The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

For the week ending 25 June 2022 / 26 Sivan 5782

The Gorgeous Windpipe

by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein
Library Library Library

As every student of anatomy knows, humans (and many animals) have two pipes in their neck that serve two different functions: The “windpipe” (also known as the trachea) is used for breathing air, while the “food pipe” (also known as the esophagus) is used for swallowing food. In this essay, we focus on the “windpipe” and the three Hebrew words used to refer to that pipeline of life: garon, gargeret, and kaneh. In doing so, we will explore the respective etymologies of these words and consider whether or not they are truly synonymous.

The word garon appears eight times in the Bible. In five of those cases, the word garon is associated with speech, so it is clearly talking about the “windpipe” through which speech exits one’s mouth (Isa. 58:1, Ps. 5:10, 69:4, 115:7, 149:6). In two cases, the word garon refers to the “throat/neck” in general, without regard for a specific pipe within the neck (Isa. 3:16, Yechezkel 16:11). And in one instance, garon is associated with eating and drinking, so it seems to refer to the “food pipe” (Jer. 2:25). Possibly based on this break-down, Malbim maintains that the word garon primarily refers to the “windpipe,” which is inside a person’s neck. From that, it was expanded in a general sense to mean the entire “throat/neck” as it is visible to the onlooker, and from that to even mean “food pipe” (which, in a way, is actually an antonym of its primary meaning).

The word gargeret appears four times in the Bible, all of which are in the Book of Proverbs (1:9, 3:3, 3:22, 6:21). When examined in context, one will realize that the Biblical term gargeret seems to refer to one’s “throat/neck” in a general sense, as in all four cases it is associated with adorning oneself on the outside (i.e., wearing a necklace on one’s gargeret). When the word gargeret appears in the Mishnah, it is more obviously a reference to the “windpipe”: In order to properly slaughter an animal, one must sever most of both pipes within its neck (or most of one pipe, in the case of a bird). In that context, the Mishna (Chullin 2:4, 3:1-4) constantly references the veshet (“food pipe”) vis-à-vis the gargeret (obviously, the “windpipe”). Moreover, the Mishna (Chullin 10:4, Negaim 10:9) also uses the term gargeret when discussing the so-called Adam’s Apple, which is clearly a feature of the windpipe.

The truth is that every time that gargeret appears in the Bible, it is always written in the plural form: gargerot. Rashi (to Prov. 1:9) accounts for this by explaining that the exterior of the internal windpipe consists of various “rings” along the length of the trachea. Because of this multiplicity of “rings,” the very word for “windpipe” always appears in the plural.

The words garon and gargeret seem to be etymologically related, as both words are based on the GIMMEL-REISH string, but what is the core difference between these two terms? Menachem Ibn Saruk (920-970) in Machberet Menachem does not seem to posit any difference between the two words, instead categorizing both of them within the seventh category of words derived from the biliteral root GIMMEL-REISH. However, in explaining the difference between garon and gargeret, Ibn Ezra (to Prov. 1:9) and Rabbi Moshe Kimchi (to Iyov 40:16) write that the latter “surrounds” the former, without further elaborating on what exactly he means by that.

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim (1740-1814) has a totally different way of understanding the wordsgaron and gargeret. Contrary to what we wrote above, he understands the core meaning of garon to be “food pipe,” but maintains that since the “windpipe” is attached to the “food pipe,” the term also expanded to include the “windpipe” and the entire neck. He further notes that because when one looks at the exterior of a person, the most prominent feature of the neck is the bulging Adam’s Apple on the “windpipe,” so the term gargeret (used to denote the spot along the neck that necklaces were worn) came to refer specifically to the “windpipe.”

The context in which Rabbi Pappenheim offered this discussion is his excurses on the biliteral root GIMMEL-REISH(“dragging/temporary domiciliation”). Words derived from this root include ger (“sojourner” in Biblical Hebrew), goren (“granary,” which is the grain’s temporary home while being processed), nigar (“gathering of water”), gerem (“bone,” which houses marrow and other moist liquids), and garger (“grape,” which houses grape juice/wine). Following that theme, Rabbi Pappenheim understands garon to primarily denote the esophagus, which is the temporary home for food on its way towards the stomach.

