Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Ginger Ail?

Happy “Love Your Red Hair Day”! Those endowed with ginger-ness (In Israel, a redheaded person is called a “gingy”), 1% of the world’s population and 2% of that of the United States, are sometimes associated with a fiery personality and other negative traits that are associated with their follicular hue. As we will see, traits that are ascribed based on hair color are largely unfounded. Individuals such as Alexander the Great, Mark Twain, Vincent Van Gogh, British Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Winston Churchill were redheads. U.S. presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower (three out of four were prominent generals) were also “ginger.”

Two Biblical characters are identified as redheads.

Genesis 25 (verse 25) describes the birth of Rebecca’s twins. “The first emerged 'Admoni,’ all over, like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau (or Esav in Hebrew).” At first glance, admoni, can be related to the Hebrew word adom for red. After all, the verse links the term to hair. However, Edom is also the name of a nation adjacent to the Land of Israel (modern day Jordan), that the Torah claims descends from Esav (see Genesis 36:9). Rashi in Genesis 25:25, states that the word admoni, however, refers to the blood that Esav, the hunter and warrior, will spill. Additionally, 5 verses later, (Genesis 25:30) Esav is described as arriving home starving, asking his brother Jacob to “feed me, I beg you, with that same red pottage; for I am famished; therefore, his name was called Edom (red).”

The second redhead mentioned in Scriptures is King David. When the prophet Samuel approached Yishai (Jesse) to anoint one of his seven sons to become king of Israel, the last son he contemplated for royalty was his youngest, David. The verse states (Samuel I 16:12): “And he sent, and brought him in. And he was admoni, with beautiful eyes, and good looking. And the Lord said, “arise, anoint him; for this is he.” While many assume this refers to his gingerness, the textual link is less clear, as hair is not specifically mentioned. Some feel it connotes a ruddy complexion.

Do David and Esav’s hair color indicate anything about their behavioral dispositions? David is the progenitor of the Davidic Dynasty, the bloodline of the Messiah. Esav, according to Rabbi Shimon the son of Yochai, claims that Esav will always be the enemy and foil of Jacob, the people of Israel (Midrash Sifri, Be’haalotcha, 69). Apparently, there does not appear to be any common denominators we can learn about being a redhead.

An interesting story is told, that when Napoleon (also a redhead) would go to battle, he would see a vision of a red-haired Jew bringing victory to the French. It was reported that he did not see a red-haired Jew before his battle at Waterloo, where he fell (recorded in “Imagining Holiness: Classic Tales in Modern Times” by Justin Jaron Lewis, pp. 125). This episode is similar to the story that appears in the Talmud (Yoma 69a) that Alexander the Great would see the image of Simon the Righteous before battles. When Alexander prepared to sack Jerusalem, its leader, Simon the Righteous approached Alexander, who bowed to the ground, finally witnessing the countenance that had always appeared to him in victory. Alexander, the Talmud concludes, agreed not to destroy Jerusalem.

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