Goats make frequent appearances in Jewish literature, and they are known by many names. The general goat species is (izzim; plural), similar to enzu in ancient Akkadian, izza in Aramaic, and anz in Arabic. In the Bible, mature he-goats are called (attudim)[1] or (teyashim)[2]. As the male goat has a longer beard than the female, a man's pointy beard came to be called in jest (zekan-tayish), a goat's beard, as in English a goatee!

The male goat, the (tayish), is also referred to in the Torah as (sa'ir), hairy, or (sa'ir izim), the hairy of the goats – for the male was covered with hair! "And the high priest lay his hands on the head of the (sa'ir), the hairy goat, and slaughtered him."[3] The goat sent into the wilderness marked for Azazel on the Day of Atonement, and carrying off the collective sins of the people,[4] is referred to by the rabbis during the Second Temple period as (sa'ir ha-mishtaleah), the goat that is dispatched.[5] A parallel expression emerged – (sa'ir le-azazel), the goat for Azazel, referring to a victim of others' offenses, the individual whom people blame for their own misfortunes or failings. And that of course, is the origin of the term scapegoat as well.

And finally the (gedi) or (gedi izim) – the kid, the young male goat. The term (gedi) is most common to us from the biblical regulation: (lo tevashel gedi vba-halev imo), "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk," a prescription we discuss elsewhere in this edition of JHOM.

In the Talmud, the (gedi), the young goat, becomes a metaphor for a young student (im ein gedayim, ein teyashim), if there are no kids [students], there will be no adult goats [learned scholars].[6] Similarly, a teacher can feel pride and achievement when (gedayim na'asu teyashim), the kids become adult goats, i.e., when the young students grow up and became great scholars.[7]

Most interesting, the Tropic of Capricorn, the point farthest south at which the sun shines directly overhead, is called (hug ha-gedi) in Hebrew. (Hug) refers to a circle, while ( gedi), the goat, refers to the tenth sign of the Zodiac, Capricorn (from the Latin, meaning goat's horn). Just to remind you, Capricorn is a southern constellation shaped somewhat like a goat, in a portion of the Zodiac belt which the sun, in its travels across the sky, enters on December 22nd.

And there is, of course, ( Had Gadya), our one little goat, in the popular Aramaic song sung at the end of the Passover haggadah. (G edi ehad), the Hebrew for "one goat," becomes ( had gadya) in Aramaic.

Happy Passover.


footnotes [1] Num. 7:17 [back]
[2] Gen. 30:35, 32:15 [back]
[3] Lev. 4:21. There are, nonetheless, hairy females, as evident in the verse Lev. 4:28. [back]
[4] Lev. 16:10, 21-22 [back]
[5] Yoma 4:2 [back]
[6] JT Sanhedrin 28b [back]
[7] Berakhot 63 [back]
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