Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ishim ve-shittos blog on R. Ya'akov Kamenetzky

Here is a fine series of posts by a very promising blogger, Wolf, of the אישים ושיטות blog:

"The Truth of Yaakov - towards an intellectual portrait of R' Yaakov Kaminetsky Zt"l"

I Introduction
II History
III Etymology
IV Linguistics
V Minhagim

The Vatican Menorah myth

Some contend that the gold menorah from the Second Temple is hidden in the basement of the Vatican.

But according to Steven Fine, this is just an urban myth.1


While no one knows how the myth actually arose, Fine says that it "is not a part of traditional Jewish folklore." Rather, it is a "distinctly American phenomenon."


As for the menorah myth, he’s heard at least 10 to 15 variations of the story, which, he said, have been extremely popular since the 1970s. "I’m fascinated by these stories," he said, so he started following them in an effort to examine the historical material "through the lens of myth. I wanted to see where the path would lead," he said, calling his efforts "an interaction between the culture we live in now and people who died some 1,500 years ago."


Fine said the menorah myth, which apparently started in the United States some 30 to 40 years ago, "is not an easy story to refute. You can’t refute something when you don’t know who started it." link

"The Hebrew collection in the British Museum forms one of the greatest centres of Jewish thought. It is only surpassed by the treasures which are contained in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The fame of these magnificent collections has spread far and wide. It has penetrated into the remotest countries, and even the Bachurim (alumni) of some obscure place in Poland, who otherwise neither care nor know anything about British civilisation, have a dim notion of the nature of these mines of Jewish learning.

All sorts of legends circulate amongst them about the "millions" of books which belong to the "Queen of England." They speak mysteriously of an autograph copy of the Book of Proverbs, presented to the Queen of Sheba on the occasion of her visit to Jerusalem, and brought by the English troops as a trophy from their visit to Abyssinia, which is still ruled by the descendants of that famous lady. They also talk of a copy of the Talmud of Jerusalem which once belonged to Titus, afterwards to a Pope, was presented by the latter to a Russian Czar, and taken away from him by the English in the Crimean war; of a manuscript of the book Light is Sown [ie, Or Zaruah] which is so large that no shelf can hold it, and which therefore hangs on iron chains. How they long to have a glance at these precious things! Would not a man get wiser only by looking at the autograph of the wisest of men ?

Solomon Schechter, "The Hebrew Collection of the British Museum," in Studies in Judaism First Series, pg. 252.

1 No kidding.

Does the JTS still accept credits from the Lakewood Yeshiva?

[R. Saul Lieberman] saw to it that JTS was listed as an accredited institution accepting credits from the Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, New Jersey (pursuant to the request of the Immigration and Naturalization Service); the dean of that institution, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, was an older colleague of Lieberman's from Slobodka.360

360 Rabbi M. Levine, letter to Lieberman, Jan. 25, 1954.

Elijah J. Schochet and Solomon Spiro, Saul Lieberman, the Man and His Work, Pt. II, Character, pg. 185

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When a Hebrew word sounds like a naughty word in another language

On holidays and the first day of every ראש חודש new month we say the יַעֲלֶה וְיָבא prayer. There aren't too many English speaking kids who don't eventually notice that the second syllable in the word וּפָקְדֵנוּ (="remember us") like a very raunchy English word. I figured kids of my generation were the first to discover this amusing and childish fact, but my grandfather ע"ה, born nearly a century ago, assured me that even 90 years ago children knew it. In fact, being that last Monday was Rosh Hodesh one presumes that some children noticed it then for the very first time, as must happen every month; some must have muffled their giggle, others couldn't stop.

Of course we are not children and we understand that syllables and even compounds (=words) repeat in different languages. However, the native speaker certainly hears the same sound!

I am told that there is a Teshuvos Rashbatz 1 which explains an oddity in the pointing of a word in Isaiah 40:5, saying that when we read the verse כִּי פִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר "for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it" in the Haphtarah for Parashat Ve-Va-ethanan, it should be read carefully as written ("ki pi Hashem diber) but should not be modified to read כִּי פִי ("ki fi Hashem diber"), which would seem to be linguistically correct. The reason he gives is that to read it as written out loud sounds blasphemous.

The masoretic Bible commentary Minhat Shai supplies the reason, if it wasn't obvious, commenting on Deut 8:3, כִּי עַל-כָּל-מוֹצָא פִי-יְהוָה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם "but by every thing that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live":

כל בגד כפת דסמיך ליהוא רפי בר מן המבטלים והרבה מהן שהן דגש להוגן קריה כזה כי לא יתכן לומר פי ברפה קודם לשם כי לשון גנאי הוא בלשון צרפת וחלילה לשם יתברך ע"כ מצאתי: ושמעתי שבלשון צרפת פי ר"ל אין ואפס ובכל הספרים הפ"א רפה כדינה ואין לנו לחוש ללשון צרפת שאין מבטלין דרכי לשון הקדש מפני שאר לשונות ומצאנו עוד במיכה א' כי פי ה' צבאות דבר שהוא רפי

All bgdkpt letters that precede God's name are rafeh [ie, they lack a dagesh and are pronounced softly] except one can't say "fi" before the name, because it is a swear in French, and God forbid one says "Fi" followed by God's name [and therefore this peh should be pointed/ pronounced hard, as "pi"]. That's a view I've seen.

The expression of contempt it is talking about is "Fi." In the codices the peh here is rafeh according to the law and we do not worry about French, since we don't abolish the rules of Hebrew [which require the /p/ to soften to an /f/ before a long vowel] because of other languages.

There you have it. By pronouncing Hebrew correctly, when saying "the mouth of the Lord" it sounds like "Fi, the Lord." Some thought the solution is to say "Pi, the Lord," which is incorrect Hebrew but doesn't sound blasphemous. Minhat Shai asserts that this consideration is invalid.

However, in the case of Isaiah 40:5 a quirk in the pointing allows the reader to avoid saying "Fi, the Lord."

1 Haven't been able to find it, although I theoretically have access to this.

Monday, December 17, 2007

An excellent emendation of a Talmud text by R. Saul Lieberman

It must be very satisfying for a textual critic to see a conjectural emendation justified by a manuscript, especially an excellent manuscript.

Here is an interesting example of such.

The Talmud Yerushalmi Kiddushin 1:1 refers to ר' יוחנן דצפרין, Rabbi Yohanan of Sepphoris.

Here is the passage, with translation1:

הרי למדנו גוים אין להן קידושין מהו שיהא להם גירושין ר' יודה בן פזי ור' חנין בשם ר' חונה רובה דציפורין או שאין להן גירושין או ששניהן מגרשין זה את זה ר' יוחנן דצפרין ר' אחא ר' חיננא בשם ר' שמואל בר נחמן (מלאכי ב) כי שנא שלח וגו' עד את ה' אלהי ישראל בישראל נתתי גירושין לא נתתי גירושין באומות העולם

Lo, we have learned that gentiles are not subject to the laws of consecrating a woman as betrothed [through money]. What about their being subject to the laws of divorce?

