Thursday, September 21, 2006

But Egoz is NOT Gematria Chet!

Note: Several edits and updates.
There is a famous statement that one should not eat nuts {egozim} on Rosh haShana because Egoz has the same gematria at Chet. The almost as famous objection is that Egoz does NOT have the gematra of Chet, since אגוז = 17, while חטא = 18. The answer given is that in gematria, you are allowed to be off by 1. That is fine, but I would ask: why not then note that it is also 1 off from חי, that is, life, which is surely a fine sign for Rosh HaShana?

Sperber actually covers this in his series Minhagei Yisrael, and gives a detailed answer. He notes that there is another reason given - these promote coughing phlegm, and that would disturb the davening. He also notes the practice of either looking at or eating various foods whose names are propitious, under the idea that simana milta. His solution: One such food that was eaten (or looked at) by some were these egozim, and since these promoted coughing phlegm, they wished to discourage their consumption. That is the real reason not to eat it. However, it is hard to discourage people from doing these propitious acts, especially once they become minhagic. Thus, he developed a negative connotation to the nuts, and noted that their gematria was the same as Chet. This would discourage people from eating them in the same way they had previously been encouraged to eat them.

What about the one-off problem? Sperber also notes that חטא can also be spelled חט, without the aleph. This is indeed the spelling in the Yerushalmi, at least 8 times:

סדר מועד, מסכת יומא
  • דף לח, א פרק ז הלכה ג גמרא: כפרה האמורים בפנים בן הבקר מכפר על שופכי דמים אף כפרה אמורה בחוץ בן הבקר מכפר על שופכי דמים כאן בשוגג כאן במזיד שנייא היא עגלה ערופה בין שוגג בין מזיד א"ר יוסה כאן על חט ידוע וכאן על חט שאינו ידוע
סדר מועד, מסכת חגיגה
  • דף ח, ב פרק ב הלכה א גמרא: וידע כל ישראל מדן ועד באר שבע וגו' נתיירא מיום הדין אנו על אחת כמה וכמה והדין כי הנה יוצר הרים ובורא רוח וגו' אפי' דברים שאין בהן חט נכתבין לאדם על פינקסו ומי מגיד לאדם הבל היוצא
סדר נשים, מסכת נדרים
סדר נשים, מסכת סוטה

If I recall correctly, Sperber showed that, influenced by the Yerushalmi usage, this was indeed the spelling in the time and location of the origin of this gematria. {Update: Indeed, Rema in Orach Chaim 583:2, citing Maharil, spells חט this way.}

Also, I do not recall if Sperber suggested it - I don't think so - but there is another reason people would eat egozim on Rosh HaShana. It is a kiyum of simchat Yom Tov. We see in Yerushalmi how one fulfills simchat Yom Tov. For men, this is meat and wine. What about women and children?
דף סח, ב פרק י הלכה א גמרא: רבי יודה אומר נשים בראוי להן וקטנים בראוי להם נשים בראוי להן כגון מסנים וצוצלין וקטנים בראוי להן כגון אגוזין ולוזין

And indeed, if one looks through the girsaot in the parallel Bavli, it may well be part of the reason Rabbi Akiva/Rabbi Tarfon distributed egozim and kelayot on erev Pesach. If this is an element of Simchat Yom Tov, they might have been distributing them on Rosh Hashana as well, in which case people would be coughing up phlegm or clearing their throats during prayer and during tekiat shofar. Then, insert the matter of attempting to discourage the practice. It does work out better, though, if they were eating it for the purpose of simanim.


Soccer Dad said...

And what about the fact that egoz=tov with no "silent alef?"

joshwaxman said...


I suppose the existence of a negative aspect trumps any positive aspect, either in reality or, according to Sperber's account, in the mind of those who would do this.

BTW, a practical nafka mina: can one eat Eggo waffles (which IIRC are not cholov yisrael, BTW, on Rosh HaShana). They have the same connotation ("Leggo my Eggos!") but do not promote coughing.


AlanLaz said...

