Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Purim is coming

Posted at Mail-Jewish in 2005 by the talented Martin Stern (via Manuscript Boy):

Classic line, in my opinion:

Ibn Shakhran notes that, throughout the Torah, the name of Noach is
spelled chaser, yet in the Megillah, we find it spelled malei in three
places, a hint to be livesumei bePurya ad delo yada, in that one should
be as malei yayin as Noach (Gen. 9,21).


Book Review

Shorshei Kerem Rosh Nevolim by Mordekhai ibn Shakhran
edited with introduction and notes by Rabbi Alter Brandwein
(240 + xii pages, $100)

reviewed by Shimmy Benkish,
Emeritus Professor of Palaeooinology, University of Weinburg

As has been reported widely, the Sefer Shorshei Kerem Rosh Nevalim
by the 10th century exegete, Ibn Shakhran, was found recently in the
wine cellars of the Vatican where its folios had been used as stoppers
in ancient amphorae. Until now he was only known from scattered
quotations but now we can appreciate his deep understanding of the
Tenakh in all its brilliance.

The author obviously chose this name for his sefer as an acrostic of
his name. It is also a reference to his home town, Gibraltar, which had
been known, previous to the Arab conquest, as Nebelberg from the
Visigothic word meaning 'foggy mountain', because of the clouds that
often envelope its summit, or el Pe'on, the Rock, as it is still called
by its residents, HaTsur in mediaeval Jewish works. The Arabs renamed it
Gebal Tariq, the mountain of Tariq, after their leader. In defiance, the
indigenous population called it 'el Pe'on del cabecilla', literally the
rock of 'the head of the gang of scoundrels', rosh nevolim.

It seems that his idea that Hebrew words were derived from four letter
roots from which one letter was removed to give different nuances of
meaning, drew the ire of his contemporary, Dunash Ibn Labrat, who wrote
of him "Ben Kaf keVen Quf ", implying that, with such opinions, his name
should have been with a quf rather than a kaf. This may also be the
earliest reference to the colony of Barbary apes which still live in
Gibraltar. Ibn Ezra was moved to defend our author against this calumny
in his comment on Tehillim (81,17) "umitsur devash asbi'eka - kemo
hamefaresh hagadol Ibn Shakhran me'ir Tsur shemidevarov anu sevei'im
devash." This may itself be an allusion to Ibn Shakhran's introductory
comment to the Megillah "Why is Shushan always referred to as 'HaBirah'
- because it was the centre of beer production in Achashverosh's
empire." In Biblical usage devash invariably refers to date honey, the
raw material for beer manufacture in Bavel, barley beer being peculiar
to the land of Madai ('Beer Production in the Bible and Talmud' by
Professor Yehoiyada Felix, Beer Sheker University Press, 5715*)

To give the readers a better idea of his approach, we quote some
further insights on the Megillah which will whet their appetite for

Noach and the Megillah

Ibn Shakhran notes that, throughout the Torah, the name of Noach is
spelled chaser, yet in the Megillah, we find it spelled malei in three
places, a hint to be livesumei bePurya ad delo yada, in that one should
be as malei yayin as Noach (Gen. 9,21).

He notes (Esth. 9,17) that this must be the source of the beraisa
brought in the Avos deRabbi Natlan (Schlechter edition, 1,1-3, Van
De'Stijl Brothers' Press, Weinheim, Baden, 5526*):

"HaBakbuk kibel haYayin meKerem umesarah leNoach (Gen. 9, 20-21),
veNoach liVnos Lot (19, 31-36), uVenos Lot leOved Edom haGitti (2
Sam. 6, 10), veOved Edom haGitti leNaval haKarmeli (1 Sam. 25, 36)
[There seems to be a chronological inaccuracy here since Naval was prior
to Oved Edom, but perhaps this is a case of ein me'uchar umukdam
beshikhrus - when drunk one has no perception of time - S.B], veNaval
haKarmeli leBelshatsar (Dan. 5), uVelshatsar leAchashverosh,
veAchashverosh asah mishteh lekhol sarav ve'avadav (Esth. 1, 3) " Noach
hayah omer 'Al sheloshah devarim haOlam omed, al haYayyin ve'al
haShekhar ve'al haSaraf' " Hu hayah omer 'Im ein kerem ein yayin ve'im
ein yayin ein shikhrus' ''

Its repetition (9,18), supports Rav Yeina Saba's memra in Massekhes
Shikurim. (Falsher edition 7,12, Tokayer Press, Martha's Vineyard,
Mass., 5716*) that 'livesumei applies to both days of Purim, umeshum
sefeika deyoma machmirin bazeh"!

In his comment on "ya'asu eits gevoah chamishim amah" (5,14), Ibn
Shakhran brings Midrash Shekhar Tov which explains that Haman obtained
this piece of timber from Noach who had used it as one of the cross
beams of the ark (Gen. 6,15):

"How is it that Noach was drawn into the Megillah? Our Sages teach
that when Zeresh told Haman to hang Mordekhai on a gallows fifty amos
high, he asked her where such an enormous piece of timber might be
found. To this she replied 'Did not your ancestor Noach build his ark
with such mighty beams? Go to him and ask for one!' This advice greatly
pleased Haman and he did so. When he came to Noach with his request
Noach refused, so Haman grabbed one end and tried to make off with
it. At this, Noach grabbed the other end to prevent its loss but, being
an extremely elderly man, could not stop Haman who thereby dragged him
with the beam into the Megillah."

Since it says (Esth. 9,16) "veNoach mei'oyeveihem", which he
translates as "and Noach from among their enemies", Ibn Shakhran points
out that Haman's hatred of Jews must have come from Noach together with
the rest of his junk

The mothers-in-law of Achashverosh

It seems that surrogate motherhood was still known in his days since
he comments on the verse "Gam Vashti haMalkah asesah mishteh nashim"
(1,9) "HaKesiv 'mishteh' im hei, vekakri 'mishtei' im yud, vezeh sod
gadol - achas lezera' veachas le'ibbur" and notes that both are named in
the Megillah, "Bo'arah" (1,12) and "Keshokh" (2,1). The former was
obviously the biological mother as he explains "venikreis al shem zeh
mipnei shehe'erah bah ba'alah", so the latter must have been the
surrogate. He notes that it is clear that these two must be the mothers
of Vashti since they are brought in connection with her downfall.

He comments "al tikri 'kam bechamaso' (7,7) ela 'beKam chamoso'
vezeh shemah shel imah shel Esther " she was also known as "Shokhakhah"
(7,10) and this is no contradiction to the verse 'she had no father or
mother' (2,7) because her mother's name had been forgotten. Though some
say Esther had two mothers like Vashti, this is a mistake: her mother's
name was 'Kam', and 'Shokhakhah' was rak kinnui be'alma".

There are many further insights brought by Ibn Shakhran for which
the reader is recommended to obtain a copy and intoxicate himself with
its wisdom, "halo hem kesuvim al sefer (10, 2)".

*Note that hashtus, hashikor and hashasui have gematrias 5715, 5526 and
5716 respectively. Also this year 5765 is the gematria of hashetuim
(with two yuds from the shem hameshulav of course!)

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