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Words for Wax

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27.11.2021

With Chanukah just around the corner, people are already thinking about how exactly they will light their Menorah and what sort of candles they will use. Of course, ideally one should opt for using olive oil to light Chanukah lamps, but, nonetheless, for various reasons, using wax candles remains a popular choice as well (see Rema to Orach Chaim 673:1). In this essay we will encounter four different words for “wax” — donag, shaava, kira, and nechot. In doing so we will seek out the etymologies of these words to figure out if/how they differ from one another.

The word donag appears four times in the Bible (Mic. 1:4, Psalms 22:15, 68:3, 97:5), but never in the Mishna or Talmud — except for the fact that Rav Nachman’s wife was named Donag (Kiddushin 70a). Whenever donag appears in the Bible it denotes “wax” as something that easily melts in fire.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (to Ex. 29:20) connects the word donag to the Biblical Hebrew word tenuch (“ear lobe”), ostensibly invoking the interchangeability of DALET and TAV, as well as GIMMEL and KAF. Rabbi Hirsch explains that wax is similar to an ear lobe because wax is malleable and pliable, just like the fatty ear lobe is.

Rabbi Yehoshua Steinberg writes in Shorashei Leshon HaKodesh (Warsaw, 1897) that the word donag is a portmanteau of the words dei (“enough”) and nogah (“light”), an allusion to wax’s usefulness in lighting candles and providing light.

More scholarly-oriented etymologists are at a loss to explain the origins of the word donag. The prominent linguist Avraham Even-Shoshan (1906-1984) suggests in his dictionary that this word is derived from the Akkadian word dumqu,........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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