Friday, March 20, 2009

Karaite Interpretation, and Response, On "Lo Tevaaru Esh"

I should preface this with the statement that I personally think that the Karaitic interpretation of the pasuk to mean one must sit in one's house all Shabbos in the dark and cold to be ridiculous and not the true peshat in the pasuk. The reason for that I will have to save for another post, perhaps next week.

But looking at the Karaitic position, in their own words, is interesting. It lets us see this famous debate from their perspective, and how they reacted to the polemics and arguments from the Prushim. And so of course I knew I wanted to see what the Karaite scholar, Aharon ben Yosef, had to say about these pesukim. I present his commentary and the supercommentary on it, in my own rough summary, with occasional interjection.

In the beginning of Vayahkel:
א וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם: אֵלֶּה, הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָה, לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם. 1 And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said unto them: 'These are the words which the LORD hath commanded, that ye should do them.
ב שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן, לַיהוָה; כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה, יוּמָת. 2 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death.
ג לֹא-תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם, בְּיוֹם, הַשַּׁבָּת. {פ} 3 Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.' {P}

The Ktav Ashru are the words of Aharon ben Yosef, and the Rashi script (below) is the supercommentary.

"Eleh HaDevarim" includes the construction of the Mishkan as well not doing work on Shabbat. And he shows with evidence from pesukim that prohibitions can fall under the lashon of tzivuy.

It mentioned refraining from work on Shabbos in Ki Sisa. Why did it not mention burning a fire - a short style.

He deals with why it needs to mention it (fire) here -- so that you should not say that since the work on the Mishkan did not cancel Shabbos, we might say there should be no fire on the altar, for burning is within not doing any work, therefore it lays out that in your homes (במושבותיכם) it is forbidden but not in the Beis Hamikdash.

The impetus for explaining the reason for specifying lo tevaaru is likely the Rabbinic derasha that it was for the sake of the lav, or else lechalek, as he continues. But I am not so impressed with this explanation. Surely many other pesukim discuss the burning of the korbanot for Shabbat, so who would possibly think that the fire could not be burning on the altar?

He dismisses being liable on each violation individually as obvious. I am not so sure it is obvious, but anyway it is on the level of derash.

He considers that it was because ochel nefesh is permitted on Yom Tov, so it must specify that it is not on Shabbat -- the suggestion of Ibn Ezra -- because we can derive it anyway from the word Ach "Ach Asher Ye'achel l'Chol Nefesh." Is he now darshening, or arguing according to the Rabbinic approach? Karaites do have their own derash. But IIRC, on a peshat level, Ach does not mean "only" as a limiting term in Biblical Hebrew, and modern scholars will tell this to you -- that it is an intensification, such as "indeed" or "surely" on a peshat level in Biblical Hebrew.

And the word "esh" shows that it means a language of fire and lighting. This in contrast to the one who explains it means "cast out." He refers here to a nice explanation of Rav Saadiah Gaon, as part of this Rabbinic-Karaitic polemic. Rav Saadiah Gaon said it meant "cast out," as is "uviarta hara mikirbecha." Therefore, the pasuk is saying that you shoud not chase out the fire from your house, and thus we have a source that the ner shel Shabbos is a mitzvah. This is remarkably clever and probably riled up the Karaites, with an explanation exactly against their idea of sitting in the dark from the same pasuk. It is obviously not peshat but it does make something nice to say over at your Shabbos table.

He also argues against those who say "the day of Shabbat" would imply only the day and not the night, like "bayom haShemini." This would be Rav Saadia, who was arguing this, that one might say this if you did not rely on the tradition. (And apparently a similar argument put forth by Ibn Ezra.) Aharon ben Yosef gives a reason to make a distinction -- because the word Shabbat carries this implication, of from evening to evening. This seems to me like a "teretz." Maybe what was meant was the day portion of Shabbat, the day of rest? But my intent here in this post is not to wage war against the Karaites, so I will leave it here. One may argue it the other way, naturally.

Thus, we have a nice overview of a Karaitic approach to these pesukim. Perhaps in a later post, why I consider this approach most unlikely, and my own novel suggestion on the role of lo tevaaru.


Michael P. said...

If I am not mistaken, later Karaites actually modified their approach to fire on shabbat. I think that I saw it in Ankori's _Karaites in Byzantium_.

joshwaxman said...

interesting. do you remember what that modified approach was?


Michael P. said...

Look at this reference which has a nice discussion of the issue.

joshwaxman said...


Anonymous said...

