[b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)

Gabe Eisenstein gabe at cascadeaccess.com
Thu Jul 3 18:22:03 EDT 2008


Yitzhak,

I'm surprised at the vehemence of your rejection of my reading; and 
since you seem knowledgable and reasonable, I have to take that very 
vehemence into account. I am somewhat of an interloper, not only on this 
list, but in Jewish studies generally. My background is in philosophy. 
But I am finishing a 200-page book on the "3 bad kings" gemara. You 
would probably disagree with every page!

There is some basic miscommunication between us, though. You wrote: "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."
No, I have been saying all along that the Israelites need God to help 
them repent, and to tame the evil inclination. There is a paradox, if 
you will, in that we need God to "force us" to do that which is 
essentially a matter of free will and understanding.
--I am hoping that clearing up this misunderstanding will perhaps get us 
at least as far as agreeing to disagree.

When you say "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!", you seem to forget 
your own "moral", namely that humans can't do it on their own. They need 
more than just the "order".
As for your "narrow meaning" of yrh, although you are the expert, my 
concordance shows me several Biblical occurrences of yrh with a meaning 
of "teach" that requires extended conceptualization or linguistic 
utterance, such as Ex.4:12 (God will teach Moses what to say), Ex.24:12 
(Moses will teach all the laws and commandments), Ex.35:4 (Bezaleel 
given a heart to teach, filled with wisdom and understanding), 
1Sam.12:23 (teach you the good and right way). Agreed, it always has a 
sense of "instruct", in the sense of intending a practical outcome. But 
there may be further understanding needed to carry out the instruction. 
That's the understanding the people in the parable are awaiting, even 
after the prophet gives them the simple instruction (or order): "repent".

The difference between the positive and negative interpretations 
concerns whether we identify with or simply condem the "Israelites". As 
far as I can see, the Talmud is concerned with us and our own moral 
situation, not merely with some dead kings and lost tribes to whom we 
can feel morally superior. You say, "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." Setting aside the dagesh for a moment, 
what is that meaning? Harold argues for the point you seem to be making, 
namely that although Isa.28:26 refers to a farmer in a metaphor, the 
prophet presents a picture of Israelites as incorrigible, unwilling to 
listen, and using religious language in bad faith. The question here is: 
which Israelites does that include? All Israelites (including us)? All 
the Israelites of Isaiah's day? Or only some (both then and now)? 
Doesn't the ambiguity encourage us to examine the extent to which we may 
belong with the sinners, as well as the extent to which we may consider 
ourselves different from them? Don't we too need to repent?
The prophet (Isa.28:23) has just said "Give ear, and hear my voice; 
hearken, and hear my speech." Surely he thinks there is still hope for 
some of them (us) who might listen. Or do we not need to listen, because 
the sins and stubbornness all occurred in the ancient past, or in parables?

Let me venture into the Talmudic context just this far: the subsection 
of the gemara in which we find ourselves began with the question "Who 
enumerated the 3 kings?", and the answer that it was the men of the 
Great Assembly. This was followed by a parable in which the Assembly 
tries to include Solomon in the list, but encounters divine resistance. 
All the subsequent paragraphs represent variations on the "contesting 
with God" (or tradition) theme. Or you might call it the theme of 
"partnering with God", in the sense that both God and the Great Assembly 
have a say in what would otherwise seem to be a decision (who gets into 
the world to come) made only by God. (And by analogy, humans have to 
partner with God to understand the Torah -- to understand tradition 
through their own efforts of interpretation.) Similarly, the "doreshei 
reshumoth" take it upon themselves to pardon all the mishnah's condemned 
characters, not just Manasseh. [The larger section of which this 
subsection is a part concerns the fate of Manasseh, whose repentance was 
deemed genuine by R. Judah, following Chronicles, and by R. Yochanan, 
whose voice dominates this section. I take it that we all share in the 
ambiguous status of Manasseh.]
So the "Israelites" of the parable are parallel to the Great Assembly, 
to the Doreshei Reshumoth, and to the "Knesset Yisrael" in the time of 
Zechariah (those who are instructed to avoid the sins of the pre-exilic 
Judeans). None of these groups represents a merely defiant, stubborn, 
incorrigible attitude. None are groups to whom we should feel superior. 
Like R.Nahman (in the penultimate paragraph of the gemara), they seek 
confrontation and even chastisement for the sake of redemption.

One more technical question I'm not clear on: was the nun energicum 
construction still used in rabbinical Hebrew? If not, wouldn't that by 
itself easily lead to the wordplay that Soncino and I imagine?

On the subject of wordplay: I found it surprising that someone would say 
that a Biblical quotation in the Talmud must be read the same way as in 
its original context. What I have seen in my limited reading is that 
many rabbis were only too willing to change the plain sense of a 
Biblical word by attributing unobvious roots or even foreign-language 
derivations, giving unexpected vocalizations, and even switching letters 
around. They often pick out obscure expressions and phrases that make it 
easy to project their own teachings into the text. (Which I think is fine!)

