Friday, April 28, 2006

How do Samaritans pronounce the tetragrammaton, י-ה-ו-ה?

I came across an interesting article by James A. Montgomery, scholar of Samaritanism, called Notes From the Samaritan Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 25, No. 1 (1906) , pp. 49-54. The article concerns a witness to a 19th century Samaritan pronunciation of the tetragrammaton.

At the outset, Montgomery mentions that 5th century Church theologian Theodoret preserved in writing a Samaritan pronunciation of the tetragrammaton. It was as follows: Iota-alpha-beta-epsilon (edit: evidently I can't use Greek characters in blogger) or Iota-alpha-beta-alpha-iota (Yabe or Yabai). Of course the usual caveats about transliterating Hebrew into Greek apply (Greek doesn't share the same consonants, so many of them are simply ignored--like the
ה in this case-- or transposed into what the transcriber considers to be the closest match). What is interesting is that the ו is written with a beta, which would mean that to Theodoret's ears the ו was pronounced as a consonant and probably like how we pronounced the letter v and not w.

Montgomery then notes that Samaritans actually tended not to pronounce the tetragrammaton at all, like Jews, but rather they substituted the word shema (in the sense of
שם, the Name, just as we say השם, Hashem). This fact is readily confirmed by perusing articles on the web site by and about the Samaritans.

It seems that in the early 1800s French scholars who were carrying on a correspondence with Samaritans were trying to get them to tell them how the word was pronounced, which they were reluctant to do. But in a letter to Silvestre de Sacy one of them spilled the secret: he wrote in vocalized Arabic characters something like Ya'-ha'-waw-ha' (again, can't do Arabic, apparently)
which is Yahwa or Yahwe in English. De Sacy himself apparently didn't notice the potential signifigance of this--he hadn't been asking anything about the pronunciation.

It was later noticed, and compared by scholars with Samaritan rhyming hymns. To one scholar, Emil Kautzsch, these rhymes suggested that the final consonant was Yahwe, rather then Yahwa. (It is interesting to note that Kautzsch cited the rhymes found in R. Wolf Heidenheim's Bibliotheca Samaritana. R. Heidenheim is the one Grade A maskil who is cited as a source in Artscroll's Stone Chumash). Other scholars pointed out that other rhymes favored the other pronunciation, with an a at the end. So no conclusion could be drawn, especially since in the popular Samaritan pronunciation the consonants of the tetragrammaton would be read shema, which means that the rhymes probably were meant for that word.

In other words תיקו.

It must further be remembered that the signifigance of a Samaritan pronunciation for any Hebrew word is complicated for a number of reasons. One is that their Hebrew pronunciation was also affected by the ravages of time, movement and the influence of Arabic. Secondly, we know that the Samaritan Hebrew is defective in many respects. They lost the guttural letters far earlier than other Jews, for example. Third, it is still unclear how ancient the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton is. As noted, Samaritans don't really say it. Did this one incidental witness preserve an actual ancient pronunciation? Who knows?

Finally, a great anecdote retold by a contemporary Samaritan leader, Benyamim* Tsedaka, on exactly this question, how Samaritans pronounce י-ה-ו-ה:
I have to tell you a Samaritan folk tale on an argument between a Samaritan sage, my grandfater's father, Abraham Tsedaka [1852-1928] and a Moslem sage, The moslem said that the Islam is the right religion but Abraham Tsedaka has dared to say that the Israelite religion is the origional and true one and the Islam religion is a false one.

How dare you say that? screamed the Moslem.

Abraham Tsedaka said that he is going to prove his words. He said: you know the last words of the moslem before he is passing away are to admit the unity of God by saying "La Illah Illa Alla"=No God but God - four words. The Israelite says the same but in his words: "Shema Eluwwinu Shema A'aad"= Our God one God - four words.

Yes, I know that, said the Moslem, so what?

Oh, let me tell you by that, said Abraham Tsedaka to the Moslem sage: If the Moslem soul is passing away before he expressed only one word "No", so it is negetive, and if he has expressed only two words " No God" it means that there is no God = heresy, and if he expressed only three words "No God But", nobody will know but whom, and it is also heresy. only if his soul will pass away after he has expressed the whole four words he will admit the unity of God.

