Reuven Chaim Klein
What's in a Word? Synonyms in the Hebrew Language

Hebrew Hatchlings

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In one of the more obscure commandments of the Bible, the Torah stipulates that if one happens upon a bird nest and wishes to take an egg or hatchling from the nest, but the mother bird is roosting over its issue, one must first send away the mother bird before taking an egg or hatchling (Deut. 22:6–7). In this context, the Hebrew word for a “hatchling” is efroach — a word which appears twice in that passage, twice more in the rest of the Bible (Job 39:30, Ps. 84:4), and thrice in the Mishnah (Shabbos 18:2, Eduyot 4:2, Chullin 12:3). In this essay, we will discuss three more words for such fledglings, and explore how they compare to the word efroachgozalpargit, and nipol.

Although Menachem Ibn Saruk understands efroach as the sole derivative of the quadriliteral root ALEPH-PEH-REISH-CHET, the other lexicographers (like Ibn Janach and Radak) understand that its root is actually the triliteral PEH-REISH-CHET, which means “growing/flowering.” Most famously, the word perach (“flower”) derives from that root. Indeed, Ibn Ezra (to Deut. 22:6) explicitly notes that the ALEPH of the word efroach is extraneous to its root. Ibn Janach explains the efroach’s connection to “growing” by noting that the efroach appears as though it “sprouted” or “flowered” out of the egg from which it hatched. Similarly, Radak and Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim (1740–1814) explain that as a young chickling, an efroach still has much “growing” to do, until it yet flowers into a mature adult bird.

Rabbi Aharon Marcus (1843–1916) reduces this triliteral root to its biliteral core PEH-REISH, which he explains refers to “spawning off into multiple segments.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (to Gen. 16:11) compares it to other phonetically-similar words like para (“revealed”), pera (“wild”), parah (“cow/fruitful”), bara (“created”), barach (“fled”), and barah (“clear/outside”). He sees the common denominator among all these words as relating to the concept of freedom and the unhindered ability to move (and thus, “wax and grow”) without restrictions.

The word gozal appears twice in the Bible. In one case, Hashem commandment Abraham to take a gozal amongst a pigeon and other animals used for the Covenant Between the Pieces (Gen. 15:9), and in the other case, Moses compares Hashem caring for the Jewish People to an eagle hovering over its gozal (Deut. 32:11). The word gozal also appears several times in the Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:5, Shekalim 8:5, 9:1, Bava Metzia 1:4, 2:3, Kinnim 2:1, Taharot 8:6). Although Targum Onkelos (to Deut. 22:6) renders the Hebrew eforach as the Aramaic efroach, Targum Jonathan (there) renders the Hebrew eforach as gozal!

According to tradition, the gozal which Abraham was commanded to take was actually a “dove” (Bereishit Rabbah §44:14, Targum Oneklos to Gen. 15:9), because that is the only other bird besides a pigeon that is fitting for ritual sacrifices, and this covenant was a sort of sacrifice (see Ibn Ezra there). Yet, Ibn Janach and Radak (in their respective Sefer HaShorashim) note that although gozal primarily refers to a “young dove,” the word’s meaning expanded to refer to any young bird. This explains how the term can refer to a “young eagle” in Deuteronomy.

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The word gozal can be traced to the triliteral root GIMMEL-ZAYIN-LAMMED (gezel), which also means “stealing.” What is the connection between the two meanings of that root? Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib of Carpentras writes that gozal refers to a type of dove that “steals” food from others’ fields. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (to Ex. 23:19) writes that gozal relates to gezel because initially when a hatchling emerges from its egg, it falls within its mother’s charge, as though the mother “owns” it and is responsible for its well-being. But after some time, the small bird matures to a point where it can break away from its nest and assert its independence. When doing so, the bird “steals” itself from its mother — so to speak — hence, the very word for such a bird is related to the word for “stealing.” [For more about the term gezel, see my essay “Stealing and Robbing” (Feb. 2020).]

Rabbi Yehonasan HaKohen of Lunel (1135–1210) understands that in Biblical Hebrew, the word gozal means “dove” — just like yonah does — while efroach means “young bird” in general, without reference to a specific species. But, he explains, in Rabbinic Hebrew, the meaning of gozal slightly shifted to specifically mean a “young dove.” For some reason, his assessment of the word gozal ignores the aforementioned verse about eagles (perhaps because he understood that to be simply a borrowed usage, and not reflective of an actual semantic shift). Interestingly, this discussion brings to light an etymological similarity between gozal, which per the above means “dove” and “stealing,” and yonah, which some explain as related to the word ona’ah (“verbal abuse, tricking/cheating”) as discussed in my earlier essay “Words for Wine (Part 1),” March 2022.

