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Bible Encyclopedias
Kiss and Kissing

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Biblical Instances.

The custom of kissing is not found among savage races, among whom other forms of greeting, such as rubbing of noses, take its place. Among Orientals, who keep the sexes strictly separated, kissing on the mouth is not practised, except as an expression of strong affection (Song of Solomon 1:2; comp. Gen. R. xc. 3). It is doubtful whether any reference to kissing on the mouth as a mere salutation can be found in the Old Testament, Genesis 41:40 and Proverbs 24:26 being susceptible of another interpretation. The Oriental method was, and is, to kiss the cheeks alternately, placing the right hand sometimes upon the shoulder, sometimes under the chin, as did Joab with Amasa (2 Samuel 20:9). Kissing is, therefore, usually reserved as an expression of affection between relatives. Isaac desires to kiss Esau; Esau falls upon Jacob's neck and kisses him; Joseph kisses his brethren and the face of his dead father (Genesis 27:27, 33:4, 48:10, 1). Similarly, Orpah kisses Naomi (Ruth 1:14), and Laban his sons and daughters (Genesis 31:55). Elisha desires to kiss his father and mother before following Elijah (1 Kings 19:20). Raguel kisses Tobit (Tobit 7:6). The kiss occurs also, however, as a salutation between persons not closely related, but united by affection, as were Jonathan and David (1 Samuel 20:41). Hence royal or highly placed persons may desire to express their favor by kissing, perhaps the more formal salutation with the hand on the shoulder and the cheeks placed together, as in the case of Absalom or David (2 Samuel 15:5, 19:39). The response to such a mode of salutation would be of the more respectful kind: in the case of Samuel kissing Saul (1 Samuel 10:1) he may have kissed him either on the cheek as a mark of affection or on the hand as an expression of reverence. Kissing the feet is mentioned in the New Testament (Luke 7:45), and, probably, is referred to in the Old Testament by the metaphorical expression to "lick the dust" (Psalms 72:9; Isaiah 49:23; Micah 7:17; Isaiah 49:23 seems to imply actual contact between feet and lips).

The same reverence shown toward a king or conqueror was displayed toward gods as represented by their idols or symbols. Schwally ("Das Leben Nach dem Tode," p. 8) suggests that the kiss given by Joseph to Jacob when he saw that his father was dead was of the nature of worship of a divine being, as in Hosea 13:2, where reference is made to those who, when sacrificing, kissed the golden calf. According to 1 Kings 19:18, Elijah could find only 7,000 men in all Israel that had not kissed Baal. A similar custom was found among the Arabs (see Wellhausen, "Reste," p. 109), and is retained to the present day in the Mohammedan ceremony of kissing the Kaaba at Mecca. When Job denies that his mouth has kissed his hand (Job 31:27) he refers to an idolatrous practise in which the hand was kissed toward the object of worship, as the rising sun was greeted in ancient Greece. The idea appears to have been that in some way thebreath was the life of man, and that giving a part of the breath to the object adored was in the nature of a sacrifice (see comp. Adoration, Forms of).

According to the Rabbis, kissing was to be avoided as leading to lewdness; but it was permitted as an act of respect for dignity, as the kiss given by Samuel to Saul; after prolonged absence, as Aaron's kiss to Moses (Exodus 4:27); and on parting, as in the kiss of Orpah (Gen. R. ). Rabbi Tanḥuma added the kiss of relationship, as in the case of Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29:11; Ex. R. ). On the kiss as a salutation in the early Christian Church PEACE, KISS OF.

Death by God's Kiss.

By a beautiful image the death of God's favorites was supposed to be produced by a kiss from God ("bi-neshiḳah"). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, Moses, and Miriam were taken in this manner (B. B. 17a; Deut. R. ). This mode of departure is considered the easiest of all deaths, and is reserved for the most pious (Ber. 8a). According to the Rabbis, kissing an idol was not punishable by death (Sanh. 60b), and it would appear that the custom of kissing the feet, mentioned in the New Testament, was current among the Pharisees (B. B. 16a); it is mentioned that Rabbi Johanan was treated in this way (Yer. Ḳid. 1:61c). The Rabbis interpreted Song of Solomon 1:2 as meaning that if one spends his time with teachers in whose presence he must keep his lips closed—the teachers of mystical law—all men will later kiss him on the mouth (Cant. R. 5b).

A curious explanation is given why every letter of the word (Genesis 33:4) is marked by the Masorites with dots. Some of the rabbis explain that the kiss given by Esau was insincere (see Sifre, Num. 61), and even at the present day the expression "a kiss with dots" is used by Jews in Slavonic countries for an insincere kiss. According to Akiba the Medes kissed the hand only (Ber. 8b), and for this practise Simeon ben Gamaliel, who was opposed to kissing on the mouth, gives praise to all Oriental peoples (Gen. R. 74:1). The Zohar represents the son and disciples of Simeon b. Yoḥai as kissing his hand during life (1:83b), while at his death his son Eleazar kissed his hand and Abba kissed the dust at his feet. The story is told that of two athletes who were struggling, the one about to be overcome kissed the hand of his adversary, and thereby saved himself by making the latter feel more kindly disposed (Tan., Wayiggash). Legend asserts that when Isaac Alfasi was at the point of death the young Maimonides, aged five, entered and kissed his hand (Gavison on Proverbs 17:6). To this day it is customary in Smyrna for the relatives to kiss the hand of the dead when taking a last parting ("R. E. J." 24:152).

Kissing still survives among Jews as a mark of reverence. It is a religious custom among them to kiss the ẓiẓit of the ṭallit when putting it on, the mezuzah at the door when entering and leaving, and the scroll of the Law when about to read or pronounce a blessing over it ("Bet Yosef," on Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 28, in the name of Abudarham). On Simḥat Torah it is customary for the congregation to touch the scrolls of the Law with the ẓiẓit as they are being carried round, after which the ẓiẓit is kissed; in the old Sephardic ritual this was done when the scroll was carried round before Kol Nidre. Russian Jews are accustomed to use the index-finger for the mezuzah and the little finger for the scroll of the Law. If a Hebrew book is dropped it is customary, though not necessary, to kiss it.

  • Neil, Kissing, Its Curious Bible Mentions, London, 1885;
  • Gesenius, Th., and Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb., s. ;
  • W. Bacher, in R. E. J. 22:137, 23:137.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Kiss and Kissing'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​k/kiss-and-kissing.html. 1901.
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