Hebrew word of the week: Kasher/kosher

When one hears or sees the word “kosher,” one immediately thinks of Jewish food. However, the original meaning of the root k-sh-r is “to be fit (in general),” as when Esther asks Ahashverosh if it is kashér, meaning “agreeable,” with him to annul Haman’s plan (Esther 8:5).

Hence, in Israel, Hadar kósher is a “fitness room, gym”; hakhsharah is “making kosher,” as well as “preparing, training (someone for a skilled job, aliyah to Israel, etc.); makhsir is “makes kosher” (verb), or an “instrument” (noun) (a gadget that makes something fit for use); kisharon means “talent, ability”; and mukhshar “talented, very fit.”

*The Israeli (Sephardic) kashér (with kamats) has the same meaning as the American (Yiddish) “kósher,” which coalesces with the Israeli kósher (with Holam), meaning “fitness.”

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