~All Praise be to YHWH~

Though not egregious to the extent of its Rabbinic counterpart, it is true that Qaraite Jews have their own form of so-called Derash which usually takes the form of Hayqesh (deduction with the intent of analogical reasoning) in Qaraite Judaism.
Generally speaking, it's an unfortunate fact that Qaraite Jewish commentators have produced their fair share of nonsense and errors, which gives the rest to any implied Qaraite notion that the title of Sage guarantees wisdom in hermeneutics.

Personally I'm not sure the Qaraite interpretation of "lo teva`aru esh" is really correct, but it may be. It's hard to tell for sure either way. Perhaps we'll one day stumble on new findings from the distant past of Israel that'll shed much needed light on this issue, YHWH willing.

But let's remember that most Jews in antiquity through the verge of modernity would come home on Friday from a hard day's work that began at dawn, have to prepare for Shabbat and then worship. All these activities would leave a profoundly tiring mark on their bodies and they'd wish to get to bed soon after dinner or worship ended, early on into night time. Cooking etc. ended prior to Shabbat, so no one really needed fire on Shabbat that much if their garments protected them from cold wheather and their blankets kept them sufficiently warmed.
We've long forgotten that the natural thing for a person whose circadian cycles are in tune with nature to do absent all the technological advances is to retire to bed once total darkness falls. This is true even today.

In any rate, technology has imparted Qaraite Jews with the benefit of thermuses for keeping drinks and certain foods hot; the ability to create impromptu refrigirators with medical ice, fluorescent lights powered by batteries, and most recently LED lights for illumination.

May we merit to speedily get to the era where we all enjoy power grids feeding exclusively from natural resources like wind, water and solar energy. Then all Qaraite Jews would be able to illuminate their residences without any shadow of fear of violating this miswa.


joshwaxman said...

"But let's remember that most Jews in antiquity through the verge of modernity"

that included Chazal. but were they to really eat the Friday night meal in the absolute dark? and were they to stay cooped up in their unlit houses all Shabbat? Depending on the geography, I suppose huddling in blankets all Shabbat day and night, in the gloom, could be doable? But again, that strikes me as 9th Egyptian plague rather that Oneg Shabbat.

"Qaraite Jewish commentators have produced their fair share of nonsense and errors"
that is the price of scholarship and creativity. it is fine to make errors. and nonsense is often in the eyes of the beholder.

In terms of derash or hekesh, I've seen enough of it to know that it can go horribly wrong. Maybe it is expertise, but it can also simply be a system like any other, which will persuade its adherents as to its truth. I put more stock in mimetic tradition, which would then guide us to any interpretation. Thus I would posit that many derashot are really particular peshat readings, with the overt derash being a mere asmachta.

"Perhaps we'll one day stumble on new findings from the distant past of Israel that'll shed much needed light on this issue"
Are Karaites in general open to such realia? For example, Isis wearing physical tefillin-like boxes on her head, and the Chronicles of Baal with text showing "bein einecha" means the head-pate, implying an ancient tradition as to the meaning of this phrase, in turn implying actual practice -- would those be sufficient to persuade your average Karaite to start wearing physical tefillin?

Of course, I won't convince you, and you won't convince me. And that is probably a good thing for both of us. :)

BTW, are you a Karaite from birth? You speak like someone from the actual Karaite community.


Anonymous said...

~Blessed be YHWH~

Shalom rav.

You've entertained ignorant notions about how Qaraite Jewish Shabbatot are spent.
What is actually forbidden is leaving the boundaries of one's Moshav (city, town, village, or encampment); that's the meaning assigned to "shevu ish tahtaw" (Shemot 16:29). No Qaraite Jewish sage ever took this to mean we were to sit on our butts all Shabbat at home as the ludicrous Rabbinic propaganda line holds. Yet is is true some commentators would only approve of leaving one's home to worship at a synagogue and nothing besides.

What's wrong in Qaraite Judaism is not the exegetical errors produced over the centuries, but the fact that traditional Qaraite Jews aren't willing to ditch some of those errors in belief and practice even when they're shown just how nonsensical they are in an irrefutable manner.
I take it you're no Qaraite Jew, so you haven't had to personally bear any emotional or mental burden in consequence of such instances of nonsense.

When some folks do heqesh from (to name one example) the no-illumination-from-the-grid understanding and arrive at a new understanding that no such illumination is permitted on Shavu`ot (the day after Shabbat), we both know it goes horribly wrong at times. I've actually met people who bought into this tripe.

