Word of the Day Amnon Ve Tamar

The beautiful flowers called pansies get their Hebrew name from one of the uglier stories of the Bible.

Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad
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Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad

The beautiful flowers called pansies in English (viola tricolor) get their Hebrew name from one of the uglier stories of the Bible. They are called AM-non ve TA-mar - "Amnon and Tamar."

Amnon and Tamar were son and daughter of King David from different mothers. According to the Book of Samuel 2: "Absalom the son of David had a lovely sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her." (13:1) On the advice of his friend Amnon pretended to be sick and asked his father the king to send Tamar to nurse him.

When Tamar came and served cakes to his bed, "he took hold of her and said to her, 'Come, lie with me, my sister.'" (13:11)

"No, my brother, do not force me, for no such thing should be done in Israel. Do not do this disgraceful thing!" (13:12) Tamar begged her brother. "However, he would not heed her voice; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her." (13:14)

Amnon escaped punishment for two years, but then was murdered by people sent by Tamar's brother Absalom.

So what does all this have to do with pansies? Well, this has to do with the Russian folk tale of Ivan and Maria.

According to the tale the two were kidnapped by the hordes of Genghis Khan and were sold into slavery. As slaves they fell in love with one another but could not consummate their love until an elderly couple took pity on them and bought their freedom. The two married.

But this the tale doesn't end in a "they lived happily ever after." After consummating their marriage, the two begin inquiring about one another's pre-slavery childhood and found to their horror that they were brother and sister. They wandered the forests together until God took pity on them and turned them into a single flower, so they could embrace one another for eternity.

And thus to this day this flower is called "Ivan and Maria."

The Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky translated this tale into a poem, turning its main characters into Jews and giving them Jewish names he took from the incestuous biblical siblings, Amnon and Tamar. This name caught on and is used for the flower to this very day.

Shoshana Kordova is on leave. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

A beautiful flower with a tragic tale to tell. Credit: Tali Shani
A picture of Genghis Khan from the 14th century.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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