Similar to the Tzitzis Shaila: We say that we wear Tzitzis because it reminds us of the 613 mitvos by way of gematria. Except, that every use of the word Tzitzis in the Torah is with 1 yud, not 2, meaning it reminds us of the 603 mitzvos!

Josh said...

Do nuts really cause coughing? I've never noticed that.

joshwaxman said...

yeah, i've never noticed it either.

I most likely translated it incorrectly, though. "kicha" means coughing or phlegm, so it could mean that it more likely means that it causes phlegm, in which case people will have phlegm in their oral/nasal area, and be constantly clearing their throat.

though i haven't noticed that either, not that i was looking.

also: perhaps I might add an additional restriction. people get snuff for Yom Kippur, and since they have it, hand it around during Rosh haShana as well. which most often leads to sneezing during shemoneh esrei, chazarat haShatz, or tekiat shofar. one *could* make up a similar negative siman based on the English connotations of snuff...

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Could also be that people didn't have the same frequent opportunities to take a drink (of water or other juice) that we do and throat clearing was indeed a bigger problem, not to mention the lack of over the counter medications like Sudafed or Nasonex.

FrumWithQuestions said...

On Rosh Hashana I always remember eating Teidlach which had nuts in it. I don't know if their is another word for this desert dish but I see it in every single kosher bakery this time of the year. If it is such a custom then how come this desert is sold with nuts?

joshwaxman said...

good question. Rema (in Even haEzer 583:2) starts it off as "yesh medakdekin," so perhaps others were not medakdek. minhagim are not always universal.

or perhaps people only applied it to whole nuts, applying only the gematria reason, and didn't consider these to be egozim since they were part of a pastry.

joshwaxman said...

Oops! I meant Orach Chaim, not Even haEzer!

the chocolate lady said...

I recall reading about an Eastern European tradition not to eat one's first walnuts of the season until Hoshana Raba. A few minutes of frezied searching have not yet turned up the source (I will be trying to find it b"n), but clearly, if one is waiting for shanerabe to have the first walnuts, one is not having them on Rosheshone.

Anonymous said...

see and

for a discussion of this issue

joshwaxman said...

thanks! I'll include the link in the next relevant pst. said...

קכ. טעם על מנהג שלא אוכלין אגוזים בראש השנה
שמעתי מוצאי ראש השנה תש"ג ירושלים
טעם על מנהג שלא אוכלין אגוזים בראש השנה, משום שאגוז גמטריא חטא "חט" .והקשה, הלא אגוז גמטריא טוב.
ואמר, שאגוז רומז לעץ הדעת טוב ורע, וטרם שהאדם עשה תשובה מאהבה, אצלו האגוז עדיין חטא, ומי שכבר זכה לתשובה מאהבה אזי זדונות נעשו לו כזכיות, נמצא שמה-חט נעשה בחינת טוב, ואז כבר מותר לו לאכול אגוז. לכן צריכין להיזהר לאכול דברים שאין בהם שום רמז לחט, שהם בבחינת עץ החיים, מה שאם כן בדברים שיש בהם גמטריא לחט, מרומזים לעץ הדעת טוב ורע. said...

“The customs of Israel are so important, that it is safe to say that they give more spirituality to a person than the mitsvot themselves. This is so although breaking a custom does not yield punishment, and breaking a ruling does yield punishment. Still, concerning the benefit, meaning producing fear of heaven, the customs yield more spirituality, since the great ones who established the customs arranged it so that spirituality would shine through them.

This is why he said that he who avoids the custom of eating meat and fish on the Sabbath denies spirituality of himself. However, this concerns a person who has not achieved perfection, meaning seeing what he does. This means that he has still not been rewarded with the flavors of the mitsvot, so he needs to observe the customs.

It is like an apple that is spoiled before it rots, but when it is spoiled, rotting is certain. Similarly, when a person becomes free, he rejects the customs, and following the rejection either he becomes free or his sons become free” (Rabbi Barukh Ashlag, Shamati).


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