The issue with tefillin is simple for Shomray Miswot who reject the Rabbinical take.
Even if findings whould surface up one day that would prove some biblical era Isralites (forget gentiles) donned a certain brand of tefillin, This would not at all validate this practice Toraically since the plain meaning shows the "Totafot" and "Ot" directives to have a metaphorical meaning.
And I'm sure I'll never manage to convince you that the tefillin as practiced for millennia purports to be the literal interpretation but falls short of being that. Instead, we've been treated to non-Peshat excuses as to why the head box must be placed on or above the forehead, and why the arm box goes only on the left arm (or the right arm for left-handed), why it's places on one's arm rather than hand, and why no tefillin box is placed atop the heart on one's chest.

In the meantime, I think the fact you need to cite examples from foreign peoples speaks volumes... you may have forgotten the Torah warns us to avoid aping religious practices prevalent among the Egyptians and Cena`anites! :-)
Any Qaraite Jew with a reasonable command of Torah (never mind prominent commentator volumes) would tell you what I just have.

Indeed, one of the problems with Rabbinic Judaism is the degree to which it is awash with foreign, pagan influences -- even kinds forbidden by the Torah.


Anonymous said...


I'm aware of the excuses as to why tefillin shouldn't be donned on Shabbat and mo`adim and why they're no longer donned after Shahareet.
And I hope you at least disaprove of the instant tefillin donning solicited by the Chabadniks. They've turned the Rabbinic interpretation of the miswa into a game, thus denigrating it.

Also, I wanted to iterate that just because some form of tefillin might be proven to have been worn by biblical era Israelites hardly proves this was the majority practice or was considered proper by true Nevi'im (prophets).
So if I were you I wouldn't get myself even remotely excited at the idea Israelite tefillin wearing would be proven one day down the road.


joshwaxman said...

"In the meantime, I think the fact you need to cite examples from foreign peoples speaks volumes... you may have forgotten the Torah warns us to avoid aping religious practices prevalent among the Egyptians and Cena`anites!"

Ignoring all the above and focusing just on this statement, I was citing foreign practices in an attempt to be more convincing on a peshat level, not because I "need" it. It is true that *some* foreign practices of the Egyptians and Canaanites were not approved of. But as a law code, the Torah was given within a certain historical context. It certainly seems to be the case that many of the Torah's laws are patterned after Ancient Near Eastern laws, perhaps modified in several important ways.

Thus, when we see a text contemporary to the Torah use "bein einohi" in a way that clearly means "kodkod," then we know what the word meant to Biblical Israelites when Moshe spoke the word. And, as Biblical scholars note, it is parallel to Chazal's *tradition* through the centuries, that it means head-pate. Is that not surprising? It is no longer an "excuse" for why it is above the forehead. It is what the historical record shows the meaning of the term was, in common parlance. Many of these things cannot be correctly discovered from careful textual analysis alone. If you look into modern sciences such as machine translation, you will discover that idioms in particular defy such reasoned analysis. (Similarly, I am stunned to see reasoned analysis about what techeilet must mean, based on the root of the word. If ever there was a place for tradition, it is in the meaning of a color.)

When we see the code of Hammurabi give certain multiples a thief must pay tachat a cow, a sheep, a camel, etc., is that not interesting, and if one is operating on a peshat level, is that not more compelling that some hekesh even the brightest scholar was able to make operating purely based on the Biblical text but without the light of the parallel gentile laws of that time? Knowing that the contemporary laws had branding for specific types of servant can give insight to psukim about eved nirtza.

In a similar manner, if you study the law code of Justinian, you will not many parallels to the way the Mishnayot were formed and the halachot were framed. Cultural context is key, on the level of peshat.

In terms of Chabadniks, I am not really in favor of the practice. But for some of them, this is a form of outreach, rather than a game. By doing this in a friendly manner for thousands of people, some of them might come closer to Judaism.

(The reason for after Shacharit is much different than for Shabbat, but the latter fits in nicely with the Rabbinic conception of Ot.)

It is fine by me if you are not persuaded by archeological evidence. The only reason I mentioned it is that you brought it up yourself with Perhaps we'll one day stumble on new findings from the distant past of Israel that'll shed much needed light on this issue. I would have imagined that the interpretations of Biblical Israelites much closer to the actual events, who therefore were more likely to understand the meanings of the idioms, and the cultural context. Moshe spoke to the Biblical Israelite, and people living millennia later will naturally be deficient in their understanding, if they want to focus on the peshat meaning.


Anonymous said...

Shalom again.

