From biblical origins to Israeli term of endearment
If you are living in Tel Aviv today, you have likely heard “kapara” as a term of endearment, or expression of affection and kind sentiment. However, in Hebrew kapara is a versatile word that can take on two meanings—one used in popular culture and the other used as a Judaic concept—depending on how the syllables are emphasized.
Traditionally, kapara means “atonement”, or “forgiveness from sin". The name of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur derives from kapara because it is the day on which people plead to God for atonement. Kapara also refers to the Jewish ritual of swinging a chicken over one’s head the morning before Yom Kippur, the purpose of which is to transfer the sins one has committed that year to the chicken who will later be slaughtered. When using kapara in this context, the traditional form, it is pronounced |ka-pa-RA|, with the last syllable “RA” being emphasized.
The word and its use in everyday speech has come a long way from its religious roots. Kapara has digressed into common slang—similar to “motek” (sweetie) or “neshama” (soul)—as a term used in casual interactions with little discrimination or significance paid to its judaic roots. When used in this context, kapara’s middle syllable, instead of last, is emphasized becoming |ka-PA-ra|.
In conclusion, when combining the religious denotation and modern connotation of kapara, colloquially when someone calls you “kapara” you can infer that they are essentially saying they would die for you or that you are the atonement of their sins (much like a chicken for Yom Kippur!). Ah, the joy of language! Can you think of any other words that have multiple meanings depending on their pronunciation?