Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Age of Trup -- part xxiii

Shadal continues his Vikuach Al Chochmat HaKabbalah. Shadal turns to proofs from non-Jewish sources as to the earliness of nikkud, and whether or not they say what people think they say. This proof is based on a statement from Jerome. (See previous segment.)

The author: And now, after the matter has been made clear by us that which is sufficient with proofs taken from the Sages of Israel, we will place our hearts also towards the wise men of the nations of the world; and this I say because I recall that I saw to the author of the Meor Einayim that he brings (in perek 59) a proof on the earliness of the nikkud from the words of Hieronymus {=Jerome} the translator of Scriptures to the Latin language, who was in the days of Rav Ashi, for he found in one of his letters that he said that the Jews were few who made use of vocal signs to the letters, and therefore this one says like this and that one says like that in the reading of the Hebrew words; and he (the author of Meor Einayim) explains that the intent is that the nikkud {orthography} existed in his days, but that the Jews did not make use of it, except a little.

The guest: The author of Meir Einayim was of enlightened eyes {this is lashon sagi nahor -- Shadal means "blinded"} at the time that he wrote this thing, for Hieronymus wrote in Latin, and in Latin, the signs of the vowels are letters, and not points; if so, it stands to reason that when he said "the signs of the vowels," his intent was on the letters yud, heh, vav, and aleph which inform about the vowels, and upon them he said that the Jews use them a little. And this is truth, for most of the words in the holy books are deficient, not plene; and if his intent was upon nekudot, he would have mentioned the nekudot, not the signs of the vowels, for by his saying "the signs of the vowels," the gentiles who would read his book would only possibly understand letters, for they did not have nekudot by them.

And all this I say according to the language with R' Azariah bring, who said in his translation of Hieronymus that there were few Jews who made use of vowel signs for the letters.

However, what would you say if you saw that Hieronymus did not say this. Rather, he explicitly mentions the vowel letters, and in the place that R' Azariah translated "vowels to the letters," which would convey that the vowel signs were a matter separate from the letters, he only said "vowel letters," and he said that "in the middle" -- that is the say in the middle of the words -- the Jews make use a little of the vowel letters. And he says well, since in the beginning of a word or in its end, the vowel letters are always written, such as אדם {which has an aleph in the beginning}, Avraham, Sarah {with a heh at the end, not pronounced but conveying the kametz}, Rivkah. But in the middle of the words, the vowel letters are mostly missing.

And this is the language of Hieronymus, according to what is preserved in my memory, for I have sought it and have found it days and years ago, and I have preserved it in my heart:
Vocalibus in medio litteris perraro utuntur Hebraei, et pro voluntate lectorum et varietate regionum eadem verba diversis sonis atque accentibus proferuntur.

{J: I don't know Latin, but here is my rough translation:
Vowel letters {vocalibus litterus} the middle are in exceptional case made use of by the Hebrews, and according to the purpose {/desire} of the reader and the difference of locale {perhaps he means geographic, but most likely he means context}, the same word turns to be pronounced contrariwise with difference accent advances.}

The author: I am astounded, upon R' Azariah {de Rossi}, how he did not understand that the meaning of vocalibus litterus without doubt were vowel letters, and not vowel signs to the letters, and he did not understand the words in medio whose meaning is the middle of the word.

And until how many times with those who profess the earliness of the nikkud pervert the words of the early ones, which they bring to support their opinion?

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