Orla Guerin is Hebrew for Foreskin

I have just realized I have been promulgating an Internet myth: that BBC Africa correspondent, Orla Guerin admitted to crying as Yasser Arafat was airlifted out of Ramallah in 2004. That was Barbara Plett.

Guerin reporting on the halting of Hussam Abdu, a 16 year old ESM Palestinian Arab boy who had been tricked into carrying explosives. She described the IDF’s treatment of him as “cynical manipulation of a Palestinian youngster for propaganda purposes”. But, enough of that, this missive is simply to say how little I know about the ceremony of upsherin/chalake (חלקה/אפש​ערן).


(Taken from Aish.com.)

This represents the first hair-cut of boys in certain Orthodox Jewish families, where it will place either on the child’s third birthday or on the festival of Lag Baomer; the festival of bonfires marked as the 33rd day after the second day of Passover, when an ‘omer’ (a measure) of barley was presented to the Temple in Jerusalem, and counted up until Shauvot (cf. Pentecost). During the Bar Kokba Revolt, the mass death of 24,000 students of the Rabbi Akiva is held to have ended on Lag Baomer. In the Hebrew calendar, it corresponds to the 18 Iyar; or at some point in mid-May according to the Gregorian calendar, and I would not be surprised if similar to Beltane).

The Talmudic justification comes from Leviticus 19:23 which proscribes against picking fruits from a tree until it is three years old in order to promote future strong growth, using the classical Hebrew word orla/ערלה translating as the “blockage of the trees” and representing the tenth tractate of Order of Seeds of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Allusions of the human body to trees abound in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud, with the latter, for instance, stating that an individual should have numerous roots: “Even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place” (Avot 3:22).

But why did I say foreskin? Well, a second meaning of orla is in Genesis 17:11 which refers to the bris milah, or circumcision ceremony (there is a third meaning in Deuteronomy 10:16 which instructs the reader to cast out the ‘orla’ in their hearts, and as I write this, a new meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:11 is coming to me). Note, this is not the anatomical term, but that ain’t going to stop me calling Orla Guerin “Foreskin Guerin” from now on.

The ceremony appears to have been introduced to Europe in the 17th Century by the Kabbalist and proto-Zionist Rabbi Chaim Vital, from Calabria. He had observed it amongst Yishuv Jews in what is now Israel. My thought is, did Jesus have his hair cut? Mary Magdalene is certainly the patron saint of hairdressers. During the medieval period, there were multiple cults of the Holy Prepuce; often at the same time (like those multiple artefacts claiming to be Napoleon’s penis, where did the other foreskins/willies come from?). But I have never heard of a cult of Jesus’ other orla.



4 Responses to “Orla Guerin is Hebrew for Foreskin”

  1. Fabian from Israel Says:

    I dislike the ceremony. Boys look like girls.

  2. Alec Says:

    Come to Scotland for an even greater gender bender, then. Men in skirts carrying knives in their pockets!

    I am interested in knowing more about the upsherin, without or without reference to Rebbe Jeshua ben Yosef. It strikes as a much more gentle removing of an unripened fruit and had a certain saxophonist *whose_name_I_dare_not mention_lest_he_actually_turn_up* experienced it, it all might be different.

  3. Freedom of Information Act Does Not Apply to the BBC « A Rabbit's Eye View of the Hyperborean North Says:

    […] almost said, it showed its contempt for Israelis by sending a Middle East Correspondant called Foreskin, who then decried the arrest of a mentally-handicapped Palestinian boy who had been tricked into […]

  4. Adrian Morgan Says:

    Fascinating post…. Poor Orla Guerin. Did her parents know that when they named her?

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