Photo Credit: Open Access, Met Museum, New York
A chair from the 16th century Spain in the Cloisters Collection, 1958.

When Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbat, a special haftarah from the Book of Isaiah is read. Unrelated to the weekly parsha, it focuses instead on themes related to Rosh Chodesh. The opening words are: “So says Hashem: ‘The Heavens are kissi [my throne], and the Earth is My footstool. Which is the house that has been built for Me? And which is the place of My resting?’” (66:1). In this essay, we will discuss three closely-related words for “chair” or “throne” in the Bible: kisseh, keis, and kursa.




While the classical lexicographers trace the word kisseh to the triliteral root kaf-samech-aleph, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim actually traces it to the biliteral root kaf-samech. He sees a whole slew of words as deriving from that root, including: kisui (n. “covering”), michaseh (v. “covering”), kesut (“clothing,” i.e., garments that cover one’s skin), kos (a type of cup that has a cover), kis (“pocket,” i.e., a covered container), meches (type of “tax” that contributes to the king’s coffers, as though placed in his kis), and michsah (a central “pot of funds,” for example a fund into which all members of a Paschal Offering pool their monies to cover the costs; see Exodus 12:4).

In line with those themes, Rabbi Pappenheim postulates that the term kisseh in the Bible primarily refers to a special “chair” or “throne” that has a sort of cover or overhead canopy, thus demonstrating the honor or glory of whoever sits upon it (especially a king).

In explaining the esoteric concept of Hashem’s Kisseh HaKavod (“Throne of Glory”), Rabbi Avraham Abulafia (1240-1291) notes that the connection between kisseh and “covering” does not invoke the idea of something covered/enveloped (mukaf), but rather alludes to that which covers/envelopes others (makif). In this sense, Hashem’s Providence is called His kisseh because it is all-encompassing, as it envelops and covers the entirety of creation.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (to Genesis 41:40) sees the word kisseh as related to its phonetic counterparts kisui (“covered”), katzeh (“edge”), and miktzoa (“corner”), via the interchangeability of kaf/kuf, samech/tzadi, and aleph/hey/ayin. He explains that just as the latter words denote “separation” and “cutting off” — with kisui even referring to something totally withdrawn from sight — so does the word kisseh as “throne” denote raising one person above the rest and rendering him unreachable to others.

Rabbi David Chaim Chelouche (1920-2016) similarly explains that kisseh primarily refers to a king’s throne, which is the symbol of the king’s exceptionalism that sets him apart from everyone else. This exceptionalism is also expressed in the way that the king is not accessible or visible to the public, as though he were covered and hidden away.



The word keis, without aleph, appears only once in the entire Bible, when Hashem undertook to wage war against Amalek for all generations (Exodus 17:16). The expression used to denote His promise is “for the hand is upon the keis of [Kah],” with Kah as a stand-in for Hashem’s abbreviated name (yudheh) and keis referring to His throne.

The rabbis already took note of this anomalous spelling for the word kiss and saw its juxtaposition to the short spelling of His name as telling of a bigger idea. Because of this, they taught in the Midrash (Tanchuma Ki Teitzei §11, cited by Rashi to Exodus 17:16) that as long as Amalek’s descendants continue to exist, Hashem’s name and throne are “incomplete,” so to speak, which is why the word kisseh is spelled sans aleph in this context and His Divine name is likewise abbreviated.

Radak in Sefer HaShorashim traces this word as well to the root kaf-samech-aleph, explaining that the aleph is dropped because the word keis should be considered one word attached to Hashem’s name Yah that follows it, as though it said keisyah. The Talmud (Pesachim 117a) actually records an Amoraic dispute about whether this term should be written as one word or two words, and Minchat Shai (to Exodus 17:16) mentions that the later Masoretes similarly disagreed about this point. In fact, some early manuscripts of the Bible, like the Leningrad Codex and Sassoon 507, have it written as two words (keis Yah, which is the accepted custom), while the Aleppo Codex and Sassoon 1053 have them written as one word (keisyah).



The word kursa appears three times in the Bible, all in the Aramaic sections of Daniel (5:20, 7:9). As Rabbi Eliyahu HaBachur (1468-1549) points out in his work Meturgaman, every time the Hebrew word kisseh appears in the Bible, the Targumim translate it into Aramaic as kursa or kursei. Conversely, Rashi (to Daniel 7:9, Yevamot 118b, Ketubot 75a, Gittin 35a) explains that the Aramaic kursa means kisseh. In Modern Hebrew, the term kursa denotes an armchair or recliner.

The word kursa is spelled the same as kisseh except that it has an additional reish after the initial kaf consonant. From the various linguists with whom I consulted, it seems that the Hebrew version without the reish is the older form of the word, and the Aramaic version with the reish is a later development or corruption of that form of the word. When we look at other Semitic languages, we see this play out very nicely: Dr. Chaim Tawil sees the Hebrew kisseh as related to the Akkadian kussu, and both of them are very early Semitic languages and both of them clearly do not have the reish. On the other hand, the Arabic cognate kursiyy does include the reish sound, but Arabic is a later language and, as Rabbi Dr. Ernest Klein (1899-1983) notes, probably borrowed the word from Aramaic.

But how did this extra reish in the Aramaic form of the word come about? The experts with whom I consulted explained the insertion of the letter reish as an example of a linguistic phenomenon called dissimilation. Rabbi Dr. Ernest Klein explains that the rhotic sound expressed by the letter reish is often inserted into a word through a process called epenthesis to serve as a stand-in for the reduplication of the same consonant. In the word kisseh, since the samech sound is doubled (note the dagesh in that letter), the letter reish was later inserted to help smooth the pronunciation.

Others linguists wrote to me that it is possible that the rhotic version of the word — that is, the one with the reish (kursa) – was the original form, and in Hebrew the reish was dropped to become kisseh. According to this approach, the dagesh in the letter samech of kisseh actually alludes to the disappearance of the original reish. With this approach, the phenomenon of the disappearing reish can be termed assimilation, as the reish “assimilated” into the samech that preceded it.

Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed 1:9) writes that the idea of a kisseh implies importance and power, presumably because in ancient times ordinary people did not have chairs but merely sat on whatever flat surfaces were available. The Holy Temple is called the “seat” of Hashem’s glory because it is from there that prophetic revelations that come directly from Him emanate.

If I understand him correctly, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov (1740-1827) similarly explains that the word kisseh alludes to Hashem’s role as the First Person actor who administers all of creation. He arrives at this conclusion by connecting the word kisseh with the word ani (“I/Myself”), noting that the letters kaf and samech that make up the word kisseh consecutively follow the letters yod and nun that make up the word ani (with the aleph remaining the same in both words). Thus, he explains that kisseh connotes the Selfhood of Hashem, as opposed to things that merely emanate from Him, but are not synonymous with Him. To bolster this assertion, Rabbi Menachem Mendel notes that the Aramaic form of kisseh kursa — uses the same three-letter root as the word keres, the Aramaic form of the Hebrew beten (“stomach” or “innermost element”) As a result of this parallelism, he understands that just like the keres is an integral part of one’s person, so does the term kisseh refer to the “Person” of Hashem.

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Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein writes The Jewish Press's "Fascinating Explorations in Lashon Hakodesh" column.