At the same case each word the four words of the israelites has its significance for the unity of God - said Abraham Tsedaka - If the dying person has expressed only the first word: Shema, he has identified already the divinity, and if he has said only two words: Our God, it has a meaning. If he has said three words: Our God One, it is leading to the unity of God. He does not have to say the whole words to express it.

It is only a tale but saying much on the Samaritan acceptability of the unity of God of Israel.

Let me quote from the Samaritan Israelites' prayer, any prayer: "The glory is yours forever, Yoot-Eay-Baa-Eay, Shema, merciful and gracious....."
*Not a typo. The Samaritan Torah consistently spells בנימים for בנימין.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Is there a remnant of paleo-Hebrew on the head tefillin?

(You'd be surprised how hard it is to find an image of teffilin shel rosh from the other side.)
Gemara Menahot 35a
ואמר אביי שי"ן של תפילין הלכה למשה מסיני
Rambam Hilkhot Tefillin 3:3
עושין מן העור דמות שי"ן שיש לה שלושה ראשין מימין המניח תפילין, ודמות שי"ן שיש לה ארבעה ראשין משמאל
Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 32:42
שי"ן של תפילין, הלכה למשה מסיני שיעשה בעור הבתים של ראש כמין שי"ן בולטת מקמטי העור, אחד מימינו ואחד משמאלו. של ימין המניח, של ג' ראשים, ושל שמאל המניח, של ארבע ראשים
Just why is there a shin, ש with three heads and a shin, ש with four heads on the tefillin shel rosh?


What some Jewish communities buy on Amazon

Amazon has an interesting feature called purchase circles, which lists the top selling books from Amazon based on geographical area.

Here are some interesting results, while recognizing that these communities are to some degree diverse and not this only represents people who buy books on Amazon:


1. Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen
by Susie Fishbein, John Uher (Photographer)

2. Teacher Man : A Memoir
by Frank McCourt

3. Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day
by Susie Fishbein

4. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
by Jared Diamond

5. The Areas of My Expertise
by John Hodgman

6. Let's Review Math B
by Lawrence S. Leff

7. The Official SAT Study Guide
by College Board

8. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
by Barbara Ehrenreich

9. Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

10. Now I Can Die in Peace : How ESPN's Sports Guy Found Salvation, with a Little Help from Nomar, Pedro, Shawshank, and the 2004 Red Sox by Bill Simmons

Far Rockaway:

1. Infertility in the Bible: How The Matriarchs Changed Their Fate; How You Can Too by Jessie Fischbein

2. Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen
by Susie Fishbein, John Uher (Photographer)

3. Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money--That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!
by Robert T. Kiyosaki, Sharon L. Lechter

4. Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential
by Joel Osteen

5. What to Expect When You're Expecting, Third Edition
by Heidi Murkoff, et al

6. Mary, Mary (Alex Cross Novels)
by James Patterson

7. Night (Oprah's Book Club)
by Elie Wiesel

8. A Million Little Pieces
by James Frey


1. Am I My Mother's Daughter?: A Search For Identity
by Julie Stern Joseph

2. Unchosen : The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels
by Hella Winston

3. Off the Derech: Why Observant Jews Leave Judaism; How to Respond to the Challenge
by Faranak Margolese

4. Maimonides (Jewish Encounters)
by Sherwin B. Nuland

5. Hedgehogging
by Barton Biggs

6. The Little Book That Beats the Market
by Andrew Tobias (Foreword), Joel Greenblatt

7. The Camel Club
by David Baldacci

8. Mary, Mary (Alex Cross Novels)
by James Patterson


1. Paradigm College Accounting Chapters 1-12
by Robert L. Dansby (Author), et al

2. Aphasia and Its Therapy (Medicine)
by Anna Basso

3. Cost Accounting : Traditions & Innovations
by Jesse T. Barfield, et al

4. The Irwin Guide to Using the Wall Street Journal (Irwin Guide to Using the Wall Street Journal)
by Michael B. Lehmann

5. Off the Derech: Why Observant Jews Leave Judaism; How to Respond to the Challenge
by Faranak Margolese

6. Including Students With Special Needs : A Practical Guide for Classroom Teachers (4th Edition)
by Marilyn Friend, William Bursuck

7. Unchosen : The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels
by Hella Winston

8. The Adventures of Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald, Flight 714, Tintin and the Picaros (3 Complete Adventures in 1 Volume, Vol. 7)
by Herg?