R. Judah b. Pazzi and R. Hanin in the name of R. Huna the Great of Sepphoris: "Either they [gentiles] are not subject to the law of divorce at all, or [unlike Israelite practice] each issues a writ of divorce to the other."

R. Yohanan of Sepphoris, R. Aha, R. Hinena in the name of R. Samuel bar Nahman: "For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel' (Mal. 2:16).

"Among Israelites I have framed the law of divorce, and I have not given the law of divorce to the nations of the world."

Something didn't add up to certain scholars. Rabbi Yohanan is not otherwise identified with Sepphoris, rather he is known for living in Caesarea, קצרין. Since there is a known Amora of Sepphoris, sometimes called ר' חנינה דציפורין, in this passage called by the diminutive חנין, Hanin, Wilhelm Bacher emended יוחנן דצפרין to read חנן דצפרין, "Hanan of Sepphoris," חנן or חנין both being a diminutive form of חנינה that is found.

However, R. Saul Lieberman had another idea. He noticed that the word "of Sepphoris," דצפרין is spelled here defective, that is missing the י between the צ and the פ. This does not occur in other places where Sepphoris, ציפורין is mentioned. So he thought that this might be a copyist error. Recalling Genesis Rabbah 18:62 he thought that instead of ר' יוחנן דצפרין the text should read: ר' יוחנן אמר דיופרין, and should be joined to the passage from before.

Instead of it reading:

"[unlike Israelite practice] each issues a writ of divorce to the other."

[new paragraph] R. Yohanan of Sepphoris...

It should read:

[unlike Israelite practice] each issues a writ of divorce to the other; R. Yohanan said [a gentile woman gives] a double payment.3

What had happened? The copyist had before him a text where the י and ו were joined together (=יו) and it appeared to him as a צ. The phrase ר' יוחנן אמר דצפרין did not make sense to that scribe, so he deleted the אמר and copied it as it appeared, leaving the sensible but highly suspect ר' יוחנן דצפרין.

This emendation was proposed in R. Lieberman's תיקוני ירושלמי in Tarbiz 2:2 (1931). It turned out that ר' יוחנן אמר דיופרין was the reading in the 13th century MS Leiden, Scaliger 3; the only complete Yerushalmi manuscript.

See Ha-Moreh by Eliezer Shimshon Rosenthal, PAAJR, 31 (1963) pg. 34.

1 Qiddushin: A Preliminary Translation and Explanation by Jacob Neusner.
2 אמר רבי יוחנן אשתו מגרשתו ונותנת לו דופורון. "R. Johanan said: His wife can divorce him and she gives him a double dowry." (Trans. by Maurice Simon, on the basis of Rashi.)
3 In other words, by Jewish law only the husband can divorce the wife, and he must give her an alimony payment. However either the husband or wife can divorce the other if they are gentiles, and the one that initiates the divorce pays the other.

A Samaritan parallel to a famous saying in Pirkei Avot

This Samaritan prayer for שבת (attributed to Joshua ben Nun) appears in A.E. Cowley's The Samaritan Liturgy, the Common Prayers (Volume 1) (1909).

It contains a most interesting line, which does not take a whole lot of Aramaic knowledge to understand if you've heard its famous cognate in rabbinic literature:

לפם די עבדתה הו אגרה
In proportion to the action is the reward.1

Mishnah Avot 5:26:

בן הא הא אומר לפום צערא אגרא
Ben Hé-Hé said: According to the effort is the reward.2

The Samaritan saying in this prayer is found elsewhere in Samaritan literature, specifically in מימר מרקה which is a sort of commentary on part of the Torah by a noted Samaritan scholar of the 4th century called Marqah. 3

In that book we find the following:

וכן אמר בן בן עדן לפם די עבדתה הוא אגרה
Thus said the son of Ben Eden: "In proportion..."

We have an interesting parallel, virtually the same saying, the one from rabbinical literature attributed to an otherwise unknown בן הא הא and the Samaritan one to a בן בן עדן.

It is merely an interesting factoid that this saying is in Aramaic, because generally the sayings in Avot are in Hebrew. The exception is sayings by Hillel, which are often in Aramaic. Hillel's origin was in Babylon, so it would seem appropriate that the sayings attributed to him are in Aramaic, which was spoken by Jews in Babylon.

As it happens, the commentary on Avot the אבות דרבי נתן attributes this saying not to to Ben Hé-Hé but to Hillel, with an accompanying story illustrating where he heard it from:

הוא היה אומר...ולכולהון לפום צערא אגרא: מעשה בהלל הזקן שהיה מהלך בדרך ופגע בני אדם שמביאין חטין. אמר להם סאה בכמה. אמרו בשני דינרין. ופגע באחרים אמר להם סאה בכמה. אמרו לו בשלשה דינרין. אמר להם והלא ראשונים אמרו בשנים. אמרו לו בבלאה טפשאה אי אתה יודע שלפום צערא אגרא. אמר להם שוטים וריקים על שאני אומר לכם אתם מחזירין לי כך. מה עשה להם הלל הזקן החזירן למוטב

He used to say:...According to the painstaking, the reward.
Once Hillel the Elder was walking along the road and met men carrying wheat. "At how much a se'ah?" he asked them.
"Two denar," they replied.
Then he met others; he asked them: "At how much a se'ah?"
"Three denar," they said.
"But the former said two!" he protested.
"Stupid Babylonian!" they retorted, "knowest thou not that 'according to the painstaking is the reward'!"
"Wretched fools!" he answered, "is this the way you retort to my question?"
What did Hillel the Elder do with them? He brought them to a correct understanding.4

What do we see from all this? "[T]he saying attributed to the mysterious Ben He-he was a popular adage current in Palestine, and various sages were credited with it."5

We have a saying attributed to (1) Ben Hé-Hé, to (2) Ben Ben Eden and (3) to Hillel, who reported it in the name of wheat merchants.

1 Translation by John F. MacDonald in his Memar Marqah: The Teaching of Marqah, pg. 145.
2 Translation by Philip Birnbaum in his Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem.
3 "According to the chronicle Eltholideh...Marqah lived in the time of Babba Rabba. An angel appeared at his birth, and bade his father call the child's name Moses. As, however, this name was too sacred for common use, he was called Marqah, which has the same numerical value. He was of priestly family, though not High Priest." Some Remarks on Samaritan Literature and Religion by Arthur Cowley, JQR 8:4 (Jul. 1896), pg. 566.
4 This translation is by Judah Goldin in his The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, pg. 70.
5 "Greek and Latin Proverbs in Rabbinic Literature" by R. Saul Lieberman in Greek in Jewish Palestine, pg. 70.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I am not the first blogger to post a link to rising star Menachem Butler's new Michtavim Blog (link). But I figured it should get all the exposure it could, and that includes this post.

