Tuesday, March 01, 2011

On Ohev Ger, part I.

Lately I've been reading some blogs by Jewish converts, some before and some after the process. Finding these blogs incredibly interesting, I thought that I'd dedicate a post to them, and also do something I usually don't do, which is to try my hand at translating an excerpt of a book which is very dear to me.

I am speaking of Ohev Ger (The Love of the Proselyte) by Samuel David Luzzatto (Shadal), an 1830 study of the Targum Onkelos, which is the official Aramaic translation of the Torah. I meant to write a few remarks about the book and the title, then the excerpt, then - as is my way - more remarks, but that quickly began to take over the post. So instead I will save them for a forthcoming part II. Here is the excerpt:

After giving what (he believes) is the history of Targums, or Aramaic translations of the Torah, throughout the Second Temple period
. . . "until the days of Onqelos the Ger.

"This illustrious man, who scorned idolatry to envelop himself under the wings of the true faith, converted in approximately the year 3800, twenty or thirty years before the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash. This is the same man who burned 70 pounds of Balsam upon the death of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, grandson of Hillel, and father of Rabban Shimon, who was killed during the Hurban [a funerary custom of the day]. He is not the convert Onkeos who is mentioned in Perek Ha-nezikin (i.e. in Gittin 56b) who converted some time after the Hurban (At the end of Part I of this essay I will bring clear proof to establish that the Targum Onqelos was in existence before the Hurban.) He also was not a student of Hillel and Shammai, as some think; they lived 100 years before the Hurban.

"This Tzadik examined the situation and saw how much luster and beauty the Torah had lost in the eyes of the masses of the time, and even in the eyes of proselytes and gentiles (in those times gentiles would go to the synagogues to listen to the reading of the Torah, and the recitation of the Targum). The reason for this was because of the great multiplicty of Targums, and perhaps they contained errors, or were not arranged nicely and orderly, and were not pleasant to listen to. So he resolved to do something about this great problem.

"I do not deny that in those days there were many great scholars in Israel, sages and wise men, who were also worthy of seeing this problem and fixing it. Yet everyone knows that habit casts a glare over that which we see, [as Hazal say] "A person can see all the faults in a man, except his own." So it occurred that all the defects in the Targums went essentially unnoticed by all the sages of Israel. But it did not go unnnoticed by this stranger, who came from another nation, and heard the words of the Torah translated into the vernacular for the first time.

"Therefore, after this Tzadik learned Torah for some time, both written and oral, from the mouths of Rabban Gamliel the Elder, and Rabban Shimon his son, and Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, he aroused himself to establish for Israel a revised Targum, with wisdom, understanding and knowledge, which would remove all stumbling blocks before the nation and before proselytes, to place Israel and its Torah in its place of honor and glory among the nations, and anything preventing would-be proselytes from entering the embrace of the Shechina, and also to rescue Israel from any thing which diminished its standing in the eyes of the nations.

"He recited his Targum before the greatest sages of that day, namely Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, and they invested his labors with legitimacy [the term he uses is they rested their arms on it, which is like conferring semicha, which literally meant to lean] because it was very noble in their eyes. They established this Targum in Israel; that from his mouth all the translators should learn the Targum verbatim, and from then on all translated like him.

"It is because these great men gave their approval, and established its authority, and honored it, that the Talmud says (Megillah 3) that from their mouth he said the Targum [which sounds like he learned it from them]. Only he was the author; he also wasn't a student of these rabbis. If it were true that he learned it from them, then why is this Targum named for him? So the intention of the Gemara is that they approved it, and all were of one mind regarding this translation. Perhaps in a few places he accepted advice from them - but it is his translation.

"The Targum of Onqelos the Ger was said - said, but not written," because it is Oral Torah, which was not permitted to be written until many generations after the Hurban. And so we find in the Talmud Yerushalmi Perek Hakore Omed (in Megillah 74) Rabbi Shemuel, son of Rav Yitzchak, seeing a Torah scribe [this is how Shadal understands this word] read the Targum from a book, he said to him "This is prohibited, for words that are transmitted orally must be recited orally, and words in a book must be read in a book." If reading the Targum from a book was prohibited in the days of Rabbi Shemuel, son of Rav Yitzchak, who were after Rabbi Yochanan, in fact 250 years after the Hurban, think for yourself if it was permitted to be written in the time of Onqelos, or even earlier while the Temple stood, as is the opinion of Rabbi Azariah [de Rossi].

"Our approach allows us to understand nicely how it is that the two great Christian scholars Origen and Jerome, both knowing Hebrew, and all of their labors were dedicated to elucidating the simple meaning of Scripture, both failed to mention either Targum Onqelos or the Targum Jonathan - a fact which caused some non-Jewish scholars to doubt the antiquity of these Targums. According to my opinion, the matter is clear: the Targums existed in their day, but not in a book, so they didn't know of or mention them.
More about this great book generally, and perhaps more translation forthcoming (seriously). You can read or download the book here.


  1. Interesting piece. I have been looking for blogs by Jewish converts, could you provide a few links?

  2. Here are a couple, and follow their links:


  3. If you could provide some insight on the various Targumim (yonatan, onkelos etc.) it would be appreciated.

  4. http://jbq.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/383/onkelos.pdf

  5. I was just planning on writing what anonymous asked. I mean, I have read the wikipedia pages about Onkelos and Neophite etc.,[and maybe you even wrote some of those pages] but you always have a unique twist on it. a good overview would be great. I temporarily suspend my thoughts given in the poll.

  6. After exploring a handful of the blog posts on your web page,
    I hοnestly liκе your way of blogging.
    Ι book-maгked it to my bookmаrk site lіst and will be checking back in the nеar future.
    Please visit my wеbsite as wеll аnd tell me hoω you fеel.
    Feel free to surf my blog ... woodworkingadvice.net

  7. This sіte was... how do I say it? Relevant!
    ! Finally I've found something which helped me. Appreciate it!

    Also visit my homepage: vipshoppingalert.com



Related Posts with Thumbnails