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Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Lurker wrote this comment to this original post. My response is in the comments section of the previous quote:

Sorry, but with all due respect, you're way off the mark on this one. The word afikoman is most definitely Greek, and purely Greek, in origin. This fact can be found in plently of meforshim on the Mishna and Gemara. Furthermore, the etymology you present is both problematic and wrong, for a variety of reasons:

The word afikoman appears in the Mishna in Pesachim 10:8: "Ein maftirin achar ha-pesach afikoman". This clearly has nothing at all to do with matza (middle or otherwise), which alone is sufficient to demonstrate that your etymology cannot possibly be correct.

Furthermore, AFAIK, your explanation of afikoman as meaning "take out the middle matza" has no basis in any traditional Jewish source.

The Bavli (Pesachim 119b) gives two interpretations for the meaning of "ein maftirin achar ha-pesach afikoman": According to Rav, it means that you cannot get up at the end of the meal and go join someone else's korban Pesach group (chabura). According to Shmuel, it means that you cannot eat after-dinner snacks (i.e., desserts) after eating the korban Pesach. The Yerushalmi also cites the opinions of Rav (anonomously, in Pesachim 10:4) and Shmuel (also in the name of R. Yochanan, in 10:6). (Shmuel's opinion is also cited anonomously by the Tosefta, in 10:11.) The Yerushalmi (10:6) also quotes a third opinion in the name of R. Inaini b. R. Sisai -- that afikoman means entertainment with musical instruments (minei zemer).

These interpretations dovetail perfectly with the well-established idea that the structure of the Seder is heavily derived from that of the Greek symposia: At the end of a symposium, it was traditional for the participants to proceed over to someone else's house where they would conduct after-dinner merry-making, with delicacies and music. This practice was called epikomion, which means "after-dinner activities" or "after-dinner entertainment". I.e., because someone might think that we can also borrow this idea from the symposia, the mishna makes a point of telling us that it is forbidden to follow the meal with an epikomion. The three interpretations in the Gemara imply three different reasons for the prohibition: According to Rav, its because you're not allowed to eat from the korban Pesach of someone else's chabura. According to Shmuel, its because you're not allowed to eat anything else after the korban Pesach. And according to R. Inaini b. R. Sisai, it would seem to be either on account of (a) the inappropriateness of having musical entertainment after eating the korban Pesach, or (b) the rabbinic prohibition against playing musical instruments on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

You are correct that there is a connection drawn between the word afikoman and the Aramaic word afiku. But you are mistaken in attributing this to Chaza"l (assuming that by "Chaza"l", you mean the Tannaim and Amoraim): There is no etymology of the word afikoman to be found anywhere in all of Sha"s -- not in the Mishna, the Tosefta, the Bavli, or the Yerushalmi. The explanations of the word afikoman using the word afiku are found only starting with the Rishonim, in their comments on "ein maftirin achar ha-pesach afikoman": The Rashbam (Pesachim 119b) explains Rav's opinion with the expression afiku minaichu ("take them out"), as in "take out your utensils from here, and let's go eat in another place"; and the Rav mi'Bartenura (Pesachim 10:8) explains Shmuel's opinion with the expression afiku minei metika ("take out [various] types of sweets"). Note that nobody says anything about afikoman meaning "take out the middle matza", since the mishna's use of the word is completely unrelated to this. Furthermore, these expressions used by the Rashbam and the Rav are not intended as etymologies of the word afikoman; they are simply mnemonic devices (notrikon). R. Kehati states this explicitly in his comments on 10:9 -- after he explains that the word afikoman is Greek in origin.

I find it strange that you would suggest that citing the Greek etymology of afikoman is un-"Jewish": The simple fact that this word is Greek can be found in the Tiferet Yisroel (Yachin, Pesachim 10:8, note 51), as well as the Tosafot R. Akiva Eiger -- who actually criticizes the Rav mi'Bartenura for not having known (or cited the fact) that afikoman is Greek! The Greek source of the word is also described in Kehati (see above), as well as Steinzaltz. Would you say that the explanation given by all these meforshim is not "Jewish"?

Regarding that left-wing liberal blogger who you describe as the "Grinch of Pesach": Yes, his political views are certainly misguided and offensive, but there's nothing wrong or Grinch-like in his comments on this particular subject: Firstly: If one is intellectually honest, it is impossible to ignore the overwhelming preponderance of evidence that Chaza"l borrowed ideas from the Greek symposia in formulating the Seder. If you haven't already, take a good look at the article he cites on the subject. Secondly: There's nothing un-"Jewish" about Chaza"l having done so: They borrowed many useful ideas from non-Jews -- particularly the Greeks -- while rejecting the bad stuff. ("Tocho achal, klipato zarak", as R. Meir did with Acher.) Many of the Tannaim clearly saw great worth within Greek culture -- in the yeshiva of Rabban Gamliel [who was the Nasi], they actually studied Greek philosophy side-by-side with the Torah (Sotah 49b). They didn't "copy" the Seder from the symposia, but they appropriated a great many elements, adapting them to the purpose of sippur yetziat Mitzraim, and thus elevating them into the realm of kedusha.

Prior to the time of the Mishna, there was simply the korban Pesach, and the telling of the story of yetziat Mitzraim. But there was no canonized structure or liturgy for the night of Pesach. Detailed accounts of the laws and customs of Pesach can be found in several pre- and early- Mishnaic period works, such as Sefer HaYuvalim (perek 49), as well as Philo and Josephus. They all describe the korban Pesach, the matza, and the maror; and the mitzva of telling the story -- but apart from that, there is no mention whatsoever of any of the elements of our Seder. That's because people used to fulfill these mitzvot in a more free-form manner. It was only around the time of the churban that Chaza"l decided to organize it into a unified form. And it made sense for them to adopt the form of the symposia, since this was what familiar to the Jews of the time. Perhaps they formulated Seder as a sort of "replacement" for the korban Pesach after the churban, not unlike the three daily tefillot, which "replaced" the daily korbanot in the Beit HaMikdash.

I question your assertion that there's something un-"Jewish" about borrowing non-Jewish practices and adapting them to something holy. In the Moreh Nevuchim (III:32), the Rambam goes so far as to say that Hashem borrowed the entire idea of korbanot from pagan cultic practices! I presume that you wouldn't accuse the Rambam of "just trying to be contraversial for the pageviews". Compared to an idea like that, the idea of borrowing a few clever ideas from the Greek symposia for the Seder seems rather tame by comparison, wouldn't you say?


JoeSettler said...

Of course I could have just looked in the Jastrow.

Last time I try to post something while on vacation without resources in front of me.

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