I appreciate your friendly afterthought, despite the absolute wrongness 
of my view. Perhaps the strongest (only?) virtue of my wrong view is 
that it gives more credit to the Talmudic text, and especially to its 
editors, than a piecemeal reading that just sees examples of "defiance" 
without a deeper point.


Gabe Eisenstein


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> Today's Topics:
>
>    1. Re: yorenu (teach US) (Gabe Eisenstein)
>    2. Re: yorenu (teach US) (Harold Holmyard)
>    3. Re: yorenu (teach US) (Yitzhak Sapir)
>    4. Re: yorenu (teach US) (Yitzhak Sapir)
>    5. Re: code names in Numbers 13 (Yaakov Stein)
>    6. Re: yorenu (teach US) (K Randolph)
>
>
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> Message: 1
> Date: Wed, 02 Jul 2008 11:20:57 -0700
> From: Gabe Eisenstein <gabe at cascadeaccess.com>
> Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)
> To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> Message-ID: <486BC709.8030908 at cascadeaccess.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed
>
> Dear Yitzhak,
>
> 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.
>
> 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?
>
> 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.
>
> To explain again as briefly as possible: the Israelites could be saying 
> "teach us" because they seek God, seek to repent, despite their feeling 
> that they will be unable to do so without God's help. This fits in with 
> the general idea that "contesting with God" has a positive as well as a 
> negative form (the contextual theme). The other reason they say "us" is 
> because they recognize that the "he" or "it" that is the Evil 
> Inclination is itself an aspect of themselves (of all of US). --Does 
> this not at least make sense, even if it is wrong?
>
> 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.
>
> 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.
>
>
> Gabe Eisenstein
>   
>> On Tue, Jul 1, 2008 at 7:43 PM, Gabe Eisenstein wrote:
>>
>>   
>>     
>>> 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.
>>>     
>>>       
>> Dear Gabe,
>>
>> I see no way that "us" can be a possible reading in this verse.  Soncino
>> just translated incorrectly.  Let me point out that the sermon is apparently
>> found in Yalkut Shim(oni.  There it is related to Rabbi Abba bar Kahana:
>> http://www.tsel.org/torah/yalkutsh/yishayahu.html#A1514
>> In his commentary, Rashi also apparently relates this sermon to Rabbi
>> Abba bar Kahana and writes, "That is, a winning argument, that they
>> said - God will discipline, because we cannot discipline it."
>> The Shteinzaltz edition notes that Rabbi Yaacov ben Zvi of Emden
>> (????) commented on this verse.  Shteinzaltz writes "There are those who
>> explain this - throw it away -- from the verb yrh - shoot, that Israel said,
>> 'there is no solution to the inclination, unless God will throw it away.'"
>> Whether Rashi, or Yaacov ben Zvi, the reading is consistently "him."
>> There is no other way, in my opinion, to read the Talmudic passage
>> and make sense of it.
>>
>> Yitzhak Sapir
>>
>>
>>   
>>     
>
>
> ------------------------------
>
> Message: 2
> Date: Wed, 02 Jul 2008 14:58:18 -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: <486BDDDA.1040800 at earthlink.net>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252; format=flowed
>
> Gabe,
>   
>> To explain again as briefly as possible: the Israelites could be saying 
>> "teach us" because they seek God, seek to repent, despite their feeling 
>> that they will be unable to do so without God's help. This fits in with 
>> the general idea that "contesting with God" has a positive as well as a 
>> negative form (the contextual theme). The other reason they say "us" is 
>> because they recognize that the "he" or "it" that is the Evil 
>> Inclination is itself an aspect of themselves (of all of US). --Does 
>> this not at least make sense, even if it is wrong?
>>   
>>     
>
> HH: I think it makes sense if you view the Israelites as unbound in time 
> to Isaiah (dealing with the question why they are always backslidden) 
> and looking at the circumstances of Isaiah's Israel as indicative of the 
> role divine discipline has to amend the nation's ways, due to the sinful 
> nature (evil inclination). You quoted one pious comment from Sanhedrin 
> 105 that might go along with the idea.
>
> HH: Let me remind you, though, on the other side, of the comment made by 
> Isaiah's Israel to the prophet that was characterized by cynical, 
> unbelieving rebellion but which nonetheless used pious-sounding words:
>
> Is. 5:19 who say, ?Let him make haste,
> let him speed his work
> that we may see it;
> let the plan of the Holy One of Israel hasten to fulfillment,
> that we may know it!?
>
> HH: The context shows that this was rebellious unbelief. Ahaz reflected that
> spirit of false piety when he said:
>
> Is. 7:12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to 
> the test.
>
> HH: And Isaiah speaks of the false words elsewhere:
>
> Is. 29:13 The Lord said:
> Because these people draw near with their mouths
> and honor me with their lips,
> while their hearts are far from me,
> and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;
>
> Yours,
> Harold Holmyard
>
>
>
>
> ------------------------------
>
> Message: 3
> Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2008 00:47:46 +0000
> From: "Yitzhak Sapir" <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)
> To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> Message-ID:
> 	<e6ea6c000807021747o68a5509fh67d3f10eef3e3f8b at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
>
> 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
>
>
> ------------------------------
>
> Message: 4
> Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2008 03:23:56 +0000
> From: "Yitzhak Sapir" <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)
> To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> Message-ID:
> 	<e6ea6c000807022023j1108bc0fy8189c5090f41dd89 at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
>
> On Thu, Jul 3, 2008 at 12:47 AM, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:
>   
>> 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.
>>     
>
> I want to add that while I do think you are wrong, mistaken, and misled, and I
> also personally don't see here room to agree to disagree, I do not want this to
> be taken the wrong way.  I think any attempt to try to discern the deeper or
> more complete meaning in such a passage is worthwhile, and like I said,
> some passages may indeed be found to have a better and different meaning
> than the traditional interpretation.  While I don't think this is the case here,
> I think the very attempt at trying allows us to find those cases where it does
> work out in the end.  Since you asked, I wanted to impress upon you just
> how impossible I see your reading of the passage.  But it is is a free world,
> and you of course can read it your way even if I think it is impossible and
> incorrect.
>
> Yitzhak Sapir
>
>
> ------------------------------
>
> Message: 5
> Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2008 18:09:32 +0300
> From: "Yaakov Stein" <yaakov_s at rad.com>
> Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] code names in Numbers 13
> To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
> Message-ID:
> 	<457D36D9D89B5B47BC06DA869B1C815D07D243BC at exrad3.ad.rad.co.il>
> Content-Type: text/plain;	charset="us-ascii"
>
>  
> 1. $AMU(A BEN ZAKUR.  A good listener and good at remembering what he
> hears.
> 2. $APAT BEN XORI. Of good judgement and a noble father.
> 3. CALEB BEN YEPUNEH. CALEB  = C-EL-AB has nothing to do with dog.  
> Turns, like his father, to YA. Methinks that CALEB is a variant of LEVI
> = EL-AB-HI). I also hold it possible that the L in LABAN, LE)AH and
> RAXEL are also of such an indication.
> 4. YIG)AL BEN YOSEP. Good at extricating and deliverance.
> 5. HO$E(A BIN NUN. Trusts God for help.
> 6. PALTI BEN RAPU(. Good at sneaking and evasion.
> 7. GADIEL BEN SODI. Attached, )AGUD, to God and good at covert missions.
> 8. GADI BEN SUSI. Good with horses.
> 9. (AMIEL BEN GMALI. Good with camels.
> 10. STUR BEN MIKAEL. Good at concealing.
> 11. NAXBI BEN WAPSI. Good at hiding, namely NA-XBI).
> 12. G(UEL BEN MAKI. Trusts in God's might, GE)UT, but otherwise modest,
> or not too tall, like his father.
>
> Isaac 
>
> Thanks for the interesting interpretation of the names.
>
> I wouldn't rule out CALEB being "dog". We have a horse and a camel in
> the same list.
> The name ZEEV also appears as a king's name,
> and the prefix ARI appears in names as well.  In later Hebrew the name
> DOV is common.
> As a woman's name we have RXL (yes, I saw your interpretation) and CPRH.
> So the "strong" animals are OK as names - and we even have a king's
> father named (KBOR !
>
> Yaakov (J) Stein
>
>
> ------------------------------
>
> Message: 6
> Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2008 08:24:38 -0700
> From: "K Randolph" <kwrandolph at gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)
> To: b-hebrew <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
> Message-ID:
> 	<acd782170807030824r11f5f57y9e4bd568cf3ace9f at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8
>
> Gabe:
>
> On Wed, Jul 2, 2008 at 11:20 AM, Gabe Eisenstein <gabe at cascadeaccess.com>
> wrote:
>
>   
>> Dear Yitzhak,
>>
>> ?
>> 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.
>>
>>
>> Gabe Eisenstein
>>     
>
>
> As someone who concerns himself with lexicography, your reference book is
> wrong. YRH is used in the qal for the throwing or shooting forth of physical
> objects, such as pharaoh's army in the sea, lots or arrows, and in the
> hiphil for the shooting forth of both physical objects, such as arrows,
> rain, etc. as well as metaphorically shooting forth of ideas and teachings.
>
> To make sure I got it correct, I double checked my concordance as I wrote
> this note.
>
> Karl W. Randolph.
>
> ------------------------------
>
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