Thursday, March 22, 2012

How do you say "Extra soul" in Latin? A guest post on neshama yetera by Leor Jacobi

Ever wondered how to translate “Neshama Yeseira” into Latin?

Spiritu Excellentiori!

That's from the translation of Surenhusius (1664-1729) described here. He is translating the phrase as it appears in Rav Ovadia Bartenura six lines up from the bottom (click to enlarge and view the whole page).

Yes, he translated the entire Mishna, Rambam and Bartenura commentaries and then some. Here is the translation.

By the way, it appears that the Hebrew transliteration transliterated to English in common speech as "Bartenura" is in fact an accurate spelling of the name of the town in the regional dialect, as opposed to the “proper” Italian Bertinoro which many scholars insist upon. (So informs me Shemuel-Deborah Sa.)

The Talmud Bavli Betza 16a concludes that the gentiles know not of the nature of the Neshama Yeseira:

ואי בעית אימא: מתן שכרה נמי אודעינהו, נשמה יתירה לא אודעינהו

I leave it to the reader to decide to what extent this may apply to Surenhusius himself, the learned Christian translator.

It seems like his “rationalist” approach is in fact discussed by the Meiri:

הקדמה לבית הבחירה למאירי

וזה אצלי גם כן ענין נשמה יתירה יש בו באדם בשבת ולמוצאי שבת נטלה הימנו ואע"פ שהדברים נראים בתחלה דברי הבאי הם אמת ודבריהם אמת וכבר פירש בו זולתי שבאה מלת יתרה ליתרון מעלה לא ליתרון מספר כאלו אמר נשמה פנויה ומרווחת להתבודד על דרך נכון לא יבלבלהו דבר אבל אצלי לבאר יתרה ממש ליתרון מספר וכמו שכתוב בקצת הספרים להדיא שתי נפשות יש לו לאדם בשבת ולמוצאי שבת ניטלה אחת מהן והוא שכבר ידעת שנפש האדם עם היותה אחת תחלק לג' חלקים יאמר על כל אחת נפש עד שיאמר דרך העברה שיש לאדם ג' נפשות והם הצומחת והעיונית והמשכלת

בית הבחירה למאירי מסכת חולין דף סא עמוד א ומפרשים יתרה גדולה על הדרך שביארנו בנשמה יתרה והיא אמורה על אצבע האמצעית כלומר שיש להם שלש אצבעות והאמצעי הוא הגדול והנשר אין לו אלא שתים לפניו ואחת לאחריו

However, it seems highly doubtful that Rav Ovadia himself had this rationalist approach in mind since he felt no compunction in immediately before citing the even more mystical interpretation from Ta'anit 27b: “quia dies tertius est creationis hominis.”

Soon I hope to discuss Rambam's take on the Neshama Yeseira . . . the floor is open for sources.

Before I sent this post to S. I had asked some people if they could guess what "Spiritu Excellentiori" is in Hebrew.

Kudos to Marc Epstein who correctly guessed the Hebrew from the Latin translation! This is a good opportunity to mention his beautiful new book on the Medieval Haggadah, which in the first chapter alone solves the even greater riddle of the birds-heads and shows how a bright 10-year old kid can outsmart the whole scholarly community with his Hebrew Day School knowledge of Midrash. This is the all-time lomdus of coffee-table art books.

S. adds: Now would be a good time to mention that I, too, was struck by the very acute observation made by Epstein's son who successfully decoded an image in the famed Bird's Head Haggadah in a way that is very probably correct. Apparently not only was Epstein receiving נחת, but Leor and I were independently as well. I will save more discussion of that for my own review of his beautiful book.

As for Surenhusius (or Surenhuys, in his native Holland), although as I have posted before, he did not translate the entire Mishnah - he included whatever already existed in Latin translation, numbering a fine handful of tractates - the fact is that he did translate most of the Mishnah, along with the commentaries of the Rambam and Bartenora, as well as countless learned notes of his own. Not bad at all. And as long as we're talking about him, do you know how he translated Beit Hillel? Schola Hillelis. For some reason Shammai is still Schamai, not Schammeus. Here is my prior post on the Chida and his examination of the Latin Mishnah (link).

Finally, here are Leor's prior two guest posts: I, and II.


