I saw an article in my local weekly Jewish paper this past Shabbat where someone addressed this question. Unfortunately, the article didn't really answer my question. So, I hope that if I get one or more great answers, I can relay them to the author.

In the Torah, there seem to be two words used for "kiss"

וישק as in:

Breishit 27:27 - וַיִּגַּשׁ וַיִּשַּׁק לוֹ וַיָּרַח אֶת רֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו וַיְבָרֲכֵהוּ

Breishit 50:1 - וַיִּפֹּל יוֹסֵף עַל פְּנֵי אָבִיו וַיֵּבְךְּ עָלָיו וַיִּשַּׁק לוֹ

וינשק as in:

Breishit 29:13 - וַיְהִי כִשְׁמֹעַ לָבָן אֶת שֵׁמַע יַעֲקֹב בֶּן אֲחֹתוֹ וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבֶּק לוֹ וַיְנַשֶּׁק לוֹ וַיְבִיאֵהוּ אֶל בֵּיתוֹ וַיְסַפֵּר לְלָבָן אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה

Breishit 32:1 - וַיַּשְׁכֵּם לָבָן בַּבֹּקֶר וַיְנַשֵּׁק לְבָנָיו וְלִבְנוֹתָיו וַיְבָרֶךְ אֶתְהֶם וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיָּשָׁב לָבָן לִמְקֹמוֹ

Breishit 48:15 - וַיְנַשֵּׁק לְכָל אֶחָיו וַיֵּבְךְּ עֲלֵיהֶם וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן דִּבְּרוּ אֶחָיו אִתּוֹ

Is there a difference in meaning of these two words? Is there a reason the Torah chooses to use one term vs. the other?

  • I was looking today at why the same 4 letters also means "to water flock"
    – rosends
    Jan 3 '18 at 21:59
  • @rosends I saw that. It actually means "to make drink" - it's not specific to flocks, though that's the context you tend to see it, frequently. I also think it comes from a different shoresh, anyway. So, they're not related even if they have the same letters.
    – DanF
    Jan 3 '18 at 22:02
  • 1
    @rosends, DanF, actually this was one of the Chiddushim that I was thinking of (see my answer below), that perhaps without a nun would be to kiss on the lips, akin to drinking. Thoughts? Jan 4 '18 at 6:33

Massekhet Kallah Rabbati (3:15) states that ינשק means to kiss somewhere on the body, while ישק means to kiss on the lips/mouth.

ומה בין וישק לוינשק, וינשק בכל הגוף, וישק בפה

  • Interesting find! BTW, what is this Masechta about, generally? Do you know if there is any English translation?
    – DanF
    Jan 3 '18 at 22:12
  • Its Hebrew Wikipedia is here: he.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. (You can translate the page to read it faster). An English page about it is found here. At the minimum it has to do with marriage. I haven't gone through it.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 3 '18 at 22:18
  • @DanF If you want a Hebrew text of the Masechta, it’s one of the Masechtos Ketanos and therefore is stuck in at the end of Gemara Nezikin with all the others.
    – DonielF
    Jan 4 '18 at 5:46
  • Good work. It does not align with Targums, that uses וְנַשֵּׁיק for either, see he.wikisource.org/wiki/…, which means it is an interpretation like others (see רבות's answer), not meaning. Otherwise, the Targum would translate differently and hold the destinction, I guess.
    – Al Berko
    Jan 4 '18 at 12:17
  • @AlBerko You are perhaps correct that the Targumim disagree (although something is always lost in translation, as there may not be an exactly corresponding word in Aramaic to these two Hebrew words), but that doesn't mean that Massekhet Kalla is just a derash. The Massekhet Kalla can disagree with the Targumim.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 4 '18 at 17:14

There is a wonderfully comprehensive treatment of this question here (Section 7) by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein of Lashon Hakodesh fame.

He brings a number of suggestions:

  1. The answer brought above by Mevaqesh (explained excellently in the article), namely, it depends where on the body the kiss is, with a letter "Nun" (as in Vayenashek), it is anywhere on the body, without it, it is on the lips.
  2. The Rokeach says that with a "Nun", it implies multiple kisses
  3. Somebody else (Rabbi R.S.A. Wartheimer?) suggested that according to Ibn Ezra, the difference is that without a "Nun" implies in the mouth, while with a "Nun", implies on another part of the body. This is demonstrably false in Ibn Ezra, but an interesting suggestion nevertheless. Let me know in the comments if you want more on this suggestion, as I have a lot to offer that is not in the article.
  4. It seems that many Rishonim (including Ibn Ezra) understand that there is no difference, but this also requires a more extensive treatment.
  • This assumes that in all of these cases it refers to kissing, not something else... Jan 4 '18 at 0:41
  • 2
    For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Hebrew, "Nun" refers to the letter, and not a female religious (typically Catholic) individual Jan 4 '18 at 3:17
  • I wouldn't mind a further reference on #3. Of more interest is if someone discusses why specifically use the letter nun to convey the additional meaning. When I first viewed the word ינשק, I assumed that it was a nif'al form, which, perhaps it is? If so, that makes it a passive verb, which doesn't make much sense to me.
    – DanF
    Jan 4 '18 at 17:10
  • For your "more interest question" see biblehub.com/hebrew/5401.htm, (Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon), which is authoritative for these grammar issues, which I know nothing about. Jan 4 '18 at 18:04
  • for further reference to #3 see daat.ac.il/daat/vl/mehokek/mehokek07.pdf p50 in the both peirushim. I think Wartheimer is incorrect because he suggests that it is a Taus Sofer and ibn Ezra means "Nun" not "Lamed", however, to assume that all of the manuscripts both here and in Shir Hashirim (1:2) are wrong is inconceivable to me. It also seems incorrect from the wording of ibn Ezra (Neshika with/without Lamed, as opposed to Vayishak with/without a lamed). Also, there he refers to "Vayishak" as with a Lamed, making it clear that its not a nun that got turned into a lamed. Jan 4 '18 at 18:15

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