Thursday, October 13, 2005

Yom Kippur

Last night, at sunset, was the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I wish all the Jewish friends of Ralph an easy fast.

It is interesting to note that the expression yom kippur as such is not found in the oldest Jewish literature. In the Bible, Mishnah, Dead Sea Scrolls, Talmudim and Midrashim, the phrase denoting the Day of Atonement is yom ha-kippurim, or, in Aramaic, yoma de-kippurei. The earliest use I can find of the later, short expression is in the Tosafists (glossators) to the Babylonian Talmud, which would place its origin in the early medieval period.

Kippurim is a tantum plurale ("only plural") in Biblical Hebrew, a word occurring only in the plural. Pluralia tantum are often used in Hebrew to denote abstract notions, like "atonement," alumim, "youth," tanhumim, "consolation." etc. They are less frequent in later forms of the language, which might account for the eventual changeover to the singular in yom kippur.


John W Leys said...

What's really odd is that its referred to as yom ha-kippurim throughout the High Holiday litergy as well. Off hand I can't think of anywhere in the Hebrew where it appears as "Yom Kippur," though most Machzors that I'm familiar with use "Yom Kippur" in the titles of the services. In the English translation of the actual litergy I think most actually translate the phrase as "Day of Atonement" (sing)

SH said...

I agree, it is very odd. So odd, that I couldn't believe it and had to check it out for myself... and you are right. :)

(Although I did find it in earlier sources than the Tosafists: once in Bamidbar Raba 18.21, and once in Qohelet Raba 10.1/4 [both Vilna ed.]; but these are very late midrashim, and it doesn't change the picture).

I wonder, if the expression Yom Kippur is not the result of the copyists' habit to truncate words: Kippurim > Kippur' > Kippur.

EMC said...

Thanks, guys, good to have specialists on the job.

Shai: Could be, or maybe the growing influence of European languages favored a singular. I think in Greek and Latin atonement is always singular.