  1. Can we get to hear what the son uncovered, or will we be forced to buy the [all-time lomdus of coffee-table art] book?

  2. It would be nice if you did buy it, but I was planning on mentioning it in my review. Should I spill it now?

  3. One has to smile [or be disgusted] at Epstein's fawning over his son's supposed brilliance over the dumb acadmeics who preceded him, but I'm a little skeptical. In the first place, it appears from Epstein's description that only one pair of scholars was commenting on the Bird's head hagaddah specifically, while all the others were only addressing the genre (using animals for men) generally. I could be wrong, but that's they way it reads. If so, one cant really say that these scholars "missed it", they simply didnt see it.

    Also I'm not convinved the kid is right that the figures refer to Dasan and Aviram. What, because they're carrying weapons? Are any of the other egyptians shown carrying weapons? If so, there goes his proof, and there goes the theory that only Jews are depicted as birds.

    Not trying to knock the author down. Just saying it looks like he's playing up his kid a tad too much, and without examining the book ourselves, its hard to judge. Will wait for for your learned review.

    1. Hi DF, Epstein here! Thanks for your comments, and I hope I can clarify.

      1) Sorry to disgust you or to fawn (strong language!)— I intended neither, merely to point out that it is often a pair of fresh eyes that see things that others have missed, And by "others" I include myself. I was advocating for the fact that we as scholars need to have the humility to consider and take seriously new observations (including yours, I might add!) from wherever they emerge. I do, of course, love my son, but 'm sorry to say that Misha is no more brilliant or perceptive than anyone else—which is the point! The identification of these figures would, IMHO, have been obvious and not esoteric to Jews in Ashkenaz in 1300. It is lost on us because the inextricable link between midrash and scripture has been largely severed unless one learns them as intertwined, as Misha did in day school.Ironically, it is davka concerning this sort of unified midrashic consciousness that (some) day school parents complain vociferously ("These kids can't tell the midrash from the pshat—its because that darned teacher teaches all these aggados as if they came straight from the Torah!").

      2) The two Israelite figures in the entourage of Pharaoh bear not weapons (swords, shields), but implements of torture (a cudgel [not a kugel, although my Aunt Sadie's kugel could be classified as an instrument of torture] and a whip). So I humbly submit that my theory holds, especially in light of the midrashim that describe Datan and Aviram as urging Pharaoh on in his pursuit of Bnei Yisrael. I think the burden of proof of asserting that these bird-headed figures alone in the manuscript are NOT Bnei Yisrael lies with those who disagree.

      3) Finally, if you consider my complete argument (about hats and haplessness, and the fact that only Joseph, the enslaved Israelites and Datan and Aviram lack the hat of "full Jewish identification" since they represent three categories of Jews who are on the fringes of the community for a variety of reasons, it makes sense that D&A lack hats here.

      Please have a look at the book (and the footnotes!) and see if you still disagree about D&A. And thanks again for your careful consideration of this material. It's fascinating, is it not? See below for further....

  4. GroiseChoochem

    "c'mon, you can do it!"

    (I don't like the threaded thing, so I am replying here.)

    Basically in the Bird's Head Haggadah all the Bnei Yisrael have bird's heads (or, to be more accurate as he points out, sort of gryffin heads, as they are not really bird's heads at all), while the Mitzrim have normal heads (but blank faces). In one of the images you see a bunch of Mitzrim pursuing the Bnai Yisrael, however two of them (holding a whip and a mace) actually have bird's heads. Apparently no one ever tried to explain it, but when he showed it to his 10 year old son he immediately said that they are Dassan and Aviram about whom (if I am not mistaken) the Targum says they remained in Mitzrayim. Thus, the picture depicts them as pursuers along with the Mitzrim.

    DF, I don't know what the difference between "missing" and "not seeing" is. But I do know that it is nice to be proud of an astute remark from your kid, and it is also nice to take them seriously enough to publish it beshem omro, which would have been appropriate if a mature scholar had made that observation. No, I don't know if it certainly meant to depict Dathan and Aviram, but I do know that they certainly seem to be Bnai Yisrael based on every other depiction, and it cries out for explanation. As for the weapons, in fact what they are holding are plausibly the tools of נוגשים, not soldiers.

