Distaff

DISTAFF. A stick used to hold the wool or flax fibers used in the process of spinning (Prov.31.19).


DISTAFF dĭs’ tăf (כִּישׁוֹר, H3969) KJV SPINDLE. A stick used to hold flax or wool fibers during the process of spinning (Prov 31:19). One of the virtues of a noble woman is that

“She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle” (Prov 31:19).

Spindle and distaff are reversed in the KJV. The RSV seems preferable for the first word, כִּישׁוֹר, H3969, is from a root meaning “to be straight” corresponding to distaff and the other (פֶּ֫לֶכְ, H7134) is from a root meaning “to be round” corresponding to the whorl on the spindle. Moreover, the second word is tr. in the LXX by ἄτρακτον, which means “spindle.”

A woman when spinning would hold the distaff under her left arm. She would take the long fibers from the distaff and attach them to the notch in the end of the spindle, which was a shaft from 9 to 12 inches long and tapered on both ends. Near the bottom of the spindle was a whorl. This was a circular weight of clay, stone, or some other heavy material with a hole in the center to allow it to be placed on the spindle. The whorl provided momentum to keep the spindle turning smoothly when it had been twirled between the thumb and forefinger. Additional fibers would be added and twisted into thread as the spindle rotated. When the thread became so long that the spindle reached the ground it would be wound around the spindle and the process repeated until the spindle was full.

Bibliography

S. Driver, Notes on the Heb. Text and Topography of the Books of Samuel (1913), 250, 251; T. Fox, “Spinning,” Encyclopaedia Britannica (1961), XXI, 233.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

This word occurs once in Pr 31:19; "spindle" is found in the same passage. In the Revised Version (British and American) the meanings of the two words have been exchanged. See Spinning.