Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Camel, The Hare, And The Hyrax V


The author of the critique writes: "I squarely deal with the issue of the Torah -via the Talmud- claiming knowledge of an exhaustive list of animals with one kosher sign."

Whatever. Not worth debating.


I had written that "[t]he author states that the identification of the shesu'ah as a separate creature is part of the Oral Torah and cannot be denied."

He responds: "This is not my personal opinion. It is of Rashi on Chumash..."

Nowhere does Rashi state that it is a part of the Oral Torah.


I had explained that there is a specific category of Torah explanations that have been received from Sinai and which tell us exactly what the Torah means in a specific instance. We are not allowed to deviate from that explanation and offer alternatives. However, when lacking such a tradition, we are free to offer different ways to explain the text (see this post for more on that).

The author claims that the explanation of the Gemara of the term "shesu'ah" as a distinct creature was received from Sinai and is the definitive meaning of the term. No alternatives may be offered.

I countered, basing myself on R. Slifkin's book, that the fact that Targum Onkelos translates "shesu'ah" as an adjective rather than a noun -- i.e. deviates from the supposed Sinaitic explanation of the Scriptural term -- indicates that the explanation was not received at Sinai. If it were, how could Onkelos deviate from the tradition?

The author responds that Onkelos is no proof: "This is patently false. The mother of all perushim mekubalim has got to be "Ayin Tachas Ayin" which Onkelos consistently translates as "an eye instead of a eye". No mention of monetary compensation anywhere! Onkelos consistently translates the most literal meaning possible except for poetic or clearly metaphoric passages. He is simply translating from Hebrew to Aramaic and totally ignores any meanings received by the oral tradition."

However, there is a difference. Regarding "An eye for an eye" (Ex. 21:24), which the Sinaitic tradition explains means "The monetary value of an eye for an eye," Onkelos merely translates literally without adding in the received elaboration. He is simply taking the Hebrew words and turning them into Aramaic words. This is ignoring the tradition and leaving in the ambiguity that is present in the Hebrew.

Here, however, Onkelos is not just ignoring the received tradition; he is deviating from it. The tradition -- or what the author of the critique claims is a tradition -- is that the word "shesu'ah" means a creature that has two backs and two spines. Onkelos does not leave in the ambiguity of the Hebrew by leaving the word as "shesu'ah" or finding an Aramaic equivalent of the animal. Rather, Onkelos renders it as an adjective describing the preceding sign of cloven hooves -- "fully separate" -- and not as an animal in itself. Onkelos here does not ignore the supposed tradition; he contradicts it. That, it would seem, is highly problematic to the author's thesis. Had Onkelos truly believed that the meaning of the word "shesu'ah" is a specific animal, he should have left it as a noun and not rendered it as an adjective, thereby totally changing its meaning.

Furthermore, the report in the name of R. Moshe Meiselman -- "Rav Meiselman explained that Targum Onkelos was written before the dispensation of Rabi Yehudah HaNasi to make public written records of the Oral traditions that explain the written Torah. Onkelos had to confine himself for the most part to literal translation come what may." -- even though it is entirely consistent with what R. Slifkin wrote, and setting aside the debatable assumptions underlying the thesis (Targum Onkelos was written, in a form that is prohibited, and includes Oral Torah in a prohbitied context), is difficult for me to reconcile with the report by R. Hershel Schachter in the name of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik regarding the punctuation of the 13 Scriptural attributes of God (see Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 289-290). See also Peri To'ar 87:1 and R. Menachem Genack, "Basar Be-Halav Bi-Vesar Nevelah" in Mesorah, no. 3 (Nisan 5750) pp. 94-95 who implicitly reject this thesis.


I had written in my previous post that R. Slifkin believes that the Gemara's explanation of "shesu'ah" is either one of many possible peshat explanations or an explanation on the level of derash. R. Slifkin has since clarified his position on his website (here, scroll down). He has clarified that he was arguing the latter, that the Gemara is offering a derash. He also cites the Netziv, who in his commentary Ha'amek Davar (Deut. 14:7) offers the same explanation and even explicitly states that his is peshat and the well-known explanation in the Gemara is derash. According to the author of the critique, the Netziv -- the great Volozhiner rosh yeshivah -- has contradicted a received tradition from Sinai and is a heretic.

I should go further in arguing with this critic, but the time is late and I have to finish my sukkah. Od hazon la-mo'ed.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More