Menachem will, of course, continue to run Seforim alongside its founder Dan Rabinowitz, and the archive of his American Jewish History blog is still available.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"God"or "G-d"? A responsum

Here is an interesting responsum by Reform Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof on the question of writing the word "God" with a dash ("G-d")1.

Reform responsa, you say?

From the abstract of Joan Susan Friedman's dissertation "Solomon B. Freehof, the 'reform responsa', and the shaping of American Reform Judaism":

Between the world wars, the influx of East Europeans into the Reform rabbinate and the decline of historicism led the CCAR to view ritual in a more positive light and to reopen the question of standards of Reform observance. Solomon Freehof was chosen to address this issue. Though ideologically a classical Reformer, he was the logical choice due to his expertise in halakha acquired as Jacob Lauterbach's protégé, his wartime service as chairman of the Jewish military chaplaincy's Responsa Committee, and his personal stature in the movement. In the 1940's Freehof developed a taxonomy of Reform Jewish practice whereby only personal status and liturgical matters were to be decided authoritatively by the CCAR, while in all other areas of practice, popular creativity or “minhag” was determinative, subject to loose rabbinic oversight guided by the “ethical spirit” of the halakha.

See also this post.

1 The responsum is undated, but it is from a collection from 1963 called "Recent Reform Responsa."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The O. Henry-like death of R. Judah Ha-levi

I came across something which I think is fascinating.

First the background. The great Jewish philosopher and poet of the Middle Ages, Spanish-born Yehudah Ha-levi (1075-1141) was a great lover of Zion. It was he who wrote the moving words that stirred the hearts of countless for a thousand years: "My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west..." --

...ליבי במזרח ואנכי בסוף המערב

Eventually, according to legend (and documentary evidence from the Cairo Geniza) he did travel to the land of his heart and dreams, the land of Israel. In a legend, first recorded in Gedalyah ibn Yahya's 16th century historical chronicle שלשלת הקבלה, a tragedy occurred after arriving in the Holy Land:

וקבלתי מזקן אחד שבהגיעו אל שערי ירושלים קרע את בגדיו והלך בקרסוליו על הארץ לקיים מה שנאמר כי רצו עבדיך את אבניה ואת עפרה יחוננו והיה אומר הקינה שהוא חבר האומרת ציון הלא תשאלי וכו' וישמעאל אחד לבש קנאה עליו מרוב דבקותו והלך עליו בסוסו וירמסהו וימיתהו

"I heard from an old man that when he reached the gates of Jerusalem he tore his garment [as a symbol of mourning the destruction of Jerusalem] and knelt on the earth to fulfill the verse ' For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and love her dust,' [Psalm 102.15] and he recited the elegy which he had written, 'Zion, will you not inquire . . . ?'. [And at that moment] an Arab [Muslim] rider [who has witnessed the sight] grew jealous of his ecstatic state and trampled upon him with his horse and he died."

(Pg. 92 in the edition I linked to.)

However, as Eliezer Brodt wrote (in an excellent, thorough post at the Seforim Blog) this legend was doubted in the 19th century, chiefly because at the time of Yehudah Ha-levi Jerusalem was ruled by Crusaders, and so it seemed impossible that such a lawless action, that of a haughty noble, could be taken by a Muslim in Jerusalem at that time.

"R. Matisyahu Strashun . . . questions the legend. He explains that Jerusalem, in the times of R. Yehuda Halevi, was ruled by Christians and not by Arabs. R. Strashun allows that although it is possible R. Yehuda Halevi composed Zion Halo Tishali when he got to Jerusalem -- not that we know that he did -- but the part of the story with the Arab killing him is certainly not true . . . R. Shmuel David (ShaDaL) Luzzatto in his collection of poems from R. Yehuda Halevi, Besulas Bas Yehuda (Prague, 1840), also questions the the legend due to the Christian and not Arab control during the time of R. Yehuda Halevi. Further, even if there were Arabs around they would not have done such a blatant act right at the city gate (pp. 25-26). So Shadal concludes that he died on his way from Egypt never even reaching Eretz Yisroel. . . ."

Indeed, at that moment in time Muslims were in the same boat as Jews in Jerusalem; that is, downcast. Furthermore, there wasn't even any evidence that Yehudah Ha-levi had ever even reached Israel. A happening first reported 400 years after the fact, without evidence and a major question about the plausibility of it (coupled with the fact of Muslim rule in Jerusalem at the time of the story's reporting) certainly suggests that the story be classified as legendary. (Even without this doubt, one can discern that this story is almost O. Henry-like, that is, it seems like a great story, just not what probably happened in real life." It has since been established that he did reach the Holy Land, but the circumstances of his death are not known. Most recountings responsibly note that it is a legend.1

I came across A Brief History of the Jewish People by Moshe Weiss (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004) and read the following:

As you can see, this retelling does not report it as fact, but as a legend. However, presumably being aware of the objection that the story could not have occurred as reported, the author takes the liberty of conjecturing that it was a Christian, not Arab [Muslim] horseman. Indeed, that could have been the case--but the only source for the story specifically says that it was a Muslim!

An interesting synthesis. I am not suggesting that Weiss meant to suggest that the story occurred as a historical fact, but for some reason he seems to have felt that it was a good idea to at least make the legend plausible!

As an aside, searching on Google Books one sees many retellings of this story. In some he is trampled by the horse (as written) and in a few he is speared by the rider. I am not sure where the spear or lance came from, but it is interesting how some imagine details that are not in texts which they are retelling.

1 Including Artscroll's edition of Tisha B'av kinnot.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Win $100,000 for a shul lotto drawing

To be held November 10, 1808.

Sorry about the deadline.

Click to enlarge.

More Aleppo Codex, please

Previous post

Scholars at Yad Ben-Zvi research institute in Jerusalem have called on Jews around the world who originally come from Aleppo, Syria and may possess fragments of the ancient Aleppo Codex to turn them over to Israel.

The call came yesterday at an event marking the 60th anniversary of riots against the Jews in Aleppo during which most of the codex, the authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible written in the 10th century, was lost.

The head of Yad Ben-Zvi's Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, Prof. Yom Tov Asis, who witnessed the riots from the window of his Aleppo home when he was five years old, said yesterday: "We know for a fact that pages are being kept in various places in the world and we hope we can touch the hearts of those who are holding them."

The institute confirmed yesterday that talks are under way with former residents of Aleppo who are believed to be holding fragments of the texts, but declined to comment further so as not to jeopardize the negotiations. "This is the No. 1 asset of the Jewish people," Dr. Zvi Zameret, head of Yad Ben-Zvi said, "and I believe the Jewish people would do a great deal to have it back."


Monday, December 03, 2007

Original names of Hebrew vowels (nekkudot)?