9. A Mind at a Time
by Mel Levine


1. Off the Derech: Why Observant Jews Leave Judaism; How to Respond to the Challenge
by Faranak Margolese

2. Unchosen : The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels
by Hella Winston

3. Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day
by Susie Fishbein

4. Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen
by Susie Fishbein, John Uher (Photographer)

5. Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care about Has Borderline Personality Disorder
by Paul T. Mason, Randi Kreger

6. The 5th Horseman (Women's Murder Club)
by James Patterson, Maxine Paetro

7. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
by Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish

8. The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss
by Arthur Agatston

9. Deception Point
by Dan Brown

10. How to Win Friends & Influence People
by Dale Carnegie


Obviously it is impossible to interpret this data in any meaningful way. A lot of people in Lakewood don't use the internet, and no one is going to tell me that people in Lakewood don't buy a lot of kosher cookbooks. Far Rockaway also has a large African-American population, which I should think accounts for the best selling status of a Joel Osteen book more so than its Orthodox Jewish population. Midwood, Boro Park and some other communities are lucky enough to be subsumed under "Brooklyn" in Amazon's purchase circle, so no relevent stats to show.

All in all--interesting data points.

Hat tip: Mis-nagid.

I am mystified that they are mystified about Suri

By now its well known that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes named their baby Suri. Their comment, that it means "red rose" in Persian and "princess" in Hebrew got a lot of press, especially from linguists who scoff at the claim that suri means princess. That would be sarah. Hebrew experts explained that suri would mean "a person from Syria" or "go away" in Hebrew. Language Log has a post about it, with links to more discussion in the language blogvelt. LL quotes an interesting theory by Roger Friedman of FOX News:
To get the name Suri, you actually have to subscribe to Kabbalah, a very distant offshoot of Judaism. Suri would really be Sarah, except Kabbalah — as it is now taught to celebrities — is all about taking letters and making new words out of them. ... Suri is derived from Sarah mathematically.
Many, if not most readers of this blog know that the whole discussion is hogwash. We know full well exactly what the name Suri is--it is a Yiddish version of Sarah, with diminutive attached. We probably all know Suris. LL does note that a Reuters article says
The article does note that Suri as a nickname for Sarah, though "all but unknown in Israel," is still attested. For instance, there's Jerusalem journalist Surie Ackerman, whose given name is "a formalized version of a nickname given by fellow ultra-Orthodox Jews in her native United States."
But LL doesn't seem to give a lot of prominence to this point.

But that is the point. God only knows how the Cruise-Holmes people came across the particular form Suri, and came to understand it to be Hebrew (Hebrische, Judische, its all the same). But of course Suri is Sarah! Take a chassidishe accent which turns a komatz into a shuruk and Sarah (or Sorah) becomes Surah. Add a cutesy "i" to the end (Shmuely, Johnny) and presto, you've got Suri, Hebrew Jewish for "princess."

Billion, million, schmillion

According to the AP English is about to get its billionth word. What's a thousandfold error among friends?

I'm sure its an honest error, but I can't help but feeling that in this age of plenty a million just doesn't sound the way it used to. A million words doesn't sound like much, but a billion! Ah, them's a lot of words.

Via Language Log

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

חכמת ישראל : Eat the fruit, throw away the shell

"If you wish to know what brand of tobacco Rashi used, ask Leopold Zunz. If you wish to know the interpretation of Rashi's writings, ask me."

--remark traditionally attributed to...R. Jacob Ettlinger (1798-1871) of Altona (quoted from "Bernard Revel Builder of American Jewish Orthodoxy" by Aaron Rothkoff, pg. 241)
"The great historian of the Jewish past, Heinrich Graetz, got most of his facts right in his monumental work, History of the Jews. But his obvious bias against traditional Judaism and his almost obsessive hatred of the rabbis of Israel spawned a school of Jewish history that did great damage to the Jewish people. They may have known what color shirt Rashi wore, but they ignored what Rashi really stood for and his immortal contribution to Jewish survival and destiny."

--R. Berel Wein, published originally in the Jerusalem Post and reprinted here
Paranthetically, and at the outset, it's worth pointing out that tobacco is native to North America and therefore the brand of tobacco Rashi smoked was none at all. This fact oddly and unwittingly illustrates R. Ettlinger's point in a way he probably didn't intend!

But getting back to the matter at hand: Wissenschaft des Judentums, or חכמת ישראל, and its modern descendent, academic Jewish studies.

R. Yitzchok Adlerstein posts today at Cross Currents about thoughts he had about the media coverage of the Gospel of Judas, one of many so-called Gnostic Gospels, which were texts of early Christian heresies. The Gospel of Judas, for example, presents Judas Iscariot as the most beloved disciple of Jesus who remained faithful to the end, "betraying" his master at his command.

Writes R. Adlerstein, "The general attitude [of Christians and institutional Christianity]I have noticed is, “What, we should be disturbed by a bunch of meshugaim suffering from desert heat-stroke? What makes their version more valuable or authentic than ours? For this you want us to discard a tradition of thousands of years?”

"I’m jealous. In the Jewish world, we often don’t react as calmly and sanely."

Unlike us Jews, who sold our birthright for a small price, by accepting the so-called scientific investigation of Judaism over tradition (that is, those of us who did and who do).

The truth is there is a lot to be said for that point, even though the Gospel of Judas is roughly equivalent to a late Sadduccean document rather than a fragment from a book of J. There is also a lot to be said in defense of חכמת ישראל.

Like most things, there is a lot more nuance to this subject than presenting it in terms of light and darkness, which does no justice to it. It is certainly true that Wissenschaft did violence to traditions. It's also true that many of its favorite sons had motives which one can disagree with, and that the movement spawned, directly and indirectly, plenty of crises for Jews and Judaism. But at the same time, it came about because of historical circumstances (there I go again!). There is a reason why it arose in the 19th century and not, say, the 14th.

A quote from "American Judaism" by Nahum Glatzer (pg. 69). It concerns the title character of Abraham Cahan's novel The Rise of David Levinsky, a young Russian yeshiva student who emigrates to the United States. On the boat he eats only kosher and davens regularly. Once in America he immediately seeks out a shul. But he also cuts his peyot, then shaves, then abandons the synagogue for night school--and "soon nothing is left--and with practically no soul searching":
The case of David Levinsky illustrates the crucial point that Judaism in eastern Europe, as in Germany, tended to ignore everything that might be considered theology. Only the practices of Judaism were taught. One was brought up to observe the commandments, and, for this reasons, as soon as one came in touch with a kind of thought which questioned fundamentals, one was at a loss. In other words, it may be said Jews lost their faith so easily because they had no faith to lose: that is, they had no doctrine, no collection of dogmas to which they could cling and with which they could resist argument. All they had, surrounding them like armor, was a complete set of practices, each presumably as holy as the next (emph. mine).
Whether this happened in America in the 1880s or another version of the same story in Altona in the 1780s or in Vilna in the 1920s, it is what happened. And in fact, the sentence I italicized in the above paragraph was a key element. מנהג ישראל תורה הוא may have been a rallying cry in response, but it was one that just illustrated how the two kinds of Jews couldn't communicate.

Here is worth repeating the reaction of Shadal to the news that Reformers in Germany had eliminated the second "יקום פורקן" from the liturgy: They fulfilled that which is written "וימח את כל היקום" (Gen. 7:23). Shadal, ever the traditionalist--but the irony is that he was also very modern, and very much engaged in his own brand of the scientific investigation of Judaism. In fact, this is one area where the lack of clear lines comes to the fore: lots of talmidei chachamim with yirat shamayim engaged in Wissenschaft, including an original member of the Agudah's moetzes gedolei ha-Torah, R. David Zevi Hoffman.

The question is, why? Is it just an evil way to approach religion? It is useless? Some of the people who would have applauded Shadal's witty remark would say just that, and that its forbidden also. But likely many of those people would have felt that way about some of his writings!

(Parenthetically, on doing some research for this post I came across this statement, by R. Adlerstein: "Alas, it has been a long time since Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman and his headlong charge against Higher Criticism and Jewish Wissenschaft." This is very curious. It's true that R. Hoffman fought against source criticism of the Bible. But he personally engaged in Wissenschaft, and taught it as a core component of his rabbinical seminary. A big part of his personal style of learning Gemara was חכמת ישראל. And not only that, his book "Mar Samuel" was branded apikorsus by R. Samson Rafael Hirsch.)

