The Biblical Symbolism of Bracelets


I am especially intrigued by words that are found relatively rarely in the Torah, because the connections between those examples are always illuminating.

This week, for example, I was struck by a phrase in the text, that the Jewish people had somehow “become attached” to the gods of Baal Peor (Nu, 25:3). The actual Hebrew word for “become attached” is quite odd: it is the verb form of the word “bracelet,” tzimid.

That word is first found when Abraham’s servant decides that Rebekah is the person Isaac is supposed to marry. He gives her two bracelets, as something of a pre-engagement gift. Bracelets, of course, are worn on the wrists, so they are connected with our actions and choices. These bracelets can be seen as a way to connect Rebekah to Isaac, or at least like a modern engagement ring: with the heavy bracelets, Rebekah is promised to Isaac, and thus is denied to other men.

The other thing Jewish men use to bind our hands are tefilin, which we use in daily prayer to recommit to G-d. A bracelet is a connection to another person, just as tefillin are a connection to our Creator.

Which means that when some of the Jewish people became “braceleted” to the idol Baal Peor, they had chosen to exclude G-d from their lives. They committed idolatry just as an engaged woman who slept around would be committing an offense against her relationship.

The other key time this word is found in the Torah is when discussing whether a vessel is contaminated by a dead body:

וְכֹל֙ כְּלִ֣י פָת֔וּחַ אֲשֶׁ֛ר אֵין־צָמִ֥יד פָּתִ֖יל עָלָ֑יו טָמֵ֖א הֽוּא׃

and every open vessel, with no lid [bracelet] fastened down, shall be unclean.

This example reinforces this understanding: a lid/bracelets separates a thing from its environment, preserving the state of its object from any non-designated influences. That could be good (in Rebekah’s case) or not good (as with the seduced men).

By using these words in this way, the Torah reinforces the countless parallels between adultery and idolatry: marriage between man and wife is due the same sanctity and exclusivity as the relationship between mankind and our Creator.

[@iwe and Eliyahu Masinter]

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  1. Ontheleftcoast Inactive

    צָמִ֥יד פָּתִ֖יל

    Tzmid‘s meaning of “attachment” isn’t attachment by, for example, adhesion or tying. Interestingly, in other Semitic languages, tzmid has the meaning of twisting; as a bracelet, tzmid is more of a rigid bangle than a flexible bracelet of strung beads or interconnected links. Twisting work hardens metal; a twisted wire bangle would be much more rigid than the original wires.

    From the classic English language dictionary of Bibilical Hebrew; emphases added:

    צָמַד S 6775 TWOT 1927 GK 7537 ] vb. bind, join (Arabic ضَمَدَ (ḍamada) bind, wind, specif. of girl with two loversWe GGN 1893, 470 ;

    Quite a difference from Rebekah and the Hebrew  usage there!

    fasten (cattle) to yoke Dozy , مِضْمَد ( miḍmad ) yoke , Id.; Assyrian ṣamâdu , bind, harness , so Ethiopic ˜˜˜ ( ḍamada ) III .

    The yoke was the type with two pegs projecting downward from the bow of the yoke; a cord connected the tips of the pegs to hold the yoke on after it was placed upon the animal(s).

    I be attached, attach oneself , specif. be (religiously) devoted; Aramaic צְמַד , ܨܡܰܕ ( ṣmad ), bind ) ;— Niph. Impf. 3 ms. וַיִּצָּ˜מֶד Nu 25: 3; 3 mpl. וַיִּצָּֽמְדוּ ψ 106:28 ; Pt. pl. נִצְמָדִים Nu 25: 5; join, attach, oneself to ( ל ) Baal Peor, i.e. adopt his worship Nu 25:3 , 5 (JE), whence ψ 106:28 . Pu. Pt. f. מְצֻמֶּ˜דֶת 2 S 20:8 a sword bound upon ( עַל ) his lions [sic; loins is of course the right word.] Hiph. Impf. 3 fs. תַּצְמִיד מִרְמָה ψ 50:19 thy tongue combineth (fitteth together, frameth) deceit ( > denom. from צֶמֶד Gerber 170).

    In Rabbinic terminology: they “threw off the yoke of heaven” at Shittim.

    • צֶ˜מֶד S 6776 TWOT 1927a GK 7538 n.m. 1 K 19:19 couple, pair ;— צ׳ cstr. Ju 19:3 +; sf. צִמְדֹּו Je 51:2 3; pl. צְמָדִים 1 K 19:19 2 K 9:25 (but v. infr .); cstr. צִמְדֵּי Is 5:10 ( Ges § 93 m);— 1. couple, pair , usually of animals, צ׳ חֲמֹרִים Ju 19: 3, 10 2 S 16: 1; צ׳ (הַ)בָּקָר span of oxen 1 S 11:7 1 K 19:2 1, pl. of more than one span v 19 (ploughing), Jb 1:3 ; 42:12 ; צֶמֶד פְּרָדִים 2 K 5:17 ; צ׳ פָּרָשִׁים Is 21: 7, 9 a pair of horsemen; pl. also of one pair of riders 2 K 9:25 (but read prob. צֶמֶד , so Kit ); צ׳ alone = span (of oxen) Je 51:23 . 2. a

    Ptil is, of course, “thread” in tzitzit, the “ritual fringes” that are tied onto a garment. It likely has this meaning because the related verb is about twisting.

    For an open vessel, another translation might be “braceleting thread.” (Perhaps something like the wire cage on a champagne cork, but of fiber rather than metal? Wire would have been expensive!)

    While we might think that  a vessel being “open” means “it doesn’t have a stopper or other covering blocking its opening,” in the context of tumah, the important thing is that it a vessel’s closure be tied down; a vessel lacking such a reinforcement is considered “open” to tumah even if it has a stopper or other closure in its neck.

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  2. jonb60173 Member

    Yikes!!!  This has all the markings of a nightmare I had where I took a class as an elective and then realized it’s no cake walk, and it’s going to require a lot of studying.  Good for you two to analyze the living bjeebers out of this.  What interested me initially is I read the Bible daily, so I wanted to see what I could glean from your post – Answer: Nothing, this is outside of my area of knowledge and interest.  I’ll keep reading in the future anyway.

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