Here is n interesting footnote in Samuel David Luzzatto's Prolegomeni ad una grammatica ragionata della lingua ebraica (Aaron Rubin edition, pg. 9):

[A]lterations are met in the names of the Hebrew vowel points. . . The vowels שׁוּרֶק ,חֹלֶם ,חִירֶק, are all words distorted for the purpose of presenting in their first syllables which vowel is indicated by these words. Ḥayyuj in the Tractate on quiescent letters, writes always שֶׁרֶק , חֶלֶם, חֶרֶק, with two Seghols.

Edit: there is a weird, distracting formatting glitch as explained here. Unfortunately the Hebrew appears incorrect above. For some reason my seghols appear as tzérés. I will fix it as soon as I can.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Christian depiction of phylacteries from the 8th century

The 8th century Codex Amiatinus features this interesting illustration of Ezra wearing what would seem to be tefillin on his head.

Click image to enlarge or here for sharper detail.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Good news for bibliophiles

Yesterday (Nov. 26th) the Knesset passed the National Library Law
which formally establishes a National Library of Israel.

While the Jewish National and University Library has served as the de
facto national library (of the Jewish People since the early 1900s and
of the State of Israel since its establishment) it has formally been
an administrative unit of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The new law, which goes into force on January first, provides that
the Library will first become a semi-independent unit of the Hebrew
University, with independent financial systems and fund raising.
Subsequently, within a period of three years, the Library will become
fully independent.

The Library's new name will be "ha-sifriyah ha-le'umit" (The National
Library of Israel). It's mandate is to serve as the national library
of both Israel and the Jewish People, as well as continuing to be a
general humanities research library for both the Hebrew University and
other scholars.

The Library's funding will now be primarily directly from the
State, although the Hebrew University will continue to contribute part
of the budget.

As a result of this change, the Library's budget is expected to
increase significantly, and the planning of a new building, the
contribution of Yad Hanadiv Foundation, is underway.

The law emphasizes the role of the Library in using technology to make
its collections accessible, and specifically authorizes the library to
archive and preserve the Israeli Internet domain.

Elhanan Adler
Deputy Director for Information Technology
Jewish National and University Library


Another שלמה ב''ר יצחק; Judeo-Arabic in "England," forced conversion to Islam in Spain.

This interesting seal was found around 1850 near Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 1887 the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition was held in London. It featured all sorts of fascinating exhibits and relics of Anglo-Jewish (and general Jewish) history, from before the expulsion of 1290 and from more modern times. It's catalog is about 200 pages with ten entries per page. It was a sort of highbrow celebration and tribute to and about English Jewry. This seal was among the exhibits.1

From the Catalogue of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition (pg. 189-190):

Solomon ben Isaac. Red sealing wax. 1 1/16 in. xiii. Cent. [L. 8.] Round seal : a head in profile to the left, wearing a fillet with tasselled ends, the neck draped. Field replenished with foliage. Borders beaded, שלמה בן יצחק See Proceedings of the Soc. of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. i., pp. 39, 502 ; H. Laing, Supplementary Catalogue of Scottish Seals, No. 1294, from which it appears that the brass matrix of this seal was found on the east side of Arthur Seat near Duddingston, and is now in the Museum of the Soc. of Ant. of Scotland.

As you can plainly see, more than שלמה בן יצחק is written on this seal (actually, in fact, it says שלמה בר יצחק, and by the way, this isn't רש"י). Unfortunately this is the best image I could find and is hard to read precisely, even if you are aware of suggestions as to what it says. But let's get to that.

In the original PSAS article various suggestions of how to interpret the legend are given.

Among them are:

שלמה בר יצחק אלמעמס:אלה זל'ו
Recognizing the Arabic prefix al- אל, this interpretation assumes that אלמעמס is derived from either עמס, to take or carry up, or עמם gathering or collection, and is the family name of this שלמה בר יצחק. The last word might read זכר לברכה, but the interpreter was unable to make sense of the last letter, which he thought might be either a ו or a י.a

1061 שלמה בר יצחק אתעמס אלה

The second interpretation reads the word following the name differently, thinking that אתעמס is an Aramaic form of עמם, and translates it as "caused to bear [the government]" and thinks that the final letters are actually Arabic numerals that read 1061, for a year. (Parenthetically, this reading is interesting because it could be a dating from the destruction of the Temple, putting the seal to the early 13th century).

שלמה בר יצחק אִמ עָמַס אֶלָה וְלִין

This interpretation, a most poetic one, reads as follows: "Solomon, Son of Isaac! if God has loaded thee with benefits, then take thy rest." The interpreter instructs the reader to compare with Psalm 68:20: בָּרוּךְ אֲדֹנָי,יוֹם יוֹם יַעֲמָס לָנוּ הָאֵל יְשׁוּעָתֵנוּ סֶלָה, Blessed be the Lord, day by day He beareth our burden, even the God who is our salvation. Selah.

Then there is a gematria gobbledygook interpretation which doesn't bear mentioning.

Joseph Jacobs quotes Isidore Loeb and Joseph Derenbourg who realized that it probably said the following: Solomon ben Isaac who has donned the turban. May Allah guard him. (Joseph's English rendering.)

Indeed, אלתעמם does mean "who has donned the turban," ie, became a Muslim. The turban, 'imama or 'umama in Arabic عمامة, was a potent symbol of Islam in the Middle Ages (see).

Although I definitely see an abbreviated form of Allah, אלה, I cannot clearly read the final word as Jacobs read it, and only possessing his translation, I am not sure what Arabic word or acronym is supposed to be signified as "May Allah guard him."

According to this reading, this Solomon bar Isaac converted to Islam. Jacobs conjectured that he in fact fled to England as a result of this, about 1145, due to Spanish persecution. Jacobs further speculates that Solomon bar Isaac was none other than a Solomon bar Isaac mentioned in a responsum of R. Tam, Sepher Ha-yashar 71a. However, Wilhelm Bacher dismissed this as an impossibility, since that particular responsum is headed שאלה מאורליינס לרבינו תם, that is it came from Orleans and not Spain. Jacobs rejoined that it could still be the same Solomon bar Isaac for several reasons, but nevertheless he accepted Bacher's critique and all but withdrew his identification with the seal and the man in the responsum. I might add that we are not exactly dealing with the most uncommon configurations of names either.

Finally, in Malachi Beit-Arie's The Only Dated Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Written in England (1189 CE) and the Problem of Pre-Expulsion Anglo-Hebrew Manuscripts there is the suggestion that the "Solomon ben Isaac" listed in a Pentateuch Codex written in 1189 is this same person.

In any event, this most interesting seal in an unlikely place is worth pondering.

1 Speaking of Jewish England, in medieval Hebrew sources England is referred to variously as Engliterra, ארץ האי (the island country), and ריפת, which seems to be a transposition of the letters in Paris. Make of that what you will.

