Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Others who believe Jews have more teeth than gentiles

Someone sent me a fascinating tidbit, which demonstrates that the belief that Jews have a different number of teeth than gentiles is more widespread. As I noted elsewhere, this does not mean that those who think this are morons. Of course not! Rather, they are stuck in a different culture, in which truth, scientific and otherwise, is often ascertained by authority, particularly religious authority. Thus, a kabbalistic statement, or a statement from midrash Talpiyot, is presumed to be true, even though it seems rather strange. And epistomologically speaking, they don't think to investigate such a strange statement by examining the world, or by consulting medical textbooks. So it is not just Rav Chaim Kanievsky and his brother-in-law.

In this particular example, which can be found in this video of Rav Shmueli, a noted kabbalist, at about the 34:15 mark. It is predicated on a pasuk in parshat Balak, in Bemidbar 23:9:
ט כִּי-מֵרֹאשׁ צֻרִים אֶרְאֶנּוּ, וּמִגְּבָעוֹת אֲשׁוּרֶנּוּ: הֶן-עָם לְבָדָד יִשְׁכֹּן, וּבַגּוֹיִם לֹא יִתְחַשָּׁב.9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
My paraphrase:
Now I wish to relate to you a great thing. What is said? "Hen Am Levadan Yishkon. Uvagoyim lo yitchashav."

Am Yisrael has Lev (=32) teeth, but the gentiles have one tooth missing. Their teeth are 31. And this is hinted to here with "Hen Am Levadad Yishkon." Dad, in Aramaic, is teeth. Hen Am Levadad = Le"v (32) Dad (teeth). Uvagoyim (and among the gentiles)... L"o Yitchashav {where yitchashav means it is counted}. Lamed Aleph = 31. For they have only 31 teeth.
There are of course a number of problems with this devar Torah.

First and foremost, it is not true that gentiles have a different number of teeth than Jews.

Secondly, can we have some backing that Dad, דד, means tooth in Aramaic? I've never heard of this. It usually means breast of nipple, as in Biblical Hebrew. And while the gemara speaks of knocking out a dad from a mouth, it is speaking of a nursing infant. Jastrow makes no mention of dad as tooth. (Does anyone have a source?)

Thirdly, assuming his source is Midrash Talpiyot and the tradition the author received, there he says that gentiles have an extra tooth, for a total number of 33. In which case Lo yitchashav would not work out. It seems to have been Rav Kanievsky's miscitation of the Midrash Talpiyot, unless there is some other girsa. (But this was a printed work, from the 1700s!)

Update: While I still don't think dad means teeth, see here for a fun explanation of how this error might have come about.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

My prelimary search for "Dod" as "tooth" reveals nothing even close.

However, in Greek a tooth is "oudos." Conceivably, this word makes an appearance in rabbinic literature, perhaps even with a stray daleth as a prefix. But neither Jastrow nor Kohut notices it, so.

joshwaxman said...


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Also, it's interesting that the word mastadon seems to have been coined from what essentially means "nipple-tooth" in Greek; according to OED English mastodon comes from the French mastodont (I only point it out because the etymology is more clear in French), which was coined in 1806 from Greek roots masto- and -odont, "with reference to the nipple-like tubercles present in pairs on the crowns of the molar teeth."

Either way, it appears remarkable how one can vaguely refer to "Aramaic" and pretty much say anything. Unless, that is, the chisaron is in us and our knowledge of Aramaic/ ability to look up sources.


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