    1. Thanks, GC. The "beshem omro" comment is especially nice to hear, since when I first tendered these observations at a conference in Jerusalem years ago, Professor Bezalel Narkiss interrupted my talk and told me "we don't care what your son has to say about this manuscript." I am an advocate, always, of telling things beshem amram. (see Sometimes, in fact, I think it is the only thing standing between me and the fires of Gehenna. That and being willing and interested in coming down from the ivory tower and dialogue le-shem shamayim concerning issues that are, at the end of the day, about parshanut as much as the discussion of other "texts" is about parshanut. I think that too many academic scholars are too insecure and into their kavod to accept the truth from wherever it comes (the same, of course, could be said of many frum and heimische people, of course). I think the important thing is to keep the conversation going. I actually wrote the book not as a pretty coffee table book—lomdsiche or not—but as san introduction to medieval art AS parshanut (that is not merely illustrating scripture or presenting midrashim in visual form, but BECOMING parshanut), and I love the fact that it has gotten coverage in The Jewish Press, for instance, so that it reaches an audience who don't think one should even LOOK at art, let alone use it as a makor for lehrnen, including many of my own heimische relatives.

  5. Rebbetzin Yayin saraF6:04 PM, March 22, 2012

    Hillel is left in the nominative just as Schamai. In genetive it becomes Hillelis whereas the i ending Schammai makes it possible to leave it as is.

  6. I sent you a .pdf (not related to this excellent post)

  7. Bartenura:


  8. Choochem:

    "Can we get to hear what the son uncovered"

    click on the link in the post and you can read the chapter free


    i think you're being too skeptical

  9. you can't read that chapter, only the preface

  10. click on the link: "first chapter alone"

  11. choochem:

    the link gives you the correct chapter:

  12. Fred - what I meant is that I could not tell if the scholars he claims "missed" the Dasan & Aviram point simply didnt see the Haggadah for themselves, or they did see it and yet still didnt pick up on it. [He wasnt clear if the scholars, other than the one pair I mentioned, were discussing this Haggadah specifically, or the concept of zoocephalism generally.] The guest author, Leor, says the kid outsmarted the whole scholarly community. This implies great numbers of people looking at the Haggadah and yet still missing the point. Maybe this is so, but as I say, Epstein seems too be fuzzy on this point. You'd have to read the books he cites in the footnotes, to which access to I dont have.

    Abba - could be you're right. Efsher I am being too skpetical. Maybe the kid is right that the picture refers to Dathan & Aviram, and maybe they are indeed the only figures shown with a whip and a club as opposed to other weapons, and maybe as a 10 year old he hasnt yet reached Korach where they are depicted as alive and well in the wilderness, Egypt behind them. Nu nu. Vial zeh neemar: whatever.

    1. Let me clarify: Scholars had noticed that these figures were bird-headed. They didn't correlate this with the bird-headedness of the other Jews in the ms., and they didn't notice the whip and the club. Of course D&A are depicted as alive and well in the wilderness, but I am sure that we are not the first to notice THAT, and that commentators correlate the midrash/targumim that state that D&A egged Pharaoh on with their later appearance in Korach. Tsarikh iyyun as a separate matter!

  13. " I could not tell if the scholars he claims "missed" the Dasan & Aviram point simply didnt see the Haggadah for themselves, or they did see it and yet still didnt pick up on it"

    i think you are underestimating the place of this manuscript in scholarship. it is not an obscure and difficult-to-access item that has been only studied firsthand by one person and then everyone else parrots him or conjectures based on his description. it is very well known. anyone with access to a good library (or a fat wallet) can research the haggadah via the facsimile edition. certainly those who contributed to the facs. companion volume (e.g. goldschmidt, narkiss, etc.!) poured over the manuscript.

    " maybe they are indeed the only figures shown with a whip and a club as opposed to other weapons"

    and they have "jewish" birdheads!

  14. "and they have "jewish" birdheads!" - that's gufa the point we're discussing. Circular reasoning, in other words. It's only ben-Epstein who makes the distinction between jewish and non-jewish, and that distinction is called into question by the figures mentioned above. His ANSWER to that is these birds must by Dassan and Aviram, but that itself is questionable, b/c in Korach we find D and A smack in the midst of the Israelite camp, with Egypt behind them.

