We have all been bothered for decades by the following fundamental question. If the root K-D-Sh means “holy,” how could “kedeshah” mean “prostitute”? Note that the Tanach refers to both a “kadesh” and a “kedeshah.” The first is a male and the second is a female. See Deuteronomy 23:18 which refers to and prohibits both. (These words, in various forms, are mentioned a few more times in Tanach.)
There are those who see these seemingly inconsistent meanings as evidence that in Hebrew a word can sometimes mean its opposite. But this phenomenon is very rare.
One approach to reconciling our different meanings of K-D-Sh is taken by Menahem ben Saruk (10th century). He believes that the root K-D-Sh means “separation” and suggests that there are three types of separations: favorable separation, neutral separation and unfavorable separation. “Kadesh” and “kedeshah” would be examples of the last.
But in a widespread alternative view, the root K-D-Sh is always positive. It has two components: “separation” plus “elevation.” See Alec Goldstein, A Theology of Holiness (2018), p. 30. In this view, we need an alternative approach. Such an approach is expressed well by P.C. Craigie, in his “The Book of Deuteronomy” (1976), p. 301. Craigie writes that a “kadesh” or “kedeshah” was “a person belonging to a particular class of temple personnel in certain of the religions of Israel’s neighbors. They carried out their function in relation to the fertility rituals of certain deities. Though in Israelite eyes the cult-prostitute was anything but holy, he or she would be considered to be holy within the context of the foreign religion.”
In other words, we now realize that K-D-Sh was not just a root for “holiness” in Hebrew. It was a root with a “holiness” meaning in many of the other ancient Semitic languages. So a “kadesh” and “kedeshah” could have had an original meaning with an aspect of holiness in these other cultures. Then the meaning could have expanded.
Now let us discuss the word “kadesh.” Until now, I have been assuming it had a meaning parallel to “kedeshah.” But Hayim Tawil, in his “Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew,”entry for “kedeshah,” summarizes an interesting approach by a scholar named Mayer Gruber (published in Tarbitz, vol. 52, 1983, pp. 167-76). Gruber agrees with Ibn Saruk that the root meaning of K-D-Sh is “separation” and that this can mean separation for exaltation or for degradation. (He points out that another root with a similar range of meanings is Chet-R-M.) Now, as to “kedeshah,” we know that this word has a meaning like “prostitute” because it is parallel to Z-N-H at Hos. 4:14 and because it is found in the story of Judah and Tamar. But as to “kadesh,” Gruber argues that there is no evidence whatsoever that this word means “a male cult prostitute.” He thinks it just means “cultic functionary” and that Deuteronomy 23:18 juxtaposes moral and cultic prohibitions as follows: let there be no prostitute among the Israelite women, and let there be no Canaanite cult singer from among the Israelite men. In other words, the Torah is using wordplay here and joining two unrelated prohibitions which share the same root.
Although this is clever, 1 Kings 14:24 makes Gruber’s interpretation difficult. 1 Kings 14:24 tells us that there were “kadesh” in the land of Israel and “asu ke-khol ha-toavot ha-goyim asher horish Hashem mi-pnei Bnei Yisrael.”
Another issue of a possible negative meaning of K-D-Sh arises in the case of Deuteronomy. 22:9: “You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed; lest the entirety of what you have planted be k-d-sh….” Both Onkelos and Rashi understand K-D-Sh here as a type of “unfavorable separation.” But there are ways to avoid this interpretation. For example, one scholar interprets the verse to be instructing that “it will belong not to you, but to the sanctuary.”
Finally, the phrase “k-d-sh war” is usually translated as “prepare war.” (See Jer. 6:4, 51:27-28, Joel 4:9, and Mic. 3:5). But war has sacral components, since its preparations included holy vessels (u-khlei ha-kodesh) and trumpets (Numbers 31:6). More importantly, Deuteronomy 23:15 states: “For the Lord thy God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver thee and to give up your enemies before you, and your camp shall be kadosh, and He shall not see any ‘ervat davar’ and turn away from you.” So we do not have to give k-d-sh an additional fundamental meaning of “prepare.”
Two weeks ago, I explained why “lo titaveh” (tenth commandment, Deuteronomy) is in the hitpael. The root aleph-vav-heh means you have a desire for something, but unlike Ch-M-D, it is not based on a visual inspection. The import of the hitpael in the case of the root aleph-vav-heh is that one is actively building up one’s desire for the object (since it is not in front of you being seen). I only learned this a few weeks ago. In my 2018 book, Roots and Rituals”, p. 243, n. 385, I had made a different suggestion to explain the hitpael in the case of “titaveh.” If you have already bought my book, please make a notation there with my new explanation. For those of you who have not bought it yet, I take this opportunity to remind you. It is available at amazon.com, kodeshpress.com, Judaica House, and the YU seforim sale.
By Mitchell First
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at [email protected]
For more articles by Mitchell First, and information on his books, please visit his website at rootsandrituals.org.