The rabbis (Taharot 7:9, Targum to Lam. 1:11) use the term gargaran to refer to a “gluttonous person” who gorges his or herself with food, and in a borrowed sense to any epicurean hedonist who over indulges his or her desires (Niddah 10:8). This terminology is somewhat problematic, because the word gargaran is clearly derived from gargeret, yet it describes something done with the veshet. Similarly, the rabbis (Chullin 103b) refer to somebody eating food as though his “garon derived benefit” (hana’at grono) from what he ate; this too is problematic because as mentioned earlier, garon primarily refers to the “windpipe,” not the “food pipe.”

Of course, if we accepted Rabbi Pappenheim’s explanation that garon/gargeret primarily refers to the “food pipe,” then these difficulties disappear. However, the fact remains that in rabbinic literature the gargeret is always juxtaposed to the veshet, so it must refer to the “windpipe.” Why then is the ravenous binge-eater called a gargaran and not something related to veshet?

Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller (1578-1654) in Tosafot Yom Tov (to Taharot 7:9) explains that the foodie is so “into” his food that he wishes that he could not only eat from just his veshet, but also from his gargeret as well. Because of this, he is called a gargaran. Rabbi Binyamin Mussafia (1606-1675) explains that the hefty eater is called a gargaran because in his great zeal to consume as much as possible, he is liable to choke on his food and cause the food “to go down the wrong pipe” by entering his windpipe.

Alternatively, we may explain that the gargaran constantly indulges his food pipe as though he treated it like his windpipe which he constantly uses to breathe. Alternatively, Rabbi Meir Batzri of Beitar Illit explains that when the gastrophile is busy swallowing food, he cannot breathe, so he negates his gargeret and is thus called a gargaran. This last explanation may be alluded to in Maimonides’ commentary to the Mishna (Taharot 7:9), in which he seemingly mentions the epiglottis (shipui kova – “the tilted cap” that covers the gargeret when one eats) in conjunction with the gargaran (see alsoTosafot Yom Tov and Rabbi Yaakov Emden’s Lechem Shamayim there)

The third Hebrew word for “windpipe” is kaneh. The word kaneh appears more than fifty times in the Bible, where it typically means “reed,” “stem,” “branch,” or “measuring stick,” but never “windpipe.” All of these meanings represent long pipe-like items with a typically hollow middle, so it is no wonder that in Rabbinic Hebrew, the term kaneh came to refer to the “windpipe” — a round, tubular pipe — which also fits that description. We may add that the Biblical term kinamon (“cinnamon”) might be another related word, because that spice grows in the form of pipe-like sticks. (Rabbi Pappenheim has a different way of explaining the connection between all of these Biblical words and the biliteral root KUF-NUN, but we will leave that discussion for another time.)

The word kaneh appears in the Mishna (Tamid 4:3) when explaining how the various parts of the daily animal sacrifice in the Temple were divvied up amongst the Kohanim who would bring those limbs to the altar. One lucky Kohen would merit to bring the heart, lungs, and kaneh to the altar. In this case, it is clear that the kaneh refers to the “windpipe,” because it is a body part attached to the heart and lungs. In the Babylonian Talmud (Chullin 18a-19a, 21a, 28a-29a, 30b, 32b, 40b, 45a, 50a, 54a, 57b, 85b), kaneh becomes the standard word for what the Mishna calls the gargeret and is typically juxtaposed to veshet (instead of the Mishnaic gargeret).

In rabbinic idiom, the fear of choking is expressed as not wanting "the kaneh to precede the veshet" (Pesachim 108a, Taanit 5b) by having the food go down the wrong pipe. This phrase comes up when discussing the prohibition of speaking while eating and the rabbinic requirement to recline towards the left at the Passover Seder.

Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1697-1776) explains the relationship between garon, gargeret and kaneh by explaining that what is calledgaron in Biblical Hebrewis called gargeret in Mishnaic Hebrew and kaneh in Talmudic Hebrew. Rabbi Tanchum HaYerushalmi (a 13th century exegete who lived in the Holy Land) similarly writes that gargeret and kaneh are simply two different words for the same thing. According to this, the three terms in question are indeed synonymous, but reflect different stages of the Hebrew language.

Rabbi Yaakov Weil (circa. 1380-1460) explains in his classical work on ritual slaughtering that while the terms kaneh and gargeret both refer to the “windpipe,” the two terms are not actually synonyms. Rather, he explains, they refer to two different anatomical parts of the windpipe. The term gargeret refers to the ring-like structure that comprises the exterior of the windpipe, while kaneh refers to the inner membrane of the windpipe. Rabbi Amitai Ben-David (Sichat Chullin to Chullin 18a, 44a, 45a) finds precedent for this explanation in Rashi (to Chullin 18a), who seems to explain that kaneh refers specifically to the inner membrane of the windpipe.

The Mishna (Chullin 2:1) rules that even if one slaughtered only a majority of the windpipe, the windpipe is considered to have been properly slaughtered. In light of the above, Rabbi Weil maintains that in measuring the “majority of the windpipe,” one may only take into account the circumference of the interior kaneh, and not that of the exterior gargeret (see also Shach to Yoreh Deah §21:1 and Pri Megadim Siftei Daat there).

Based on Rabi Weil’s differentiation of these terms, Rabbi Yosef de Bonne of Stadthagen (1640-1715) writes that the gargeret represents the forces of nature, especially because the Hebrew word for "rings" (taba'ot) has the same root as the Hebrew word for "nature" (teva). He sees the gargeret as representative of the various forces that can negatively influence a person and sway him towards worldly desires (i.e., turn him into a gargaran). Such carnal factors that influence a person include his geography and the people who surround him, his personal temperament, his food and other intake, his genetics, and the like. In contrast, the kaneh denotes the inside layer of the windpipe — wherein these different "rings" are joined together to fashion one pipe. This unified pipe represents the supernal way of life, that is, one characterized by a life devoted to Torah Study and prayer with the unitary goal of sanctifying Hashem's name.

What’s fascinating about the Hebrew garon/gargeret is that it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Old French word gorge (“throat”), which, in turn, may come from the Latin gurges (“whirlpool/sea”). Those words are the etymological ancestors to many other related words in English, like gorge (“to eat greedily”), engorge (“to fill/expand/swell”) regurgitate (“vomit/puke”), garget/gargil (“inflammation of the throat”), gargle/gurgle (“to make a bubbling sound in one’s throat”), gargoyle (“a humanoid or animal-shaped statuette often featuring an exaggerated throat”), gargantuan (“huge/giant,” derived from the Spanish word garganta, “throat”), gorget (“an armored orn/ament worn on the neck that defended the throat and accentuated its features”), and gorgeous ("aesthetically appealing, ostentatiously adorned").

Although it is tempting to posit an etymological connection between the Hebrew words for “throat” and these Indo-European words, it may be that there is also onomatopoeia in play as well. Meaning, the words for the throat and things throat-related contain some combination of the GIMMEL and REISH sounds because those are the sounds one makes when gargling (see Rabbi Mussafia’s Mussaf HaAruch who expressly links the Greek/Latin words for “throat” to the Hebrew gargeret).

Another ancient word for "throat" is the Latin gula. Keeping in mind the interchangeability of the letters LAMMED and REISH, this word also bears something of a resemblance to the words discussed above. It is the ultimate etymon of the English word gullet ("the passageway from an animal's mouth to its stomach) and gluttony ("excessive eating and drinking”). In fact, the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 18:1, Kohelet Rabbah 12:6) interprets the word gulat in the verse “the gulat runs after gold” (Ecc. 12:6) as referring to the gargeret (again invoking that interchangeability of LAMMED and REISH), with the verse referring to overindulging one’s appetite as something that leads to wasting “gold” (i.e., money).

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