A cryptic statement by Ibn Ezra (to Deut. 32:11) about the relationship between the words gozal and efroach can be read as saying one of several different possibilities: Rabbi Yitzchak Sarim (1798–1872) understands Ibn Ezra’s point as clarifying that gozal is not just a term for a “young eagle,” but can rather apply to any “young bird” (just like efroach). The 18th century scholar Rabbi Shlomo Kohen of Lissa explains that Ibn Ezra meant to say that the word gozal has two meanings, as it can refer in general to young fledglings, but can also refer to a specific type of dove. Essentially, he means that gozal is synecdoche, that is, a term which refers to both a part of a set and the entire set. Finally, Rabbi Dr. Asher Weiser (editor of the Mossad HaRav Kook edition of Ibn Ezra’s commentary to the Pentateuch) argues that Ibn Ezra’s intent was to state that gozal and efroach are synonyms.

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky (1891–1986) and Rabbi Shmuel Ashkenazi (1922–2020) argue that the words efroach and gozal reflect two different stages in the maturation of a little bird: efroach denotes a younger bird, who still needs its mother and cannot yet fly; whilegozal denotes a slightly older bird, who no longer needs its mother and can already fly in some limited way. Nevertheless, Rabbi Ashkenazi points out that in one place, the Tosefta (Chullin 10:2) uses the term efroach to refer to a young bird who longer needs it mother and can already fly.

A different approach is found in an article from the Academy of the Hebrew Language and another article by Dr. Moshe Raanan (of Herzog College). They explain that even though in earlier times, the terms efroach and gozal were indeed synonymous, in Modern Hebrew, there is a difference between these terms based on a zoological distinction: an efroach refers to a young, nidifugous bird who exits its egg already covered in feathers and can leave the nest right after it hatches (because it has the ability to eat on its own), like chickens and geese. On the other hand, a gozal refers to a nidicolous bird, who is born without any feathers and has to be fed by its mother (like most singing birds). Such birds must stay in the nest after they hatched until they are well-developed enough to go out on their own. The way these scholars explain it, efroach and gozal do not refer to two different stages within the development of a single bird, but instead refer to two different types of birds.

The Mishnah (Bava Batra 2:6) discusses the Halacha of a person who finds a nipol (“small bird”) near a birdhouse. This Mishnah rules that if the young bird was found more than fifty cubits away from the birdhouse, then the finder need not assume that it belongs to the owner of the birdhouse and can instead take the bird for himself. Rashi (to Bava Batra 23b) explains that a nipol is a gozel, but this does not mean that the two terms are actually synonymous. The Mainz Commentary ascribed to Rabbeinu Gershom (to Bava Batra 23b) and Maimonides (in his commentary to said Mishnah) explain that a nipol refers specifically to a young bird who “fell” from its birdhouse, thus implying that the word is actually cognate with the Hebrew verb nofel (“falling”). In fact, some actually vocalize the word in the Mishnah as naful/nafil (literally, “the fallen one”), as opposed to nipol (see Melechet Shlomo and Kaufmann MS on that Mishnah). [Interestingly, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (1804–1886) invokes Chullin 65a to argue that a nipol is actually type of grasshopper, not a young bird.]

The word pargit (plural: pargiyot) refers to “young chicklings” (although, nowadays it often refers to a poultry meal comprising of small pieces of chicken breasts/thighs). This term appears in the Talmud (Brachot 39b, Bava Metzia 24b), the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah §18:17, Vayikra Rabbah §34:14), and Perek Shirah (ch. 4). Rabbi Nosson of Rome (1035–1106) in Sefer Ha’Aruch connects this word to the similar term fyruj in Arabic, but Rabbi Ernest Klein (1899–1983) explains that the ultimate etymology of pargit lies in the Greek word pterix (“wing” or “winged creature/bird”). That word, in turn, derives from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root pet- (“to fly”), which also gives us such English words as feather, fetter, partridge, pterodactylhelicopter.

About the Author
RABBI REUVEN CHAIM KLEIN is a researcher and editor at the Veromemanu Foundation in Israel. His weekly articles about synonyms in the Hebrew Language appear in the OhrNet and are syndicated by the Jewish Press and Times of Israel. For over a decade, he studied at preimer Haredi Yeshivot, including Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles, Yeshivat Mir in Jerusalem, Beth Medrash Govoha of America. He received rabbinic ordination from multiple rabbinic authorities and holds an MA in Jewish Education from the London School of Jewish Studies/Middlesex Univeristy. Rabbi Klein authored two popular books that were published by Mosaica Press, as well as countless articles and papers published in various journals. He and his wife made Aliyah in 2011 and currently live in the West Bank city of Beitar Illit. Rabbi Klein is a celebrated speaker and is available for hire in research, writing, and translation projects, as well as speaking engagements.
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