    Agav, precisely because this Haggadah is not obscure, as you point out, also casues me suspicion. Would anyone not realize the Jews were mice and the Nazis were cats, in the Maus cartoons? So how could they miss the same thing here? Either its because a) they were not addressing the specifics of this Haggadah, which goes to my previous point, or b) kid is wrong.

    Bekitzur - I'm dubious.


  15. If you saw all the images in the Haggadah you would have no doubt that the birds heads are Jews and the others are Egyptians. I have no idea if only he makes the distinction; do you? But it is obvious.

    As for the also obvious fact that D & A are found in the midbar later, the point here is that image depicts a midrash, as I said. See the Targum to Ex. 14:3-4, which says:

    וימר פרעה לדתן ולאבירם בני ישראל דמשתיירון במצרים מטרפין הינון עמא בית ישראל בארעא טרד עליהון טעוות צפון נגדוי דמדברא

    Not only did they remain behind, but they joined Pharaoh in pursuit, according to another midrash, and only rejoined them at kriyas yam suf.

    So far from the kid being wrong, I think the kid is probably right.

  16. "If you saw all the images in the Haggadah you would have no doubt that the birds heads are Jews and the others are Egyptians."

    EXACTLY. But Epstein makes it seem like his kid was the first person to realize this. Which proves exactly what I'm saying: Either the kid is wrong, or the other writers weren't really adressing this Haggadah. One or the other. Sheesh, man! You tire me out! Anyway, it's not important. Good Shabbos!

    For the record, Epstein's exact words: " Whether from surfeit of scholarly politesse or lack of ten-year-old chutzpah,my distinguished predecessors, my esteemed colleagues, and I had all failed to observe that the distinction between bird-headed and blank-featured figures seems to be a way of differentiating between mitzrim and bnei Yisraʾel––or, to put it more bluntly, between Jews and non-Jews."

  17. "הנשמה שלימה בשבת וחסרה בחול, שהקב"ה חולק נשמתו של אדם לשני חצאים, חצי נשמה נותן לו בחול וכשתבוא השבת נותן לו החצי השני, וזהו שאמרו רבותינו ז"ל שתי נפשות יש לאדם בשבת" רמזי ר' יואל, פרשת וארא, דף רי"ג

  18. DF and S. As I understand, everybody understood the differentiation, but the scholars pointed out that two of the mitzrim had birds' heads, so as usual, the scholars were right and everyone else was wrong. Comes along the kid and says that these are Dosan and Aviram, with good yiddishe birdsheads.

    1. Zohar - that's not what Epstein says. Look at my quote of him in my previous comment. He says no one ever realized the distinction until his kid came along.

    2. Oy, OK: Let me be clear: I indicate in the book that Meyer Schapiro and others had NOTICED that bird-headed figures appear in the Egyptian entourage. But they assumed these figures were Egyptians with displaced birds' heads, NOT displaced Bnei Yisrael. Misha made the observation that they were displaced Bnei Yisrael. This was the hiddush. And from that hiddush I was able to postulate that the bird headed figures in all cases were Jews, and to correlate this with the fact that the blank headswere non-Jews. Whether Misha was actually THE FIRST TO MAKE THIS OBSERVATION, I don't know. I do know that I was the first to publish this theory as an integrated whole. Klar?

  19. ספר מלמד התלמידים פרשת יתרו

    והשני בהיות האדם פנוי ביום ההוא מכל עסקיו ותתחזק נפשו בו ותחיה והוא שאמרו ז"ל כי שתי נפשות יש לו לאדם בשבת לפי שמתוך השבת ירחיב לבו ללמוד ולהבין מה שלא יבין בשאר הימים לפי טרדתו בם וביום השבת נמצא לבו פנוי וזמן פנוי להתעסק בלמוד עד שידע שמו של הקב"ה ודרכיו.

  20. S- one final comment: A word of thanks. Sorry, I did not initially see your very sweet and complementary addendum to Leor's post. Apologies for not thanking you for it!

  21. Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to generate
    a good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and
    never seem to get anything done.

    Have a look at my weblog;



Related Posts with Thumbnails