many words with the root "fahr-" in German share the root "driv-" in English, others do not, e.g., exit or ferry (I’m not cheating, the umlaut is a regular German thing that does not change the root, e.g., "he drives" is "er fährt"). So this fact is really nothing special, rather it is the norm!

IF there were any special point to make about different derivations then that the fields of connected words in Hebrew are so much more meaningful and (for want of a better word) "designed" than in other languages.

Ok, so let’s see an example for Hebrew. This is the original quote:

Birds have the following characteristics: They chirp, fly, can see far while flying, and are covered with feathers. The Hebrew word for bird is צפּור, tzipor. The first two letters, tzadi fay, are the two letter root of the word. Chirping is tziftzoof – tzadi fay, tzadi fay (a double of the letters suggests a lot of that thing – birds chirp a lot). To fly is tzaf – tzadi fay. To see far is Tzofeh – tzadi fay hey. Feathers are tzifiyah – tzadi fay yud hey.

To put it in a more readable form:

Root: צפּ (tzade fe)
צף — tzade fe — tzaf — to fly [*see below]
צפור — tzade fe vav resh — tzipor — bird
צפצף — tzade fe tzade fe — tziftzof — to chirp
צפה — tzade fe he — tzofeh — to see
צפיה — tzade fe yud he — tzifiya — feathers [*see below]

The very very first thing to do is check this for errors with a dictionary or a native speaker. I’m not a native speaker and I only have an online dictionary as I’m currently not at home. But this already fails for two of the words: "tzaf" is translated as "to float" in Morfix, "to fly" would be "af" (ayin fe). "tzifiya" is given as "viewing", "feather" would be notzah. Anyway, let’s give the benefit of the doubt that my dictionary is faulty and go on.

What is happening here argument-wise? First, they use a two-letter root. This is often done in pseudo-science, but in linguistics (and Hebrew grammar classes), people work with three-letter roots. The three letter root for "tzofeh" would be tzade fe he, the one for "tzipor" probably tzade fe resh (again, not a native speaker, but pretty sure). So the actual linguistic relation between "tzofeh" and "tzipor" is questionable.

Assuming two-letter roots exist (and there are some scholars who say they do), there are many more three-letter combinations that we could include and we would need to check that they are also somehow connected to birds. I don’t have a root dictionary here with me, but what found with a very quick search is tzipa (tzade fe he, pi’el, to expect / to cover), tzefi (tzade fe yud, forecast), tzefa (tzade fe ayin, viper), tzafar (tzade fe resh, to honk). Not very convincing.

To prove that Hebrew is the only divine language, we would need to check that the same connection cannot be found in any other language. I don’t really have the motivation to do that here, if you come across another language where "bird", "chirp", "feather" and possibly "view" share the same root, write a comment.

Finally, question is whether it is so surprising that birds, chirping and feathers are related? They are very typical characteristics of birds after all, it is very logical that the words for them are derived from the word for bird. So why would that be something only G-d can put into a language? I don’t get the point, even if the argumentation would hold water, which it really doesn’t.

A final word to those crying heretic: I don’t want to say that Hebrew is not a special language, you are free to believe that if you want. All I’m sayin is that this is not the way to prove it.