2 The catalog is in error. The article is on pp. 39-41. link


The Jews of Angevin England: Documents and Records from Latin and Hebrew by Joseph Jacobs, 1893, pg. 24-26.

Jews of Angevin England reviewed by Wilhelm Bacher, JQR, Vol. 6, No. 2. (Jan., 1894), pg. 357 (3rd pg. in Jstor article).

Catalogue of Antiquities, Works of Art and Historical Scottish Relics, 1859, pg. 93.

"Bronze Matrix with Hebrew Inscription," by Daniel Wilson, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. I, 1851-1854, pp. 39-41.

Malachi Beit-Arie, "The Only Dated Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Written in England (1189 CE) and the Problem of Pre-Expulsion Anglo-Hebrew Manuscripts," Appendix II by Zefirah Entin Rokeah.

Max Markreishc, "Notes on Transformation of Place Names by European Jews," Jewish Social Studies, 23:4 (1961: Oct)

Another image:

Friday, November 23, 2007

A 17th century meeting with the Samaritan high priest

In 1697 an Englishman named Henry Maundrell (1665-1701), was elected Chaplain at the Levant Company in Aleppo. That year he embarked on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Easter. The trip was chronicled by him and published in 1703 as Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter, A.D. 1697. The book went through many printings, as well as translations into other languages.

There is an interesting part about his visit to the Samaritan כהן גדול while in שכם.

Leaving Sebasta we passed in half an hour by Sherack, and in another half hour by Barseba, two villages on the right hand; and then entering into a narrow valley, lying east and west, and watered with a fine rivulet, we arrived in one hour at Naplosa.

Naplosa is the ancient Sychem, or Sychar, as it is termed in the New Testament. It stands in a narrow valley between Mount Gerizim on the south, and Ebal on the north, being built at the foot of the former; for so the situation both of the city and mountains is laid down by Josephus, Antiq. Jud. lib. v. cap. 9. Gerizim, says he, hangeth over Sychem; and lib. iv. cap. ult. Moses commanded to erect an altar toward the east, not far from Sychem, between Mount Gerizim on the right hand (that is, to one looking eastward on the south,) and Ebal on the left (that is on the north); which plainly assigns the position of these two mountains. From Mount Gerizim it was, that God commanded the blessings to be pronounced upon the children of Israel, and from Mount Ebal the curses, Deut. xi. 29. Upon the former, the Samaritans, whose chief residence is here at Sychem, have a small temple or place of worship, to which they are still wont to repair at certain seasons, for performance of the rites of their religion. What these rites are I could not certainly learn: but that their religion consists in the adoration of a calf, as the Jews give out, seems to have more of spite than of truth in it.

Our company halting a little while at Naplosa, I had an opportunity to go and visit the chief priest of the Samaritans, in order to discourse with him, about this and some other difficulties occurring in the pentateuch; which were recommended to me to be inquired about by the learned Monsieur Job Ludolphus, author of the Ethiopic history, when I visited him at Frankfort, in my passage through Germany.

As for the difference between the Hebrew and Samaritan copy, Deut. xxvii. 4, before cited; the priest pretended the Jews had maliciously altered their text, out of odium to the Samaritans; putting, for Gerizim, Ebal, upon no other account, but only because the Samaritans worshipped in the former mountain, which they would have for that reason, not to be the true place appointed by God for his worship and sacrifice. To confirm this, he pleaded that Ebal was the mountain of cursing, Deut. xi. 29, and in its own nature an unpleasant place; but on the contrary Gerizim was the mountain of blessing by God's own appointment, and also in itself fertile and delightful; from whence he inferred a probability that this latter must have been the true mountain, appointed for those religious festivals, Dent, xxvii. 4, and not (as the Jews have corruptly written it) Hebal. We observed that to be in some measure true which he pleaded concerning the nature of both mountains : for though neither of the mountains has much to boast of as to their pleasantness, yet as one passes between them, Gerizim seems to discover a somewhat more verdant fruitful aspect than Ebal. The reason of which may be, because fronting towards the north, it is sheltered from the heat of the sun by its own shade: whereas Ebal looking southward, and receiving the sun that comes directly upon it, must by consequence be rendered more scorched and unfruitful. The Samaritan priest could not say that any of those great stones, which God directed Joshua to set up, were now to be seen in mount Gerizim; which, were they now extant, would determine the question clearly on his side.

I inquired of him next what sort of animal he thought those Selavae might be, which the children of Israel were so long fed with in the wilderness, Num. xi. He answered, they were a sort of fowls; and by the description, which he gave of them, I perceived he meant the same kind with our Quails. I asked him what he thought of Locusts, and whether the history might not be better accounted for, supposing them to be the winged creatures that fell so thick about the camp of Israel? but by his answer, it appeared, he had never heard of any such hypothesis. Then I demanded of him, what sort of plant or fruit the Dudaim or (as we translate it) Mandrakes were, which Leah gave to Rachel? he said they were plants of a large leaf, bearing a certain sort of fruit, in shape resembling an apple, growing ripe in harvest, but of an ill savor, and not wholesome. Of these plants I saw several afterwards in the way to Jerusalem; and if they were so common in Mesopotamia, as we saw them hereabout, one must either conclude that these could not be the true mandrakes (Dudaim) or else it would puzzle a good critic to give a reason, why Rachel should purchase such vulgar things at go beloved and contested a price. This priest showed me a copy of the Samaritan pentateuch, but would not be persuaded to part with it upon any consideration. He had likewise the first volume of the English Polyglot,which he seemed to esteem equally with his own manuscript.

Don't blame God if you catch a cold: orphaned sayings of the Sages pt. II

Second in this series, another 'orphaned' saying of the Sages.

What everyone knows

הכל בידי שמים חוץ יראת שמים
Everything is by the hand of heaven except the fear of heaven.1

What many do not know

הכל בידי שמים חוץ מצנים ופחים
Everything is by the hand of heaven except cold and heat.2

1 Brakhos 33b and parallels.
2 Ksubbots 30a and parallels.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mules, hot springs, giants, Punic, Hebrew and Jerome

Genesis 36:24 (Parashath Va-yishlakh)

כד וְאֵלֶּה בְנֵי-צִבְעוֹן וְאַיָּה וַעֲנָה הוּא עֲנָה אֲשֶׁר מָצָא אֶת-הַיֵּמִם בַּמִּדְבָּר בִּרְעֹתוֹ אֶת-הַחֲמֹרִים לְצִבְעוֹן אָבִיו 24 And these are the children of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah--this is Anah who found the hot springs in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.

I had an interesting conversation with my חבר mevaseretzion about this interesting verse. I quoted at the top from the 1917 JPS because it is a good baseline, but it differs from the dominant traditional Jewish translation (interpretation, really) of the ambiguous word in red. The interpretation is mules, which the King James Version followed ('And these are the children of Zibeon; both Ajah, and Anah: this was that Anah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father').