There are no easy answers. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. אין הכי נמי, R. Adlerstein has a point. To have a healthy Judaism we shouldn't destroy it! But neither should we totally interdict modern methods of study and investigation. Like R. Meir, when we find a רמון then תוכו אכל קליפתו זרק (Chag. 15b).

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

An old Pesach custom: variant 4 Questions

Its interesting to look at the mishnaic and talmudic sources which describe the seder. Here is one mishna in pereq arvei pesahim presented three ways. The first is in the mishna itself, the second is the version in Talmud Yerushalmi, with slight variation, and the third is the version in Talmlud Bavli which diverges more. It describes what the familiar custom of the Four Questions recited by children.

Mishna Pesachim 10:4
מזגו לו כוס שני וכאן הבן שואל אם אין דעת בבן אביו מלמדו מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות שבכל הלילות אין אנו מטבלין אפילו פעם אחת והלילה הזה שתי פעמים שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה והלילה הזה כולו מצה שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל והלילה הזה כולו צלי
Mishna Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:4
מזגו לו כוס שני וכאן הבן שואל אם אין דעת בבן לשאול אביו מלמדו מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות שבכל הלילות אנו מטבילין פעם אחת והלילה הזה שתי פעמים שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה והלילה הזה כולו מצה שבכל הלילות אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל והלילה הזה כולו צלי

Gemara Pesachim 116a
מזגו לו כוס שני וכאן הבן שואל אביו ואם אין דעת בבן אביו מלמדו מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה הלילה הזה כולו מצה שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין שאר ירקות הלילה הזה מרור שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל הלילה הזה כולו צלי שבכל הלילות <אין> אנו <חייבים לטבל אפילו> [מטבילין] פעם אחת הלילה הזה שתי פעמים
Of particular interest is the 'question' that reads "שבכל הלילות אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל והלילה הזה כולו צלי," "on all [other] nights we eat meat [whether it is] roasted, boiled or cooked [but] tonight only roasted." It seems highly probable that this text dates from the time of the Bet Ha-miqdash, given that it refers to the qorban pesah as something that "we" do.

Naturally, our custom is to ask something else, namely "שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בין יושבין בין מסובין והלילה הזה כולנו מסובין" (as brought in the Rambam, for example).

However, there exists an intriguing haggadah manuscript that was found in the Cairo Genizah. Given the romantic name "JTS MS 9560," it has been dated on paleographic grounds to the 10th or early 11th century. Here are images from it, courtesy of Upenn:

As you can see (or maybe not, as its hard to read) the version of the Mah Neshtana in this manuscript preserves the mishna's question, "שבכל הלילות אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל והלילה הזה צלי." In addition, there are only three questions, מטבילין, מצה and צלי, omitting the familiar fourth, מרור.

The question is, why?

First, we need to know what this haggadah is and where its from. I really have no competence to offer an opinion about it, but the professional opinion is that it reflects "the Palestinian rite," given that there are other differences in this haggadah which can be found in the Talmud Yerushalmi versus the Bavli. For example, it contains a ברכה called בורא מיני מעדנים, which is found in the Yerushalmi.

A second fact (?) pointed out by scholars is that the haggadah was not written by a professional, and thus may reflect something of a "lay" or popular rite.

Whatever the case may be, we will not be eating any בשר צלי come tomorrow night. May we have that זכות soon!

To my friends: I likely won't get the chance to post 'til after the haj, so here is wishing everyone a חג כשר ושמח!

edit: There is a lengthy article by Jay Rovner in JQR 90 (Mar./ Apr. 2000) called "An Early Passover Haggadah According to the Palestinian Rite," about this Haggadah.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Happy Anniversary to On the Main Line!

I had an anniversary this week. Although On the Main Line technically began in May of last year ( here is its first real post) I had a blog on another server called Gimme Shelter which was its precursor, which began on April 4, 2005 with this post. In fact, the original roots of that blog came on Shushan Purim of last year, when I was thinking about the phrase kimmu ve-kiblu ha-yehudim from Esther. So, I began, or rather registered, a blog called Kimmu Vekiblu that never got off the ground. Instead, I posted a couple of weeks later to Gimme Shelter. Then I moved and renamed, about a month later, and I repasted some of my posts from Gimme Shelter.

