[b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sat Jul 5 19:44:25 EDT 2008

Dear Gabe,

Friendly note -- please don't quote the entire digest when you reply.

I'm surprised you are surprised at my "vehemence" of the rejection of your
reading.  It was already clear in the very first response to you that I clearly
absolutely see no way to read it your way.  I said, quite succinctly, "it
seems that the only way to read the verse is 'teach him.'"  I followed up
later with "I see no way that 'us' can be a possible reading in this verse."
You then turned this into - "you aren't saying that my reading is
grammatically impossible, only that my interpretation makes no sense of
the passage."  In other words, "no way that 'us' can be a possible reading
in this verse" turned into "grammatically possible, but not semantically
possible."  I don't know about Abba bar Kahana, as he isn't alive today,
but I don't like my words being subverted.  I don't want to say "there is
no way that you can read it as X" and then be quoted later by you as
saying "Yitzhak said that it is grammatically possible to read it as X."
In light of this direction you were taking, I felt a need to impress upon you
clearly just how wrong and incorrect I see your reading of the passage.

Let us now go into grammar, since it came up.  The original reconstruction
of the verb way back when before Hebrew is:
'us' - yhawrayunu: (possibly with an additional a between the first 2
'him' - yhawrayunnu (same)
(the : marks length of the vowel)
Now the following took place:
1) aw became o:
2) yh became y
3) In a series of two short open vowels, CvCv, the second dropped,
giving rayu > ray.
Possibly, there was an analogy here from the non-suffixed forms where
final short
vowels dropped.
4) ay became e
5) vowels in open syllables were lengthened
All this ended up giving:
yo:re:nu: and yo:rennu:
The only difference now is the gemination and the long vs. short e (tsere).
In Tiberian Hebrew, short e became seghol, although in other dialects, such
as Babylonian, the two remained the same and were only different in length.
That brings us to where we are now.

It is important to understand this because in Biblical Hebrew, long e:
is marked with
a yodh.  There is no yodh in the Bible here.  In fact, not even
manuscipts like the
Isaiah scroll have a yodh in there.  The Septuagint seems to read it
from the verb rnn
which would indicate that they read gemination in the nun.  In other words, the
tradition about gemination in the nun goes way back.  We would only
see gemination
in vocalized manuscripts, but in fact, any consonantal text will show
a -y- in case there
wasn't gemination.  This practice also remained in Mishnaic Hebrew.
See for example
here, the Kaufman manuscript on Nedarim 4:7.  The Kaufman manuscript
is considered
to be the best representative of Israeli tradition of the Mishnah:
http://tinyurl.com/kaufman-nedarim-4-7 (it is in the left column seven
lines down)
This should also answer your question about the use of "nun energicum"
in later Hebrew.
A little background on the Kaufman manuscript is available here in Hebrew:

Let us look now at manuscript copies of the Talmud:
http://jnul.huji.ac.il/dl/talmud/MnuImages/N2673/w/0097v.jpg (six lines down)
http://tinyurl.com/firenze-sanhedrin-105a (left column, four lines down)
Note that these Talmud manuscripts both refer to R' Abba bar Kahana.
The first vocalizes ycrkm to make it clear that it is a singular.  It
seems to me this would
make sense only if ywrnw is to be read with "him."  It would make no
sense if ycr were
plural.  The second manuscript has a -y-.  However, you have to
remember that this is
Babylonian vocalization here.  In here, the only difference between
the two words was the
length of the vowel.  It was still the same vowel.  We see it spells a
-y- also in the quote
from the Bible, in ycrykm.  Additionally, the manuscript drops the
final -w- of ysrw and
uses a contraction Rabba for Rav Abba.  All in all, it seems the first
manuscript is clear
that it refers to a singular "him" or else it would have had a -y-.
The second manuscript
is not so clear but this is probably just an indication of its rather
later orthography
(compared to the first) where it simply substitutes -y- for tsere.

So much for grammar.  Now some other notes:

I don't know what book you refer to on the "3 kings" gemara, but I can't say
I would disagree without having read it first or at least read a review or
abstract of the thesis.

As far as your moral that you want to suggest, Abba bar Kahana's sermon
says that Israel cannot at all remove the evil inclination, not with God's
guidance, only God can tell him to leave (or alternatively, throw him away).
You want it to say that Israel can remove it, but they only need guidance.
The bottom line in your moral is that Israel can remove it, and the bottom
line of Abba bar Kahana's sermon is that Israel cannot remove it.  They
are diametrically opposed.  It is not clear at all that Abba bar Kahana would
agree with you that removing the evil inclination is "a matter of free will and
understanding."  Why do you take it as a given?

> 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".

No, I don't read the moral or interpret the moral without first
understanding the
passage.  Here, I show how using the sense "us" leads to an unworkable
understanding of the passage.  Thus, I cannot proceed to understanding the
moral.  Different understandings of the passage will lead to different
understandings of the moral of the passage.  I don't take the moral as a given
and try to make the passage fit the moral.

All your examples of yrh still show a very narrow sense of "command."  I
would be open to altering my interpretation, as it is based also on its sense
in modern Hebrew, yet the examples I looked at seem to confirm this.  It is
also instructive to see the sense as it is used in Rabbinic Hebrew.

> The difference between the positive and negative interpretations

Why do you label one as positive and one as negative?

> 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?"

No, the Talmud begins with the context of page 92b where the section of
Rabbi Yehuda's indication of Manasseh's repentance is discussed.  From
there until the section of 95a (slightly after your quote) is a unit discussing
this portion of the Mishnah.  It must be read together.  On page 95a, there
are several parables.  One appears to be an argument between Rav and
Shmuel on the interpretation of a verse.  Another is Rav Nahman's
interpretation of a different verse.  The final one is Rabbi Abba bar Kahana's
interpretation of a third verse (the section in discussion).  Masoreth Hashas
refers us to quotes of these various passages elsewhere.  In general, they
are given in historical order: Rav and Shmuel (Babylonian, 1st generation),
Rav Nahman is a 2nd generation and student of Shmuel.  Rabbi Abba
bar Kahana is from Israel and 3rd generation.  Rav/Shmuel and Nahman
work together to suggest that there may have been a tradition of
interpretation here.  Rav vs. Shmuel debated some verse, and Rav Nahman
added to it.  But Abba bar Kahana's appearance is odd because he has no
direct relationship (as a student, or son, etc) to Rav Nahman, and is located
in a different country.  He is also not an Halachic authority but more of a
sermon preacher.  It would seem then, that the Gemara had a tradition
about Rav, Shmuel, and Rav Nahman.  Rav Nahman's sermon has a very
direct message -- God is forcing himself upon Israel.  The question is, what
happened?  Why does God need to force him upon us?  This question,
asked apparently by the Gemara's editors, was answered with Rav Abba
bar Kahana's sermon -- Israel cannot do it themselves, and when God
orders them to, they require God to do it.  Your suggested moral would
not work with Rav Nahman's sermon.  You can't explain why it comes
right after Rav Nahman's sermon.  This is probably why you have to go
further back to find your context.

> 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?

Imagine is a good term.

> 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!)

Give us examples where the interpretation is not explicit in the Rabbis'

> 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.

I think the problem is that you tend to believe only your reading will give
a deeper point.

Yitzhak Sapir

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