What are other interpretations?

Targum Onqelos renders as גיבריא, mighty people, which actually accords with the Samaritan Torah, which has האימים for our הימים.

This is probably a reference to the Emim of Genesis 14:5: וּבְאַרְבַּע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה בָּא כְדָרְלָעֹמֶר וְהַמְּלָכִים אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ וַיַּכּוּ אֶת רְפָאִים בְּעַשְׁתְּרֹת קַרְנַיִם וְאֶת הַזּוּזִים בְּהָם וְאֵת הָאֵימִים בְּשָׁוֵה קִרְיָתָיִם And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, and the Zuzim in Ham, and the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim. The Samaritans themselves understand it this way; the Samaritan Targum reads עם אמאי, the Emite nation.

Moving along, there are other versions such as
  • Septuagint - Ιαμιν Iamin, Yamin. He found "Yamin," which appears to be a proper name, since the Septuagint transliterates it rather than translates it
  • Peshitta - מיא, water
  • Vulgate - aquas calidas, hot water (ie, hot springs)
  • Targum Pseudo-Jonathan has a more free translation, and gives mules - וַעֲנָה הוּא עֲנָה דְאַרְבַּע יַת עֶדְרַיָא [צ"ל ערוציה] עִם אַתְנִי וְלִזְמַן אַשְׁכַּח יַת כּוּדְנַיְיתָא דִי נְפָקוּ מִנְהוֹן כַּד הֲוָה רָעֵי יַת חַמְרַיָיא לְצִבְעוֹן אָבוּי - he is Anah who coupled the onagers with the she‑asses, and after a time found mules which had come forth from them (see)
  • בראשית רבה- not a version, but a Jewish interpretation - here is the relevant quote for our purpose1 - חציו חמור וחציו סוס
What gives? What is it?

I don't know, but Jerome (who translated the Vulgate from Hebrew, which he had much knowledge of, instead of the Greek Septuagint. It was he among the Christians who introduced the concept of Hebraica veritas) has a very interesting comment on this verse, which I reproduce here:

Among the Hebrews there are many differing discussions about this verse; among the Greeks and ourselves, however, there is silence about it. Some people think that aimim refer to 'seas,' because 'seas' are written with the same letters as this word is in the present verse. And they maintain that while he was pasturing his father's asses in the wilderness, he discovered a gathering of waters which are called 'seas' according to the idiom of the Hebrew language: that is to say, he discovered a pool. The discovery of such a thing in the desert is difficult. Some think that this word means 'hot waters,' in accord with the near likeness of [a similar word in] the Carthaginian language which is closely related to Hebrew. There are those who think that wild asses were admitted by this man to the she-asses, and that he discovered this manner of mating, so that from them were born very swift asses which are called iamim. Most people think that he was the first who made herds of mares in the desert be mounted by asses so that new animals, called mules, should be born from this mating, contrary to nature. (From Saint Jerome's Hebrew Questions on Genesis by Robert Hayward. )

This is an important comment for several reasons. In addition to listing many of the interpretations given above, including the one he ultimately chose for his own translation (ie, hot spring) he also makes a observation about language, namely that the language of Carthage--Punic2--is cognate with Hebrew. In addition, if I understand correctly he seems to define the proper noun iamin in the Septuagint as referring to mules, and apparently attests that this was the dominant interpretation among the Jews, as it remains today (see Artscroll's Stone Chumash which translates as mules, following Genesis Rabbah, Targum Yonathan, Rashi, the King James Version and possibly the Septuagint, according to Jerome).

1 Here is the complete, and interesting, passage (Gen. Rabbah Vayishlakh 82:15): ואלה בני צבעון ואיה וגו' ואלה בני צבעון ואיה וענה מה ראה הכתוב לכתוב ענה ענה תרי זמני תרי נינהו, לעולם חד הוא אלא שבא צבעון על אמו והולידה ענה, ונעשה בן ענה ובן צבעון ובן שעיר מ"מ חד הוא, תני האש והכלאים לא נבראו בששת ימי בראשית אבל עלו במחשבה להבראות, כלאים אימתי נבראו בימי ענה, הה"ד (בראשית לו) הוא ענה אשר מצא את הימים במדבר, ר' יהודה בר סימון אמר המיונס, רבנן אמרי המיסו, חציו חמור וחציו סוס, ואלו הן הסימנין א"ר יונה כל שאזניו קטנות אמו סוסה ואביו חמור, גדולות אמו חמורה ואביו סוס, ר' מנא הוה מפקד לאלין דבי נשיאה דיהון זבנין מן אלין דאודניהון דקיקין מפני שאמו סוסה ואביו חמור, מה עשה ענה הביא חמורה וזיווג לה סוס זכר יצאת ממנו פרדה, א"ל הקב"ה אני לא בראתי דבר של היזק ואתה בראת דבר של היזק, חייך שאני בורא לך דבר של היזק, מה עשה הביא חכינא וזיווג לה חרדון ויצאת מהם חברבר, מעולם לא אמר אדם שנשכו כלב שוטה וחיה, חברבר וחיה, פרדה לבנה וחיה, האש, ר' לוי בשם ר' נזירא שלשים וששה שעות שמשה אותה האורה, י"ב של ערב שבת, וי"ב של לילי שבת, וי"ב של שבת, וכיון ששקעה חמה בלילי שבת בקש הקב"ה לגנוז את האורה וחלק כבוד לשבת, הה"ד (שם /בראשית/ ב) ויברך אלהים את יום השביעי, במה ברכו באורה, וכיון ששקעה חמה בלילי שבת והתחילה אורה משמשת התחילו הכל מקלסים להקב"ה, הה"ד (איוב לז) תחת כל השמים ישרהו, מפני מה ואורו על כנפות הארץ, וכיון ששקעה חמה במוצאי שבת התחיל החשך ממשמש ובא ונתיירא אדם הראשון, דכתיב (תהלים קלט) ואומר אך חושך ישופני, מה עשה לו הקב"ה זימן שני רעפים והקישן זה לזה ויצאה האור ובירך עליה, הה"ד (שם /תהלים קל"ט/) ולילה אור בעדני, אתיא כדשמואל מפני מה מברכים על הנר במוצאי שבת, הואיל ותחלת ברייתו, ר"ה בשם ר' יוחנן אף מוצאי יום הכפורים מברכין עליו מפני ששבת האור כל אותו היום

2 See also.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Geniza doodles at JRUL

Manuscript Boy notes that the Johny Rylands University Library now has nearly 4000 Geniza fragments online (link).

