Pen Ultimate / I'll Never Forget What's-its-name

It turns out that the letter zayin has a very distinguished and even holy pedigree in the sexual context.

I have an e-mail address and its details are sort of common knowledge (you can find it on Haaretz's Web site). They say that a person's privacy can be easily invaded once he has an e-mail address and it becomes common knowledge. And, indeed, I get a lot of junk mail, and most of it is from people who want to sell me anti- depressants, Viagra and 100-percent- proven methods of lengthening a certain private part of my anatomy. And I keep asking myself, how do they know?

Yedioth Ahronoth's editors are well aware of the fact that some of the information in the press about the interrogations of both A.' and her female colleagues - also known only by the first letter of their first name - about what allegedly was going on in the ministerial and presidential offices while Moshe Katsav was inhabiting them, is a bit salacious. Therefore, they have added, on top of their news stories, the same logo that is displayed on TV when the material being broadcast is unsuitable for children, with or without parental guidance: the icon of a boy and a girl inside a red circle, with a diagonal line cutting through it. When a parent sees this on TV, he or she can switch the set off, but what can be done when it appears in the newspaper? Should one set it on fire after reading it? And will the children who see the logo stop reading the story underneath immediately and leaf quickly to the nature section, to read about the birds and the bees? Very possibly, but I doubt it.

It has to be said, loud and clear, that l'affaire Katsav, which turned out to be the Mazuz affair, is a quagmire of serious issues, one and all: It is about alleged offenses of a sexual nature; about the integrity, self-respect and well-being of women who complain of sexual harassment or rape; about a suspect being presumed innocent until proved guilty; about the credit and honor due the office of the president of Israel, and also the office of the attorney general; about prevalent notions about sex offenses and harassment; about the right to publish; and about the role of a free press in reporting on alleged crimes and misdemeanors. None of these are laughing matters.

Still, as in the Ramon case, there is something that stands out among the myriad sordid and explicit details revealed here: a small bodily organ of a public official, which assumed, as it were, a life of its own and wandered into places where it should not have been. It was alleged by one of the A.s (or both) that the suspect used to expose a particular part of his anatomy, which still remains to be named explicitly, at least in print (see below). Sources close to the suspect have claimed that the women complaining are not trustworthy. And yet, they were not asked to describe the organ in question, or at least no such description appeared in the press, which could tell us what allegedly went on there and what it really looks like. What could have been an easier way to assess their credibility than by checking the evidence (that is, the real thing) against the description of the witnesses?

Sex counselors sometimes advise the shy and reticent to augment the intimacy they feel toward their own bodies by naming their private parts. The Habima National Theater, founded in Moscow as the first Hebrew-speaking theater, presents as a legitimate part of its repertoire Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues." Thus, a question raises its head: What should we call the what's-its-name, be it presidential or private?

The easiest way out is to refer to it is as a "sexual organ," but it has been said before that the human being's sexual organ is most undoubtedly his - or her - brain. To call it "genitalia" sounds too clinical. Penis (from the Latin, meaning literally "tail") is its proper name, and certainly a possibility, but my pen is shy about using it for fear that in print it will look too cocky, or prickly, or somehow improper. Phallus (from the Greek, meaning "an image of the penis") would allow us to use a lame pun: "How the mighty [phallus] has fallen."

However, the real problem is not in English, but in Hebrew. One of the options is to use the childish bulbul - the Hebrew name for Pycnonotus capensis, the Cape Bulbul, a common and conspicuous, active and noisy bird, which tends to perch on the top of a bush. It is unclear how a small singing bird became a nickname for something that is indeed sometimes small, but certainly doesn't sing. In any case, as noted above, this whole issue is not suitable for children.

The most common Hebrew word for the male member is zayin, the name of the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, whose shape is indeed phallic. To keep the alphabetic habit when referring to the unmentionables in the coverage of this whole affair, we could use Z. (as in: "thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter" - King Lear, II, 2). Anyway, "zayin" is thought to be slang, unfit to print. In the Bible the word usually means something pertaining to weapons, possibly as the earliest pictogram for the letter with the sound "z" was in the shape of an ax. Two distinguished historians, Israel Bartal and David Assaf, who wrote a learned essay on the sources of the use of the word "zayin" as to describe the male sex organ, claim that the phallic interpretation would have worked better for vav, that seeing the male sexual activity as an act of aggression (that is, penetration) is relatively recent, and the name of the letter was euphemistically used to represent the Hebrew word zanav, tail, in the said context, following the Yiddish shwantz. More common usage dated to sometime in the 19th century. And hereby hangs a tail.

It turns out that the letter zayin has a very distinguished and even holy pedigree in the sexual context. Its shape, a vertical line with a small, slanting dash on its head, was seen as representing the male sexual organ by one of the most prominent Safed kabbalists, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570), who wrote the following about the cluster of the three consecutive sixth, seventh and eighth letters of the Hebrew alphabet: vav, zayin and het: "There is an interpretation that sees the zayin as the element, the mystery of the covenant, which is the mystery of the Sabbath. And as the Sabbath stands over the six days of creation, in the zayin there is a crowning over the vav, and that crowning is the one of the brit [the covenant, i.e., the circumcision]. And the brit is the glory hinted in the vav, with the zayin being the brit, and het being the female, that spreads her legs to accept the plenitude from the male."

There it stands, in black and white, and this explanation has nothing to do with the former president and the attorney general, who by the way has two zayins in his last name.