reading unpointed Hebrew text, was [b-hebrew] Isaiah 53:8

Moshe Shulman mshulman at
Fri Dec 17 10:29:28 EST 2004

At 11:17 AM 12/17/2004 +0000, Peter Kirk wrote:
>But can you honestly say that you would be able to read with full 
>understanding, and no ambiguity, an unpointed biblical Hebrew text with 
>which you had no previous familiarity, and which included some rather 
>difficult words and constructions? I'm not sure how good an example this 
>is, but what about the book of Sirach, if you are not already familiar 
>with it? Or newly released Dead Sea Scrolls? Of course here you have to 
>allow for a little language change. But are there not material 
>uncertainties in the readings of such texts because they are preserved (at 
>least in Hebrew) only in unpointed form?
>In other words, is your fluency more a tribute to your excellent Bible 
>knowledge than to your ability to read the text?

It has to do primarily with the familiarity one has with the language. I 
probably read more unvoweled Hebrew (Rabbinic Hebrew) in one week then the 
normal student gets in a few years of classes. It should also be noted that 
the style of the writer has a lot to do with it. Ibn Tibbon who translated 
Maimonides, for example, has a very burdensome Hebrew which is more 
difficult to read then some other works. (I assume they didn't have writing 
classes in those days. <G> Although I think he writes more like 
scholars.)  That is not because of the period of time in which he 
lived.  R. Kolonimus Kalman of Piesezna has a more difficult style of 
Hebrew then Rabbi Aharon Roth of Jerusalem, even though they lived at the 
same time and wrote on similar subjects.

The DSS is an interesting issue. As you are probably aware it is neither 
the same as Biblical or Rabbinic Hebrew. Many anomalies of spelling exist. 
It takes time to get used to, much like the difference between the 
Jerusalem and Babylonian talmud.

Moshe Shulman   outreach at 718-436-7705
Judaism's Answer:
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