Prof. Aaron Demsky
Department of Jewish History
Jacob's blessing to Judah (Gen. 49:8-12) can be divided into two
themes. The first part (vv. 8-10) promises him dominion over his brothers and
the crown in years to come. In this section Judah is compared to a lion's
whelp (Heb. gur aryeh
), words which have been preserved throughout the
generations in traditional Jewish names such as Gur Aryeh and Aryeh (Leib)
Judah. In the second part Jacob blesses Judah with excellent vineyards in the
Judean hills (vv. 11-12):
He tethers his ass to a vine,
ass's foal to a choice vine;
He washes his garment in
His robe in blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than
His teeth are whiter than milk.
The first distich [verse in
two parts] praises the strength of his vines, that they can be used to tether a
young ass, which is quite an unruly beast. The second distich explains that the
land of Judah will flow with great quantities of wine, so plentiful that one
could wash one's garments in it.
The last distich, Hakhlili
einayim mi-yayin, u-lven shinayim me-halav
, and especially the rare word
, which occurs only twice in the entire Bible (here and in
Proverbs 23:29-30), has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Saadiah Gaon
interpreted it as "eyes deeper red than wine and teeth whiter than
milk." He took the preposition mi
) as a comparative,
meaning "more than," and not as a causative, meaning
"from," "as a result of," "because of" (cf.
Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam), or as meaning "from large quantities of"
(cf. Targum Onkelos).
As for the word hakhlili
, it is generally
agreed to refer to the deep red of wine, as is its meaning in modern Hebrew.
This interpretation is supported by the two previous distichs that mention the
"blood of grapes" and soreka
, one of the choicest varieties
of grape vines, whose fruit is deep red.
Opposing these exegetes is
Nahmanides, who interprets hakhlili
as coming from the root k-h-l
(= blue) with a transposition of the letters het, kaf, lamed
for his view he takes from the biblical phrase kahalt einayikh
"you painted your eyes" (Ezek. 23:40); from Mishnaic Hebrew,
"not until he write and tattoo with ink or with blue [Heb. kahol
or with anything that leaves a mark" (Makkot
3,6); and from Arabic,
, "substance for darkening the eyes." Having
eyes means they are kahlili
, that is, "his eyes are
blue [e.g., black, dark] from wine, and he cannot disguise his drunkenness, so
his eyes must be painted constantly." Nahmanides concludes surprisingly
that there is no blessing here: "Scripture speaks disparagingly of wine,
of its bad outward effects, causing discoloring and sores." If so, then
this distich not only yields us the paired words "tooth and eye,"
but also draws a contrast between black and white.
In 1972 a finding was
publicized of a wine jar discovered fully intact, finely engraved with a Hebrew
inscription. The jar had apparently been found in illegal excavations in one of
the villages in the Judean hills. Its inscription was deciphered by Prof.
Nahman Avigad as follows: "For Yehezyahu. Wine. Kahol
plus a sign indicating its measure (perhaps an issaron
). The jar is
dated to the seventh-eighth century B.C.E. and is now on display at the Israel
Museum in Jerusalem. Avigad interpreted the new term, "wine
" as designating the vineyard from which it came, that is,
"wine from the village Beit-Kahil," which is approximately four
kilometers northwest of
In the light of
Nahmanides' interpretation of hakhlili einayim
, we could also
interpret this inscription as indicating a type of wine classified by its dark
color; for in the language of the Sages we find, "Black is similar to
12a). In this case, the wine would have a
dark, almost black color. Compare the Mishnah, Niddah
"There are grapes that produce red wine, and there are grapes whose wine
is black." In Akkadian as well the word ekelu
, equivalent to the
Hebrew root h-kh-l
, means the dark color of eyes (the modern sense of
as blue is a later development, possibly dating to the Middle
I believe this to be a highly instructive example of Scripture
shedding light on our understanding of an archeological finding, and of the
archeological finding casting new light on an ancient exegetical difficulty.
Relying both on Saadiah Gaon's interpretation and on Nahmanides, in
addition to Genesis Rabbah
98.10: "Hakhlili einayim
--These are the people from the south, whose eyes are dark
), and whose talent lends itself to Torah study," the
distich could be interpreted as a blessing, and not as expressing disapproval of
wine. The blessing would be that the eyes of the descendants of Judah be darker
and more beautiful than the deep color of the excellent wine derived from the
grapes that grow in the Judean hills.
A. Demsky, "Dark Wine from Judah," Israel Exploration
Journal 22 (1972), pp. 233-234.