[b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Jul 2 20:47:46 EDT 2008

Dear Gabe,

I'm answering you because you still asked for my opinions on various subjects.
But I'm getting the feeling that you just are insistent on your own personal
interpretation and in this case I can only say I disagree and think you are
misleading yourself in understanding the Talmudic passage.

On Wed, Jul 2, 2008 at 6:20 PM, Gabe Eisenstein wrote:

> Thanks for your time, and for the references.  They reinforce the fact
> that what I called the standard interpretation of the line is quite
> standard. The connection to R. Abba bar Kahana, closer in time to Rabbah
> b. Bar Hana than Rashi or Yalkut, also seems to be a point in your favor.

Rabba b. Bar Hana is probably a misreading or corruption of Abba bar Kahana.
Yalkut Shimoni and Rashi both date approx. to the 11th centuries.  The
Talmud probably dates, as we have it, to the 8th-9th century.  As such, all
are relatively late sources quoting a much earlier 3rd-4th century authority.
The significance of Rashi, however, is that it tends to indicate that Rashi's
Talmud manuscript quoted R' Abba bar Kahana as well.  So both the Talmud
and Yalkut Shimoni quote this sermon in the name of R' Abba bar Kahana.
R' Abba bar Kahana is also associated with such Aggadic sermons.  Altogether,
the evidence is in favor of R' Abba bar Kahana as the source of the sermon.

> But just to be clear: you aren't saying that my reading is grammatically
> impossible, only that my interpretation makes no sense of the passage.
> Correct?

It is hard to argue that it is grammatically impossible.  If there is a dagesh
in the nun, then it is grammatically impossible.  However, this is a quote of
a Biblical verse.  It is likely, that even in a Talmudic manuscript with
vocalization (there are some), or in a Talmudic tradition with vocalization
(I think the Yemenite traditions do have vocalization), there would be a
dagesh, if only because this is what the Bible has.  On the other hand, the
Talmud does sometime have textual variants in its quotations of the Bible,
so it might have maintained a vocalization variant if it did.  It is similarly
reasonable, that Rashi did have access to authentic vocalization traditions
of the Talmud and/or Aggadah.  The lack of vocalization in current
manuscripts allows you the possibility to try to vocalize it differently.  Yet,
you cannot ignore the simple meaning of the passage as well as the
commentaries of earlier commentators.  Only the lack of a dagesh would
make your interpretation unlikely.  I think if this was the case, the sermon
would be more explicit, perhaps using an "al tiqre" terminology, "Don't read
yorenu, read yoreh otanu."

I also think that you are using yrh in a slightly more expanded meaning
than the Mishnaic sense of the word.  yrh does mean 'teach', but it means
it more in the sense of a direct instruction, a ruling, a commandment.
"Hora'at Sha(a" - as a term for an Halachic decision is appropriate here.
You are using it in a broader sense of 'teach' than this narrow meaning.
This is not exactly grammar, but it is still a linguistic criterion.

In the end, however, I think the Talmudic passage has only a simple sense
to go with.  You seem not to agree with this simple sense -- it bothers you.
The moral of the sermon seems to be that we as humans cannot eliminate
the bad intentions.  It is up to God to do that.  You want the sermon to
mean exactly the opposite.  I think you can only do this through a forced
reading of the sermon, one that is not in accord with any tradition or
previous interpretation, and which has going for it only the Soncino
translation, which may as well be a simple careless translation.  I want to
stress that it is possible that sometimes a passage can be understood
differently than previous interpretations, but I think this is not the
case here.
Nothing in the text seems to suggest a different reading or meaning than
the original Biblical verse, and in fact, it seems to me that everything in
the passage seems to suggest the exact same meaning.

> And your argument for this is that it disagrees with three traditional
> interpretations. You don't address the alleged sense of my
> interpretation, nor do you address the Talmudic context.

You wrote, "I find myself unsympathetic to the standard reading, because
it seems to me that the Talmudic context is to some extent describing the
virtue of "talking back" to tradition,  rather than demanding meek obeisance."
Well, what is talking back but this case, where the prophet, essentially God,
tells the people to repent and they say, we won't, we cannot?  But, now,
look at it another way, what is the sense of God (through a prophet) telling
the people to repent and they answer, only if God orders (the narrow
meaning of yrh) us to.  God just did order them to repent!  To the degree that
you explained the Talmudic context, it seems to me that it fits.  I haven't
looked at the Talmudic context in detail, and in fact, for me to do so means
I have to reconstruct the entire Talmudic chapter.

> The fact that Rashi calls it a "winning argument" would seem to conflict
> with the negative interpretation, even though he reads "him" rather than
> "us". (Unless you take "winning argument" in an ironic sense, as the
> Schottenstein does in the case of our passage at Sanhedrin 105a. They
> translate it as "defiant rejoinder" in this one case.) What I am saying
> is just that the "winning argument" has a positive aspect, which the
> "teach us" wordplay would reflect.

"Defiant rejoinder" is a better translation of Rashi's words.  Note
that "defiant"
here fits in with your suggested context for the Talmudic passage.

> The connection between YRH as "shoot" rather than "teach" [according to
> my reference book the former is for qal, the latter for hiphil] would
> also work for me, as being shot or struck can be a metaphor for a change
> in perspective or understanding, especially the radical change of
> repentance.

yrh 'shoot' in BH is also in Hiphil.  For example, 2 Samuel 11:24 has the
m- prefix on the participle, which is a good indication of the Hiphil.

Yitzhak Sapir

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