In Bavli Berachot 24a (and Shabbat 64b), the Gemara records that:

כל המסתכל באצבע קטנה של אשה כאילו מסתכל במקום התורף -- Anyone who gazes upon a woman’s little finger is considered as if he gazed upon her naked genitals (for if his intentions are impure, it makes no difference where he looks or how much is exposed; even less than a handbreadth. - Steinsaltz)

What does the term מקום התורף literally mean? In other Gemarot, the term תורף is a reference to the exposed area on a document where the signatures and time of signing are meant to be placed.

Other uses of a similar root תרף include Bereishit 31:19, where Rivka steals the Terafim from her father Lavan. There, the Terafim are understood to be some form of idolatrous or magical device.

Jastrow defines תרף as to make soft (seems more related to רפה), and תרפות as obscenities (which seems to be used across the board as a reference to idolatry). He defines תורף as "that which makes a debt collectable", and תורפא as a valid claim.

Tanchuma says the idols of Lavan are called תרפים to convey a sense of dirtiness and impurity.

The Mishna in Terumot 8:8 uses the term מקום תורפה to describe "a hefker place where [the barrel] will be destroyed" (acc. to Bartenura ad. loc.)

In B. Shavuot 16a the Gemara refers to the upper fields of the Mount of Olives as תורפה של ירושלים היתה ונוחה היא ליכבש, a vulnerable point of Jerusalem from which it would be easy to then take the rest of the city. Rashi there explains: "גלויה וערותה מקום", which just brings us full circle.

All these related usages of תרף seem untenable as clear definitions of female genitalia. I have yet to see anyone explicitly explain this usage. Does anyone have any sources explaining the term? And secondly (as a bonus), why does our Gemara in question not use a more classical description, such as ערוה or אותו מקום?

  • 1
    What make you say מקום התורף is more unusual than אותו מקום
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 17:21
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    @DoubleAA It occurs less frequently in the Talmud than אותו מקום, based on a search I performed. The term needs a definition either way.
    – Chaim
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 17:27
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    "dirtiness and impurity" "vulnerable point" "soft" "obscenities" all seem like reasonably related terms. I'm not sure what you find lacking. You say they aren't "clear definitions" but that might be because this is euphemistic speech. Even אותו מקום doesn't literally mean "vagina".
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 17:27
  • @DoubleAA But those terms couldn't be used interchangeably with each other, could they? The upper fields aren't obscene nor impure, idols aren't vulnerable, and leaving barrels outdoors isn't soft (even though the softness really comes from רפה anyway). They may all seem to converge here, but that would then make this usage the primary definition, and all those usages would be borrowing genitalia to refer to their local description - which seems unusual.
    – Chaim
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 17:39
  • Mishna inTerumot for an other issue uses makom turpa, this is a place who can be easily unclean
    – kouty
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 4:00

3 Answers 3


Your answer is within the sources in your question.

Torf means an exposed place, that should be covered.

מקום התורף - woman's genitalia should be covered if exposed.
Document's תורף - Are the exposed blanks, that should be covered (by writing) [Also, leaving those blanks open make the document dangerous sometimes].
תורפה של ירושלים - Jerusalem's exposed, 'weak spot', that should be covered (by military means).
Barrel in מקום התורף - See R' Eliezer opinion, that this barrel is not to be exposed, but covered.
Maybe Lavan's תרפים are precious items, that are not to be exposed, but covered [not sure about this one, maybe it's from other root]

The association to "unclean" place is from the first source, that relates תורף to genitalia.


מקום התורף may be a cacophemism for the female genitalia because "its root trp means to act ignominiously". There is ample academic discussion over the etymology of תרפים with no clear consensus. A popular theory is that this word is related to the Hittite tarpis which in turn may be related to ancestral inheritance. This then could be related to the Aramaic usage in legal documents (this last point is my own speculation).


The Mishna in nida 8:1 uses this term when discussing the genital area. This would seemingly explain your second question: since the term is used in Mishnaic Hebrew to describe that area, it's acceptable for the term to be used elsewhere. (Ervah is probably too general a term.)

The Tiferes Yisrael (in the first Yachin) says :ערוה, ולשון בזיון הוא. Meaning it's a less respectful way of saying ervah. This actually fits nicely with some of the explanations you brought, specifically the tanchuma's explanation of Lavan's teraphim.

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