What is the cognitive meaning of the root כפר? It's applications (that I know of, feel free to add) are:

  • כפיר - lion cub (Shoftim 14:5)
  • כפר - village (Shmuel 1 6:18)
  • כופר - Replacement (bamidbar 35:31)
  • כפרה - Atonement (Shemos 29:33)
  • כפר - Cover (Bereishis 6:14)
  • כופר - (Rabbinical word) deny

Is there a common denominator? (I left out usages that I see as synonymous, such as bribe [similar to replacement]).

  • My thoughts - If we assume that the basic definition means "to cover" then some of the definitions are related. Replacement is a "cover up" for the original; atonement "covers up" the sin; a heretic - "covers up" reality (i.e. - the law that people observe.) haven't figured out the idea for "village" or "lion cub", yet.
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 18:03
  • Did you check the book (I think its called An Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language) based on RSRH's works and the citations to RSRH therein? (I haven't, but doing so may shed light.)
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 20:22
  • @DanF Funny enough, my question actually started with village and lion cub, and I tagged the others on as long as I was asking - that's how they ended up first on my list. Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 21:53

1 Answer 1


As @DanF pointed out in the comments, the root meaning appears to be 'to cover', in a literal sense ('to smear') or a metaphorical sense ('to replace', 'to atone'). Gesenius and BDB say as much.

Thus you also have kaporet (Ex. 25:17) which covers the ark, or kopher, the henna plant (Song of Songs 2:14) which is made into a paste and smeared over hands and feet, or kephor, the frost which covers the ground (Job 38:47). Kfar as village probably originates with a cluster of protected or covered dwellings; kfir, they suggest, is a shaggy young lion (i.e. covered with hair or mane).

Cognates of this root with similar meanings are well-attested in Ugaritic, Assyrian, Akkadian, and other languages of the ancient Near East (see, e.g., Lyonnet).

  • I haven't checked it, but I guess this book relates the same root to English cover. :-)
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 3:36
  • Haha @msh210 I bet it does! My dad and I used to read that book for giggles as a kid. Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 8:23
  • Hmmm ... I wonder if the dairy product called "kefir" is realted in root origin, somehow. I guess they called it "kefir" b/c it covers the taste of anything you mix into it :-) It's a bit sour.
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 13:06
  • @DanF, no, that's not Semitic in origin: see the etymology of кефир (from which kefir is derived).
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 4:22

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