Lots of interesting things. Looks like kids had to write lines a long time ago:

Maybe it's because of doodling:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Judeo-Arabic history of Hebrew grammar and Bible study

Here is an interesting bit of Judeo-Arabic from an anonymous Hebrew grammatical work of the 9th or 10th century:1

ג' פצ'איל כאנת לישראל פי ג' מואצ'ע ואנבסטת פי אלעמה פמנהא לגה אלדקדוק וג'ידה אלתפסיר פמנהא כ'רג' אללה מן אצפהאן ואלג'דל ואלנט'ר אלחסן כאן אצלה מן אלעראק ואלקראן אלפאכ'ר אלחסן אצלה מן נחלת נפתלי והו מדינה טבריה

Israel had three excellent assets in three place, from which they spread among the (rest) of the people. These include the discipline of diqduq2 and the excellence of exegesis, which God brought from Isfahan. The origin of dialectic and fine logic was in Iraq. The supremely beautiful reading of the Bible had its origin in the inheritance of Naphtali, which is in the town of Tiberias.

1In Jacob Mann, "On the Terminology of the early Massorites and Grammarians," pp.437-445, "Oriental Studies Published in Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of Paul Haupt as director of the Oriental Seminary of the Johns Hopkins University," 1926.

2 Geoffrey Khan quotes this in his "The Early Karaite Tradition of Hebrew Grammatical Thought: Including a Critical Edition, Translation and Analysis of the Diqduq of Abu Yaqub Yusuf Ibn Nuh on the Hagiographa" and adds a note on this reading: The reading that is given by Mann לגה אלדקדוק is difficult to construe, perhaps the original text read אללגה ואלדקדוק 'lexicography and grammar.'

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On the meaning and origin of halakhah, Hebrew or Aramaic?

What is the etymology of halakhah?

The meaning of הלכה is understood to mean משפט and דת, to use the definition supplied by R. Elijah Levita in his תשבי. It was usually understood to be derived from the Hebrew root הלך, to go.

(For an ancient source, see Targum Onkelos, which sometimes translates the term משפט as הלכתא. For example, it translates Gen. 40:13's כַּמִּשְׁפָּט הָרִאשׁוֹן as כהלכתא קדמיתא, Ex. 21:9's כְּמִשְׁפַּט הַבָּנוֹת as כהלכת בנת ישראל , but Ex. 21:1's וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים is translated as ואלין דיניא.)

The question is, how did a root meaning to go turn into the term for Jewish law? Or did it?

There is an interesting footnote in R. Saul Lieberman's essay on the "publication of the mishnah"1 in Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, pg.83-84. I present it below:

As you can see, he notes that in the Aramaic portion of Ezra there is a term הֲלָךְ which meant toll.2 Gesenius identified Ezra's הֲלָךְ with ilku from the Babylonian for tax. Furthermore, in Aramaic a land tax was called הלכתא.

In short, the word halakhah (in Hebraized form) may have Aramaic roots in the sense of a fixed rule, from a fixed land tax.

Incidentally, what R. Lieberman calls its Latin equivalent, regula, R. Elijah Levita gives לייציון as the לע"ז. I'm assuming he meant German? Although it does look vaguely French. A European Latin legal term? Does anyone know what לייציון refers to?

1 I believe he deliberately used the term "publication" anachronistically, to buttress his view that the mishnah remained oral, rather than written, and could be "published" in that form. See Menachem Mendel's here and here.

2 He called it tax, but I simply went with the 1917 JPS's "toll," as per my practice to use that translation unless I have a specific reason not to.

3 In case you are wondering why I restate his comments which are in the image, it's because I want the discussion to be archived by search engines.

Friday, November 09, 2007

It's a generation thing: orphaned sayings of the Sages pt. I

I once posted about what I call a lucky midrash.

I thought it might be interesting to occasionally point some things which have gone overlooked.


יפתח בדורו כשמואל בדורו
Jepthah in his generation is like Samuel in his generation


ירובעל בדורו כמשה בדורו
Jerubaal in his generation is like Moses in his generation

(Honorable mention (unlucky): בדן בדורו כאהרן בדורו
Bedan in his generation is like Aaron in his generation -- all from Rosh Hashana 25b)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Hebrew &c.

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda is sort of in the news again, being that UNESCO announced that he, along with Darwin and the Maharal, among others (link) would be included in a list of contributors to civilization.

As an aside, let me just make my view clear: he was not the "creator" of modern Hebrew, so no need to tell me that. Yes, he was elevated as a symbol, but his contribution to the revival was real and important. So without overstating things, and without understating things.

Couple of tidbits:

From a interview conducted in 2000 with Dola Wittmann, Ben-Yehuda's daughter:

Dola lit up when I asked her if Ben-Yehuda had a sense of humor when he created the modern language. "Oh, yes, definitely! There are many examples of whimsy in his choice of words." For example? She laughed. "Clitoris. He decided on דגדגן dagdegan, from the root לדגדג l'dagdeg, to tickle."

Dola died in January of 2005. Yes, she was over 100 year old--but being whose daughter she was, it sort of puts time into perspective. Her father's famous activity took place in the late 19th and early 20th century. Not so long ago after all.

The following is an interesting excerpt from the chapter called "The Debate Over Hebrew," in Guardian of Jerusalem, the Artscroll biography of R. Chaim Sonnenfeld (which was based on the three volume biography of R. Chaim, האיש על החומה, by his grandson Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld).

Read the whole thing, but I want to highlight the bit which I'll type below:

The footnote to the story of the exchange between R. Shmuel Salant and Ben-Yehuda:

Ben-Yehuda replied hotly to this statement saying, "What kind of shtusim (nonsense - in Yiddish) are you speaking!" R' Shmuel smiled and immediately corrected the famous grammarian, "shtuyot is the proper Hebrew form of the word ..."

and the following footnote:

R' Moshe Blau related in his book: "My revered father-in-law, R' Yaakov Orenstein, was a fiery zealot on behalf of Orthodox causes yet also an extremely pleasant person. Once, while R' Yaakov was delivering a shiur, someone entered and whispered something to him. R' Yaakov interrupted the shiur and stepped outside. When he returned, he explained that Ben-Yehudah had been standing outside, waiting to ask him the meaning of the word amin which appears in the Talmud, Zevachim 40b.1 R' Yaakov maintained that it was a kiddush Hashem for a Yiddish-speaking rav to explain to Ben-Yehuda the meaning of a Hebrew word that he, the famous Hebrew lexicographer, could not fathom."

These may well be completely accurate. The first story is not surprising; Ben Yehuda thought in Yiddish, obviously. Secondly, even great scholars make mistakes. The point of the story is evidently that Ben Yehuda did not know the proper form of the word, but of course he did.

The second story has all the earmarks of a classic (important person summons the hero whilst a crowd waits, and the hero dazzles the important person), but it too is probably essentially true. Of course Ben Yehuda sought the views of traditional Jews and rabbis. Apart from being sound on linguistic grounds, it is also a mark of humility. The point of the story seems to be that Ben Yehuda "couldn't fathom" a Hebrew word. Whether true or not, the story also makes the point that Ben Yehuda could admit this fact and was indeed interested in hearing what truths could be taught about his beloved language wherever it could be taught.

