Monday, December 04, 2006

parshat Vayishlach: Why No Adult Male Camels?

In Yaakov's gift to Esav, there appears to be a break in pattern. In general, it is male and females which are given, so as to propagate the gift. Yet by camels, it is 30 nursing camels and their children. As least according to the peshat explanation of Rashi. From Bereishit 32:

יד וַיָּלֶן שָׁם, בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא; וַיִּקַּח מִן-הַבָּא בְיָדוֹ, מִנְחָה--לְעֵשָׂו אָחִיו. 14 And he lodged there that night; and took of that which he had with him a present for Esau his brother:
טו עִזִּים מָאתַיִם, וּתְיָשִׁים עֶשְׂרִים, רְחֵלִים מָאתַיִם, וְאֵילִים עֶשְׂרִים. 15 two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams,
טז גְּמַלִּים מֵינִיקוֹת וּבְנֵיהֶם, שְׁלֹשִׁים; פָּרוֹת אַרְבָּעִים, וּפָרִים עֲשָׂרָה, אֲתֹנֹת עֶשְׂרִים, וַעְיָרִם עֲשָׂרָה. 16 thirty milch camels and their colts, forty kine and ten bulls, twenty she-asses and ten foals.
יז וַיִּתֵּן, בְּיַד-עֲבָדָיו, עֵדֶר עֵדֶר, לְבַדּוֹ; וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-עֲבָדָיו, עִבְרוּ לְפָנַי, וְרֶוַח תָּשִׂימוּ, בֵּין עֵדֶר וּבֵין עֵדֶר. 17 And he delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself; and said unto his servants: 'Pass over before me, and put a space betwixt drove and drove.'
What can account for this? One midrashic explanation (cited by Rashi) is that וּבְנֵיהֶם means "and their builders," בַּנָאֵיהֶם, those who impregnate them, but the Torah was using clean language.

I am no expert in animal husbandry, but I would offer the following suggestion. Female camels typically give birth once every 2 years, to a single baby camel. The period of gestation is 13 months. Presumably, the presence of young causes the camel to lactate. And finally, lactation begins to decrease in the 6th month of pregnancy. See for example here.

I would suggest that the purpose of these camels was to provide camel milk. Thus, they were גְּמַלִּים מֵינִיקוֹת. One would need to send their babies with them, firstly so as not to deprive the baby camels of milk, but presumably to keep up the lactation, which was the whole point. Thus, וּבְנֵיהֶם.

And why no adult male camels? If the whole point of the camels was camel milk, and in the 6th month of pregnancy lactation begins to decrease, one might want to keep adult male camels away from them as long as possible (until lactation stops, at which point one wishes to get the female camel pregnant again). Thus, uniquely for these camels, no adult males are given.

That would be my partially-educated guess.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps a rythmic interpretation. Each animal takes up 4 words. Since the female camel itself takes up 4 words, cause of its kids, if the pasuk included the husbands as well, there would be a rhythmic imbalance.

Another question: is there a word in Hebrew for male camel? If not, it could be it was left out because using the same word twice would break the pattern of variety in language in the pasuk. It may be for this reason that the children are included altogether. You can’t get to the 4 word segment without them since there aren’t two words for male and female. But, I don’t know enough Hebrew to know if there is a word for male camel or not.

joshwaxman said...

interesting suggestions, and quite plausible. my guess is that male camels would also be called גמלים. still, i tend towards explanations rooted in realia, under the belief that if it were the case, it would find a way to tell it, either in some stylistic way (such as "camels, male and female") or not.

another interesting thing that just occurred to me -- we more or less are told the number of baby camels, since there are nursing camels and camels give birth only once every 2 years to 1 offspring, so there are 30 baby camels as well...

Anonymous said...

Yes, well, you don’t seem like the type to go for myth/mushul, but if you did that would not be an issue. Now that I think of it, I don’t remember if this is my own idea or if I maybe saw it in Meir Paran’s book. Either way, it’s the sort of thing he would say, and the book is an excellent read with dozens of similar examples (even if not this one). Of course, even if you don’t go for myth/mushul, you can still say that God chose to formulate it in a certain way for poetic reasons even if that caused Him to leave out some information he would have otherwise included.

joshwaxman said...

true. and true. although on occasion I do go for mashal - when text-internal elements call for it. IIRC, I've suggested mashal twice:
Adam and Eve As Metaphor
Bilaam Was His Donkey
I'll try to check out the book, beli neder.

joshwaxman said...

in contrast, a laundry list of animals sent by Yaakov to his brother as a gift seems mundane, and thus not something I would immediately leap to say is myth/mashal.

Anonymous said...

I like your approach to myth/mushul, but disagree with the specifics. I found your approach in terms of textual focus to be refreshing. I am a big fan of approaching each question with a an open minded honest point of view, irrespective of the consequences. The question of if Gen 1 is a myth should be decided on the basis of Gen 1 alone. If your answer contradicts science, then say that you think there's a contradiction and you don't have an answer to it. I don't see why people are so afraid of saying that there is a problem they can't answer. And, more importantly, if you actually can't answer it, saying you can never helped anything.

While I find your textual approach to be refreshing, I can't say I agree with your conclusions. To me, there's two possibilities. One is that the entire chumash is meant to be a story book, a myth, legend, whatever you want to call it. Like the way you think of Enuma Elish or Gilgimesh. In that case, the entire thing is a myth and it's quite possible that words were chosen for poetic reasons. The other possibility is that it is a historical book. But, in that case, to me, the fact that the "myths" are interwoven closely with the history suggest that they are not myths at all. Bilaam & the donkey, Moshe on the way to Egypt, creation, and the story of Eden all integrate with the surrounding verses.

But, I would recommend Nachum Sarna's book about the myth/mushul applied to Gen1. It's an excellent read.

The radioactivity of carbon is a pretty well established fact. While it may be that it changed, why would you assume that without evidence. Moreover, modern dating techniques are not limited to carbon dating but use a wide array of techniques. Like you, I am no expert on them though. I also don't see why you associate the birth of civilization with the creation of man. These are two problems. One that civilization is over 6,000 years old and second that the human race much much older (exact date depending on definition of race). Even if carbon dating is off by a factor of 2 so your civilization question is answered, the human race is so much older that that problem would still exist. Scientific dating would need to be very wrong for that to be the case.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin