I have noticed that many siddurim and machzorim render the term מי רגלים (in the recitation of the k'tores recipe) as "mei raglayim" rather than translating it to its actual definition, urine.

Siddurim I have personally seen this in:

  • Gamaliel Ben Pedahzur Siddur (London, 1750s)
  • Alexander Siddur (London, 1750s)
  • Siddur Tehillat Hashem (Brooklyn, 1977 and 2002)

Is there any rationale for doing this, when those who understand the Hebrew will immediately know what it means?

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    I have read (looking for the location) that the substance referred to is not urine, but non-potable water that smelled bad and was known colloquially by that name. If so, it would explain sticking to the term, whose meaning would be more obscured by rendering it literally. The circumstantial support for this explanation is that the g'mara in Yoma specifically says that it must not be used because of its odor. – WAF Jan 14 '15 at 0:06
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    @Fred, even so, wouldn't an English euphemism be preferable in an English translation? – Noach MiFrankfurt Jan 14 '15 at 0:17
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    I think Birnbaum also transliterates and does not state "urine". I think leaving the transliteration is preferable. What do you want them to call it. Pee? – DanF Jan 14 '15 at 1:58
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    FWIW, Artscroll translates as "urine." – MTL Jan 14 '15 at 2:40
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    @DanF No, he wants them to use "urine" which isn't childish and inappropriate. – Double AA Jan 14 '15 at 5:09

This morning, I davened in a shul that I don't normally daven in, and I noticed that they had some siddurim that I don't usually see around. So I decided to do some research for your question, and here's what I found:

Siddur Tehillat Hashem (fourth edition, April 2004) translates מי רגלים as "water of Raglayim," and cites the gemara Kerisus 6a-b (both sources already cited by Menachem), as well as Yerushalmi Yoma 4:5. (page 243, footnote 1)

The Metsudah Shabbos/Yom Tov Siddur (fourth edition, 1984) also translates מי רגלים as "water of Raglayim," and cites Kol Bo as explaining that there was a well that was called "Raglayim," whose water was good for this purpose, but couldn't be brought into the Temple, because מי רגלים is also a euphemism for urine. They also say (also in the name of the Kol Bo) that מי רגלים might actually mean urine. (page 173, footnotes 10-11)

Artscroll, as mentioned in comments, does actually translate מי רגלים as urine, as does the Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur.


Perhaps because not everyone translates "Mei Raglayim" as urine.

The Shitah Mekubetzet (Chof-Chet) to Kritot 6A brings 2 translations of "Mei Raglayin". The first being actual urine, but the second being a grass with that name. And the name makes it an embarrassment to use it for service in the Beit Hamikdash.

I also remember reading another explanation that it was water of the river Raglayim, but I can't remember where I saw it. [Although it seems that the comments to the question bring several sources for this.] -- Note that the Siddur Tehillat Hashem actually translates it as "water of Raglayim" [note the capital R], which suggests that they are translating it according to this explanation

  • +1, but I don't think the capital R means that much. It was standard English to capitalize foreign words (in the typewriter era). Now italics is preferred, but this may be a holdover. – Yishai Jan 14 '15 at 15:21
  • "water of the river Raglayim" -- perhaps "well of Raglayim"? See my answer – MTL Jan 14 '15 at 16:38

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