When the Sages "couldn't fathom" Hebrew words they too had the humility, honesty (and keen language sense) to seek an explanation (see prior post which discusses a famous Talmudic passage about the Hebrew language).

In any case, the point of the stories seem also to promote that idea that Ben Yehuda really wasn't *that* great an expert in Hebrew, at least not as much as the traditional rabbonim. That's why it's a story. If R. Blau's father-in-law had went to Ben-Yehuda, that wouldn't have been a story (that is, repeated). It isn't a "story" that R. Benjamin Musaphia's מוסף הערוך used Buxtorf's lexicon to fathom words in Talmudic literature, nor is it a story that R. Hai Ga'on sought clarification for the meaning of a Hebrew from a Christian patriarch (see). Oh, wait. These are stories too. Just different people tell them. ;)

1 Speaking of the word in question, אמין, it's clear from the context that it's some kind of blemish or sore. Rashi translates it as וירוא"ה in Old French. Soncino translates as wart, (which is what וירוא"ה verrue means), Artscroll as blister. Why? I'm not sure, but in the printed texts Rashi does not read וירוא"ה, but וושיא"ה . This is a mistake. In the manuscripts Rashi says וירוא"ה. In fact, there is an earlier לעז on the page which is וושיא"ה. Evidently the printers made a mistake and repeated that, which is why this word appears twice in close proximity.

Have a look at the Bomberg 1520-23 edition:

I guess the preparers of the Artscroll did not see the earlier manuscripts, which Soncino based its translation on (or examine an
אוצר לעזי רש"י), and had to approximate a translation based on guesswork or another source.

I wish I had access to Ben-Yehuda's dictionary at the moment so that I could see what the man himself wrote, but I don't.2

Further reading:

  1. Menachem's post about the ban placed on R. Hayyim Hirschensohn for his association with Ben Yehuda.
  2. From the Language of G-d to the Language of the Devil: On the Struggle of Orthodoxy Against the Hebrew Language by Prof. Be´er Haim in BGU Review, Spring 2005.

תמונת אליעזר בן יהודה

EDIT (11/12/07):

2 I do now. Dave from Balashon was kind enough to send me Ben Yehuda's entry for אם, and here it is:

March of the Sa'ud

Sure, 8 billion blogs are going to post this, but this is special. :D

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Aramaic Sudoku

Try Nabatean or Estrangela if you're real hardcore.


Half-mud mice in the Mishnah and Google Books

So how cool is the internet? Ah, information.

I've already posted many cool finds from Google Books, but here is another wonderful illustration of how much information is rapidly becoming available instantly (if you know what to look for and how to look!).

There is a well known mishna (Cholin 9:6) which references an animal born through spontaneous generation:

שרץ שחצייו בשר וחצייו אדמה

Also mentioned in BT Sanhedrin 91a

עכבר שהיום חציו בשר וחציו אדמה

This is a rodent of some kind which is "half flesh and half earth." There is an abundance of literature on this, commentaries, discussions, etc. A wonderful overview by R. Natan Slifkin is here; it is also discussed in much more detail in his Mysterious Creatures.

One of the more famous comments is by R. Yisrael Lipschuetz in his commentary on the mishnah Tiferes Yisrael. It is this:

R. Slifkin already translated the relevant part, so here is his translation:

I have heard heretics mocking regarding the creature that is discussed here and in Sanhedrin 91a, and denying it, saying that there is no such thing at all. Therefore, I have seen fit to mention here that which I found written in a Western European work compiled by a scholar renowned amongst the scholars of the world. His name is Link, and the book is titled Urwelt. In Volume I, page 327, he writes that such a creature was found in Egypt in the district of Thebes, and that rodent is called, in the Egyptian language, dipus jaculus; and in the language of Ashkenaz it is called springmaus. Its forequarters – its head, chest and hands – are perfectly formed; but its hindquarters are still embedded in the earth, until after several days when it fully changes to flesh. And I say, “How great are Your works, Hashem!”

Look what Google Books does. Here is Heinrich Friedrich Link's Die Urwelt und das Alterthum from 1821.

nus Lotus Desfont bie gçpftfc e S3one Ne lumbium specioSum unb ba fogenannte эсо с iTêov гоа фешИф Arum Çolocosja batí SBorf fommt f ier nur attein t or tint ijî iefleic f au хоЛокаоча öerfhmunelt aß aber i ie &iere bort juerjl gebilîjft rourben beroeifet folgpnîjeêr fc einung n Débats fte i тан пат 1ф ju gf roiffrn Seiten eine foíc e Kenge unb fc fonïer bare 9 îâufe ertjorfommen baß man darüber er jïaunen mup benn einige fïnb am Sßorberi eiie on53ru îunï 5û en fe c roo gebilbet unb bemegen рф ber intert eii aber tfl поф ungebiíbet nnb at bie Statur ber rbfd o e 9Гиф menn SRihr affer паф ber 11е

True, you need to be able to read German (in gothic script, no less). But it took me about 10 second to find this.

(It is no matter that Dr. Shnayer Leiman showed that R. Lipschuetz misunderstood his source. However, it is worth noting that when Artscroll discusses this half flesh-half dirt mouse in its commentary to Cholin 127a they note that Tiferes Yisrael's reference is a mistake according to "modern scholars," "modern scholars" meaning "Dr. Shnayer Leiman.")

EDIT: On page 184 fn. 36 of Hellenism in Jewish Palestine,"The Natural Science of the Rabbis," R. Saul Lieberman writes: "Comp. also בועז in Mishna ed. Romm. The book referred to by the author is inaccessible to me."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The complete, accurate, original and authentic Vilna Romm Shas?

The following advertisement appeared in last week's Jewish Press:

What's interesting about this ad is the following under the heading "complete and accurate": "Each page has been thoroughly checked against the original Vilna-Romm Shas and retouched to enhance legibility and insure authenticity."

It's unclear to me what is meant by "authenticity." An authentic Shas or an authentic Vilna Shas?

There is an interesting sefer by by R. Dovid Cohen called העקוב למישור which tracks and correct printing errors in the original Vilna shas (Rashi and Tosfos included). Some of these were due to the usual suspects, graphic similarity of letters, dittography, haplography, etc. Interestingly, some were due to the Lithuanian pronunciation of Hebrew (or, Aramaic, as it were)! The typesetter would listen to someone read the text, and sometimes think another word was being read, for example, confusing a שׁ and a ס.

I wish I could supply examples, but I gave my copy to someone. In any case, there are hundreds of examples.

Many of these mistakes were long since corrected, so your gemara may well not reflect these errors. However, it seems to me that if this new version aims to match the "original Vilna-Romm Shas" for its "authenticity," then its barking up the wrong tree.

Are Hebrew Artscroll gemaras more revealing than English gemaras?

at What's Bothering Artscroll?


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