Why does rabbinic literature identify France with Tzarfat? Tzarfat itself is mentioned only a few times, namely 'Ovadia 1:20, along with the only istance of Sepharad (which is identified with Spain) and Melachim 1:17:9-10.

Is this identification part of a general project of the rabbis using biblical place names for European regions? If so, what are their earliest references to these usages?

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    Seems like a question about why Jews chose to call certain non Judaism related things, certain borrowed names. Seems like Jews or history not Judaism. Furthermore, it seems primarily opinion based. Unless you specify that we need a sourced answer based on testimony of these Jews themselves, all anyone can do is conjecture. Furthermore, you have given no reason to think that all Jews in history who borrowed biblical names for something did so for the same reason. Therefore this seems too broad, as each individual who did so could've had a different reason, allowing for many answers.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 8, 2017 at 16:42
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    Your last paragraph seems to generalize things. Why not, then, include Ashkenaz as being a common reference to Germany, my friend from Frankfurt? (Ashkenaz in mentioned in parshat Noach, BTW. Funny ... that's your name!)
    – DanF
    Feb 8, 2017 at 16:44
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    Who said anything about these places being Biblical? Maybe the passukim really are talking about France and Spain. Mi yodeya?
    – ezra
    Feb 8, 2017 at 16:59
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    As this is a question about Rabbinic literature, in particular, it seems clearly on-topic to me. However, it would be stronger, more compelling, and more answerable if you'd edit in some examples of the usages you're referring to; the earlier and more authoritative the examples, the better.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 8, 2017 at 17:34
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    @mevaqesh I'm not sure about the analogy. This question is about Rabbinic literature apparently appropriating a term from Tanach and changing it to mean something else. If some general linguist was going to answer this, they'd probably have to be expert in Rabbinic literature, i.e. expert in Judaism. I'm unconvinced that because someone may choose to answer based on conjecture rather than fact, this is primarily opinion-based; that would be a problem with such an answer, not with the question. Regarding broadness, I'm going to make an edit to make the post more coherent.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 8, 2017 at 18:42

2 Answers 2


I am not sure it's an answer to your question, but I've heard a rabbi on youtube saying Tsarfat comes from the french baguette ( צר= narrow, straight + פת = bread = צרפת, straight bread, baguette ). I thought that was quite funny but it might actually be the origin of the word.

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    Welcome to MiYodeya Nicolas and thanks for this first answer. Can I recommend you take the tour to get a sense of how the site works? And since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Feb 1, 2019 at 2:55
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    Indeed this might not fully answer the question and might get converted to a comment. Don't let this deter you from continuing to learn with us.
    – mbloch
    Feb 1, 2019 at 4:05

I don't know the earliest source but you might want to look at אגרת הרמב"ן לרבני צרפת The letter from the Ramban to the rabbis of "tzorfas"(France), where he defends the Rambam from the attacks of Rav Shlomo Petit and other Rabbonim who lived in Paris (where they subsequently burnt the Rambam Seforim).

He mentions רבותינו הצרפתים, תלמידיכם אנו ומימיכם אנו שותים that he is a student of the French rabbis the Baalei Tosfos (Rashi Rabbeinu Tam Ri Rav Yechiel and many others who lived all over france in Troyes, Ramerupt, Touques, Danpierre, Paris etc.) whom he quotes all over Shas thousands of times. (One can look up these names of Rabbis and places on wikipedia to confirm that these Rabbis came from what is known as France today)

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