So Happy Anniversaryish to On the Main Line!

Aleph-bet soup

Readers of On the Main Line will know how much I love alphabets. This one is from a book of fonts called A compendium of the usuall hands of England, Netherlands, France, Spaine, and Italie with the Hebrew, Samaritan, Caldaean, Syrian, AEgyptian, Arabic, Greek, Saxon, Gotick, Croatian, Slavonian, Muscouian, Armenian, Roman, Florentine, Venetian, Saracen, AEthiopian and Indian characters : with sundry figures of men, beasts and birds. Published in London in 1663, the fonts were devised by Richard Daniel and engraved by Edward Cocker, "philomath."

The script on the left is called 'The letters of the running hands of the Jewes of Germany,' by which is meant the cursive script, and the one on the right is 'The letters of the running hands of the Jewes of Spaine.'

Compare with some of the forms from these images from the Jewish Encyclopedia, taken from actual Sephardic and Ashkenazic manuscripts:

Rayna Batya. The fascinating, and somewhat mythical wife of the Netziv.

A lot of ink has been spilled about Rebbetzin Rayna Batya ever since the original ink was penned to paper about her in Mekor Baruch.

But one thing that no one seems to notice is that there is something like zero chance that Rn. Rayna Batya was ever called Rayna BaTya in her life.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

New York Times on Shapira Affair, 1883

I've posted about the Shapira forgery (?) here and antisemitic coverage of it here. To add to the latter category, this article appeared in the New York Times on Aug 30, 1883, another article of record for the Newspaper of Record (yeah, yeah, I know it was 1883).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


On my blogroll I've got a link to a great blog, Abecedaria. A few months ago I wrote an email to the Abecedaria blogger saying the following:
I wanted to ask you about something that I believe I once saw somewhere online but I can't find now. It pertains to a Hebrew and Arabic alphabet reform that someone was proposing, an odd combination of the two alphabets. Does that ring a bell? If so, I'd appreciate it if you could tell me who is behind this so I can look it up. Thanks!
I was dan Abecedaria lekaf zechut, but she never replied to my email. But she did post about it and she did do the work for me! Meanwhile, here I am four months later first realizing that she found exactly what I was looking for. So thanks, Abecedaria.

Down to business: this is about Semitish. Semitish is an alphabet reform proposed by someone named Nizar Habash. He proposes to [I'm not sure what, really] by working out an alphabet which could replace Hebrew and Arabic. (Yes, I realize that he has a political/ artistic point and I am well aware of "Israstine"/ Binational state proposals and their history--I present this purely because I think alphabets are cool.)

So behold, Semitish:

I'm not really sure what my point was anymore, but I'm sure I had a good post planned in November!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Name That Dissertation contest

When the first PhD dissertation is written on the Godol Hador blog, what do you think it will be called?

Rabbins and rabbis

In my research for this blog I noticed something that I hadn't previously known: in English the prevalent tendency, by far, was to write "rabbins" as plural for "rabbi" up to, and including, well on into the 19th century.

Why is that? I knew that in German a rabbi is a rabbiner. English is Germanic &c. But that hardly seems a satisfactory explanation. Given that, when did rabbins become rabbis? And why?

The handy dandy Babelfish translator tells us that a rabbi in certain other languages is:

rabijn in Dutch
rabbin in French (aha!)
rabbiner in German
ραβίνος (rabinos) in Greek
rabbino in Italian
равин (rabin) (in Russian
rabino in Spanish
rabinus in Latin
ラビ in Japanese (sorry, I get lost here!)

And, of course, רב rav in Hebrew. Presumably every other language got its "rabbi" from references in the Christian scriptures, like Matthew 23. And the original language of said scriptures was Greek. In Greek the instances of "rabbi" were written as ραββι which can be written neatly in English as rabbi. Presumably the Hebrew word the writers of the Christian scriptures had in mind was not רב but רבי rabbee (י"א ribbee).

But what are rabbins in English?

Comes the Oxford English Dictionary to shed a little light:

rabbin The source of the n in th[is] forms is obscure: it may have originated in pl. forms (rabbins, rabbini) on the supposition that the pl. of the Heb. word was *rabbin (cf. assassin, bedouin, etc.).]

