Thursday, January 05, 2006

This is a devar Torah?

Peretz Rodman writes in the Forward about a textual issue related to this week's parasha.
... Verse 21 informs us: "And the population: He removed (he'evir) it (le'arim) from one end of the territory of Egypt to the other." Our first hurdle is le'arim: Should we read it woodenly as "to the cities," describing a population transfer — moving the farmers from the parched fields into the cities?...

...There is another possible understanding of the verse, not found in any traditional Jewish commentary because it relies on a reading different from that of the traditional text of the Torah...

...The Samaritan version of the Torah has a slightly different wording of verse 21, and the Jews' Greek translation, the Septuagint, reflects that same wording. There, Joseph is said not to transfer the populace to cities but to subjugate them as slaves: he'evid instead of he'evir (a simple shift of one letter to another shaped very similarly) and la'avadim instead of le'arim (the same shift with another letter added). The advantage of this reading is that it picks up on the people's own language in verse 19, cited above, when they offered themselves as chattel in exchange for sustenance. But Joseph's actions are now even more repugnant: He doesn't just resettle them, he makes them into serfs....

...Whatever the "correct" version of our verse, Joseph's actions can hardly be thought meritorious. Our narrator tried earlier to get us to focus on the lifesaving genius of Joseph's 14-year plan for food storage and distribution. Now he has to admit — tacitly, as good narrators do — that Joseph also engaged in profiteering and exploitation on a grand scale...
This is a very nice Historical-Critical vort and an editorial. But this is a devar Torah?


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