[b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)

Gabe Eisenstein gabe at cascadeaccess.com
Tue Jul 1 15:43:48 EDT 2008

If I have understood the very helpful comments of David, Yitzhak and 
Harold, I conclude:

1. Although the jussive rendering of "let him" is not possible for the 
Biblical text, it could have been intended by the rabbi (as a piece of 
2. The simple "his God will teach him" is also compatible with the 
standard reading (Israelites are rebellious and just want to avoid 
3. "His God will teach us" is also a possible reading, if we choose to 
leave the dagesh out of the nun in the Talmudic yorenu, and if we regard 
the shift from "him" (vav with nun energicum) to "us" (standard nun-vav 
suffix) as a piece of wordplay.

What Harold has shown me is that even in the case of "teach us", the 
assertion can still be understood as simple defiance, or in his words 
"daring God to teach them". (On the other hand, an interpretation more 
favorable to the Israelites would be opposed to reading "teach him", 
which would indeed indicate that they don't take responsibility even for 
their own inclinations.)

Therefore the translation is a matter of judgment and how one 
understands the Talmudic context. I assume that this is not the place 
for such argumentation. But I'll conclude with a few simple observations:

1. I regard the "Israelites" and "Knesset Yisrael" in the Talmudic 
passage as referring to all of us, not some "bad old Israelites" to whom 
we can feel morally superior.
2. The preceding gemara has suggested such a self-questioning 
perspective, as for example when Rav Ashi meets the bad old King 
Manasseh and discovers the king to be not only his superior in Torah 
scholarship but also in moral willpower. If Rav Ashi can't simply feel 
superior to Manasseh, then we can't simply feel superior to some 
"defiant Israelites" in a parable. Furthermore, the immediately 
preceding paragraph of the gemara concerns a context in Zechariah where 
the "Israelites" are the post-exilic audience who are going to reverse 
the bad behavior of their ancestors (as are we).
3. Harold's assertion that "the passage leads up to the discipline of 
the inclination" is questionable. What the passage more clearly leads up 
to is a request for instruction. Instead of defiance, we can just as 
well read it as an admission of the fact that we need God's help even 
for the carrying-out of repentance -- that even when it comes to sins 
that are clearly our own fault, we can't rely on ourselves alone to be 
able to overcome the feelings and misunderstandings that led to them. We 
need God even to find the way to God. Then the inclination to simple 
defiance can be harnessed and channeled into the kind of "challenge" to 
God that Abraham, Jacob and Moses engaged in.

That's how it strikes me anyway.

Thanks again,
Gabe Eisenstein
> Dear Gabe,
> Third-person pronominal suffixes augmented with nun are attached to the 
> long prefix verb (the future/imperfective) and not to the short prefix 
> verb (the jussive). Consequently, a jussive rendering like "let his God 
> teach him" is completely out of the question. The word order of 
> subject-verb with the prefix verb is also generally diagnostic of 
> indicative vis-a-vis modal.
> Regards,
> David Kummerow.

> I don't know why Soncino saw fit to translate it this way.  I also don't trust
> Artscroll.  But it seems that the only way to read the verse is "teach him."
> The direct context is the following little passage:
> The prophet said to Israel: Repent!
> Israel responded: We cannot overcome our evil inclinations which control us.
> The prophet said: Discipline (ysrw) your inclinations!
> Israel responded: "His god will teach him."
> The back-and-forth between Isaiah and Israel is Israel's refusal to take the
> prophets' advise and an attempt to throw the burden over to someone else.
> Furthermore, the passage leads up to the discipline of the inclination.  So
> that "teach him" is the only appropriate reading.
> Following David Kummerow's comments, I note that in Rabbinic Hebrew,
> the regular imperfect expressed wishes:
> http://books.google.com/books?id=OPQXid589wIC&pg=PA122&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=1_1&sig=ACfU3U1F3yustFFLMFtAcsa0QrIFLq7Vng#PPA124,M1
> If you search for jussives or tenses -
> http://books.google.com/books?ei=zXxpSMeiLaayjAHkh_TgBQ&id=OPQXid589wIC&dq=fernandez+rabbinic+hebrew&q=tenses+OR+jussive#search
> you can then look up some of the following pages which may also be of interest:
> 104, 105, 175.
> It therefore is rather sensible that a 3rd generation Talmudic authority would
> read the verse as such.
> Yitzhak Sapir
> ------------------------------
> Message: 7
> Date: Mon, 30 Jun 2008 21:30:26 -0500
> From: Harold Holmyard <hholmyard3 at earthlink.net>
> Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)
> To: "b-hebrew-lists.ibiblio.org" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
> Message-ID: <486996C2.5000404 at earthlink.net>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed
> Gabe,
>> Your reading seems to be the standard one, in thinking that the point is 
>> just to illustrate the unrepentant and defiant nature of the Israelites 
>> (that's us!). And if that's all there is to it, you are right that 
>> there's no need to translate R.b.b.Hana's yorenu as "teach us" rather 
>> than "teach him" (as we agree to translate it in Isaiah). Nonetheless 
>> Soncino saw fit to translate "teach us" -- why?
> HH: The reason would be a word play. The original comment is made about 
> a farmer and his farming.
> So the Israelites could take the forms of the words and make it a 
> statement about themselves, daring
> God to teach them. This really would amount to a declaration of unbelief 
> in the threats of divine
> judgment that Isaiah was making.

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