Aha! But we had a secret: the word they were looking for was rabbeim or rabbanim.

One more OED "fact":
to designate the chief Jewish authorities on matters of law and doctrine, the most important of whom flourished between the second and thirteenth centuries of the Christian era
It's nice to know that the OED decided how rabbis are ranked!

The Jew, Being a Defence of Judaism...

I came across an interesting periodical

. The Israel's Advocate in the subtitle refers to a publication called Israel's Advocate; or, The Restoration of the Jews Contemplated and Urged, published also in New York between 1823 and 1827.

Jewish Encyclopedia explains that The Jew was a:
Jewish monthly whose avowed object finds expression in its subtitle as "being a defense of Judaism against all adversaries, and particularly against the insidious attacks of Israel's advocate." It was published in New York city and edited by Solomon H. Jackson from March 1, 1823, to March 1, 1825. "The Jew" was the first Jewish periodical published in the United States, and was aimed against Christian conversionists.
The very first issue begins as follows:

It goes on to continue, saying that just as Christian missionaries to the Jews felt that they had a right to go on the attack, as he puts it, Jews are entitled to a defense. The author appeals to equal rights, as a good American would. The author also seeks to establish, for the benefit of cautious Jews, that this publication is not intemperate, citing examples of "the martyr Isaac Orobio, whose crown of martyrdom proves his victory. Rabbi Isaac, the son of Abraham; Rabbi Lipman; David Levy, and Mr. Nicklesburger; of these five worthies, but one met danger, and that was personal only; two wrote in Hebrew, and the two last in English, in England, without damage or danger either to themselves or our community. It is paying a poor compliment to Americans, to suppose them less enlightened than Englishmen."

A very interesting feature of this publication is the following:

Throughout this publication (which ran for two years) one will only find "......ians" and "......ianity" mentioned.

The Jew printed detailed articles reacting to Israel's Advocate, which featured articles with titles like "Conversion of a Jew" and "Gentiles Praying For the Conversion of the Jews" and "Masonry Tributary to the progress of Christianity among the Jews". It looked like this:

אין חדש תחת השמש

Translator-traitorisms: the Holy Ghost

There's an Italian expression, traduttore, traditore, or translator, traitor. The delicious thing about this proverb is that when rendered in another language, such as English, the very point is illustrated! It is true that in English these two Italian words begin with the tr sound. But there is no mistaking that the pun the expression makes use of through soundalike words is lost. Translator, traitor just doesn't capture the crispiness of traduttore, traditore.

But I digress.

I came across a particularly egregious translator-traitor error as follows. In 1867 C. D. Ginsburg
published an important English language book on the masorah מסורת, which contained Hebrew versions with English translation and notes on יעקב בן חיים ן' אדוניהו's introduction to the original Bomberg edition of the מקראות גדולות, "Jacob Ben Chajim Ibn Adonijah's Introduction To the Rabbinic Bible" and the same for the important masoretic work מסורת המסורת of ר' אליהו הבחור, "The Massoreth Ha-Massoreth of Elias Levita", (reprinted w. intro. by Norman H. Snaith by Ktav in 1968).

In the Introduction to the Rabbinic Bible section the following can be found, in a piece discussing keri u-ketiv, קרי וכתיב:
ולכן הוצרך לפרש אמתת המלה ההיא כפי הספור, והוא ענין הקרי אשר שם מבחוץ, כי ירא הסופר הקדוש לשלוח ידו בדברי המדברים ברוח הקדש וכתיבתם
Ezra had therefore to explain such words in harmony with their connection, and this is the origin of the Keri which is found in the margin, as this holy Scribe feared to touch the words which were spoken or written by the Holy Ghost. (emphasis mine)
We shouldn't let the word "ghost" throw us off. Ginsburg was rendering this Christian concept into the terminology of 19th century British English. But it is hardly a better translation if he had written "spirit" instead. Immediately it should be obvious that יעקב בן חיים ן' אדוניהו did not have in mind the Holy Ghost when he wrote those words (yes, he did later convert to Christianity). In addition, there was no cause to capitalize those words, because whatever the Jewish concept of רוח הקדש is, it isn't a proper noun.

The worst mistake a translator can make is to insert him or herself into a text, as Ginsburg did here.


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