Hebrew word of the week: Sakkin

Sakkin refers to a type of old cutlery, used mostly for killing animals and butchering the meat before roasting or cooking it. In most cultures, people just cut meat and ate with their hands (hence Hebrew kaf means “hand’s palm” or “spoon”). Sakkin appears in the Bible just once* (spelled with a Sin), in Proverbs 23:2, advising: If you are invited to eat with a ruler, put the knife in your throat, rather than his food … (be cautious in how much you eat and talk).

It has cognates in Akkadian, Aramaic and Arabic, but is probably not related to sakkanah “danger,” but rather to sikkah, in Aramaic sikketa, meaning “pin, nail, peg, weapon” (as yated “peg” is used as a weapon in Judges 5:26). The recent knife-attacks are called Sakkintifada.

*Biblical synonyms are ma’akhelet (Genesis 22:6; Judges 19:29) meaning “(eating?) knife,” literally “feeder”; morah (Judges 13:5) / ta’ar (Numbers 6:5) meaning “razor.”

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.