We've seen that the Torah uses the two words as "prostitute/harlot" in several places, for example in Yehudah and Tamar:

"וַיִּרְאֶהָ יְהוּדָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לְזוֹנָה כִּי כִסְּתָה פָּנֶיהָ"

"וַיִּשְׁאַל אֶת־אַנְשֵׁי מְקֹמָהּ לֵאמֹר אַיֵּה הַקְּדֵשָׁה הִוא בָעֵינַיִם עַל־הַדָּרֶךְ וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֹא־הָיְתָה בָזֶה קְדֵשָׁה"


"לֹא־תָבִיא אֶתְנַן זוֹנָה וּמְחִיר כֶּלֶב"

"לֹא־תִהְיֶה קְדֵשָׁה מִבְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל"


"אַל־תְּחַלֵּל אֶת־בִּתְּךָ לְהַזְנוֹתָהּ וְלֹא־תִזְנֶה הָאָרֶץ וּמָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ זִמָּה"


"וַיִּשְׁלַח יְהוֹשֻׁעַ־בִּן־נוּן וכו' וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיָּבֹאוּ בֵּית־אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה וּשְׁמָהּ רָחָב וַיִּשְׁכְּבוּ־שָׁמָּה׃"

Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies ... and they came to the house of a harlot named Rahab and lodged there. "

I'm not bringing numerous other uses of the two roots in the Torah, like "קדשים תהיו" or "אשר אתם זונים אחריהם".

We have also found that קדשה has a masculine counterpart but זונה doesn't:

"לֹא־תִהְיֶה קְדֵשָׁה מִבְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא־יִהְיֶה קָדֵשׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃"

Also Rambam, beginning of Ishus (1:4) uses the two words seemingly interchangeably and with no distinction:

"קֹדֶם מַתַּן תּוֹרָה הָיָה אָדָם פּוֹגֵעַ אִשָּׁה בַּשּׁוּק אִם רָצָה הוּא וְהִיא נוֹתֵן לָהּ שְׂכָרָהּ וּבוֹעֵל אוֹתָהּ עַל אֵם הַדֶּרֶךְ וְהוֹלֵךְ. וְזוֹ הִיא הַנִּקְרֵאת קְדֵשָׁה. מִשֶּׁנִּתְּנָה הַתּוֹרָה נֶאֶסְרָה הַקְּדֵשָׁה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר "לֹא תִהְיֶה קְדֵשָׁה מִבְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל". לְפִיכָךְ כָּל הַבּוֹעֵל אִשָּׁה לְשֵׁם זְנוּת בְּלֹא קִדּוּשִׁין לוֹקֶה מִן הַתּוֹרָה לְפִי שֶׁבָּעַל קְדֵשָׁה:"

What is the difference between the two words?

  • Znus is licentious sexual behavior. Kideisha is someone specifically set aside for such behavior. Colloquially a zona is a slut/whore and a kideisha a prostitute. I hope I didn't violate site decency rules with that.
    – user6591
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 13:01
  • 1
    Rambam says זנות not זונה. You mentioned above that you aren’t interested in the roots.
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 13:01
  • @user6591 I thought the same, Z is a one-timer and K is a profession, but then how come there's a prohibition on the profession and no prohibition on one-timer? Like no prohibition of stealing but a prohibition of being a pirate?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 13:44
  • @AlBerko has this been answered, were the resulting children of Tamar, conceived while she was a "Kideisha", considered Mamzerim?
    – ninamag
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 8:26

2 Answers 2


The root word זנה means to be unfaithful (as in: to stray - Ex 34:15) The root word קדש means to be consecrated/separated but in this context - immoral (Deu. 23:18)

According to Clark's Etymological Dictionary זונה alludes to being distant, defect, reject or be faithless.

These two root different words while on the surface are both (mis)translated as prostitution or to prostitute mean entirely different things.

When the root word זנה is used, it is used in reference to being straying or being unfaithful - distant.

when the root word קדש is used it is meant to convey the aspect of being immoral.

That is the context in which these two words are used. When you fill in now the connotations suggested by each root, each nuance becomes clear - when the word זנות is used, it refers to the aspect of a woman becoming distant from Klal Yisrael.

When the word קדישה is used it refers more to the indecency and immorality of it.

  • 1
    Thank you for your effort. I would like you to see how your definitions can be used to explain the Psukim I brought, e.g. Yahuda's story. Or לא תחלל את בתך להזנותה - how can it be unfaithful.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 14:12

Gen. 38:21, religious prostitute:

Kedeshah in Hebrew. See Deuteronomy 23:18 which seems to indicate that the pagan custom was to use the hire of such prostitutes for sacrifice. The kedeshah is also associated with sacrifice in Hosea 4:14. See Numbers 25:1,2. Ancient sources state that among the Amorites it was a custom that girls would have to sit seven days as prostitutes before being married (Tzava'ath Yehudah 12:2; cf. Herodotus 1:199; also see Kethuboth 3b). Judah had no interest in her as a sacred prostitute, and, therefore, above (Genesis 38:15), the word zonah denoting a simple prostitute, is used.

Additionally, see קדש/ה = איש/ה המחלל/ת את קדושת גופו/ה and here.

  • Thank you, I think the last link(s) are the best approximation to a possible answer. The Bible's site is very scarce. I don't want to focus on Yehuda because the other uses of the Torah.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 13:46
  • I assumed Yehudah was the essence of your question
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 13:47
  • I did asl a couple of question about that, but this one is more general. After reading the links it seems that the difference is very unclear and the usage (esp relating to the Halacha) is free-style. Please see my comment to user6 above.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 13:50

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