I didn't necessarily mean strictly archaeological evidence by saying Perhaps we'll one day stumble on new findings from the distant past of Israel that'll shed much needed light on this issue.
In any rate, I would reject any practice that stands in violation to a miswa's plain meaning.

Still, the fact stands that no textual evidence for tefillin usage among Jews and their Israelite antecedents has been found in the huge body of Israelite and Jewish literature produced in the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE until they're first mentioned in Aristeas' Letter that dates to the 2nd cen. BCE at the earliest, and even then only the arm's tefillin is alluded to (or the head's).

I really underastand what you're saying concerning what you posit is the Orthodox stance about the Ot of Shabbat which supposedly makes the literal interpretation of the hand Ot redundant, but still see this as an attempt to reconcile two irreconcilables by removing the two from their contexts and mixing them together so to speak. This is clearly against Peshat.

I agree that knowing what the contemporary and parallel gentile laws had branding for specific types of servant (`eved) can give insight about some pesuqim on said theme. But the resulting insights might not necessarily validate or add credibility to Rabbinic interpretations any more than they would for Qaraite ones.

I further agree that certain external forms of evidence (including linguistic from related Semitic languages and dialects) to the Tanakh can prove helpful in plain meaning exegesis, but I hazard a guess no contemporary text to the Torah exists that uses "bein `ainaikha" "in a way that clearly means qodqod" which is used in the exact same sense employed in the so-called tefillin commandments, or the Qaraite Jews would've gotten wind of this and taken this into consideration and modified their interpretation as needed.
I've got no idea which biblical scholars have noted a parallel of some yet unheard "bain `ainaikha" refrain in some enigmatic foreign text to Chazal's tradition through the centuries, that means head-pate. So to most folks your claim is very surprising indeed. I've yet to even read or hear the fantest echoes of a discussion of any such evidence. This is quite telling, so in this case I'm inclined to deduce that absense of evidence amounts to evidence of absence.
therefore, until I manage to get my hands on this mysterious text and read it for myself, I'll keep on maintaining that the placement of tefillin head-boxes above the forehead is based on a shoddy or deliberate Rabbinic (mis)understanding of what "between your eyes" meant.
What historical record are you talking about in this regard, pray tell? Kindly cite the full name of this "contemporary text". Remember I'm taking about the time stretching from the Sinai Revelation through 200 BCE at the absolute latest, which roughly corresponds to the entire biblical era minus the Egyptian bondage and preceding epochs mentioned in the Khumash, the true Torah. I've got no use or interest for later sources that reflect erroneous and corrupted understandings possessed by Aramaic speaking Jews who had a poor command of Biblical Hebrew, if that.
Keep in mind in the meantime that the picture of evidence is in favor of those who maintain tefillin were not known in Jewish worship prior to the 2nd century BCE, so I'm surprised you didn't even cite your source's name as if I was supposed to take your claim on faith alone.
I'm expecting your reply on this. If you've got real, bonafide evidence that hasn't yet become public domain that actually proves your claim correct, this could prove revolutionary and upset, nay -- shatter entire scholarly paradigms concerning ancient Jewish religious practice.

The Torah may have been given within a certain historical context, but it was desinged so that its directives' plain meaning would be doable or feasable in all periods.

I'll conclude this comment noting that Rashbam to name one Rabbinic exegete was never Qaraite Jewish, yet he also concluded the so-called Tefillin verses were meant to be performed metaphorically rather than literally. He was a good Peshat exegete, and Rabbinic Judaism once conceded to the point that "ain Miqra yotse meeday peshuto".


joshwaxman said...

Let me preface this with the note that while I find this exchange fun, I don't feel I *owe* you any response.

The reference I made was to the Ugaritic Baal and Anat cycle, and is the fight between Baal and Prince Yam. For a longer bibliography:
"M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, and J. Sanmartin, with H. W. Kisker, Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit. Einschliesslich der keilalphabetischen Texte ausserhalb Ugarit. Teil 1 Transkription, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 24 (Kevelaer and Neukirchen-Vluyn: Verlag Butzon & Bercker, 1976). For English translations of the Ugaritic texts, see J. C. L. Gibson, Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: Clark, 1978), and J. C. de Moor, An Anthology of Religious Texts from Ugarit (Leiden: Brill, 1987)."

The text in question might be translated as:
"And the club swoops in the hands of Baal, like an eagle in his fingers

It strikes the head of Prince Yamm, between the eyes of Judge Nahar

Yamm collapses, he falls to the earth; his joints tremble, his body is spent

Baal draws and drinks Yamm, he finishes off Judge Nahar

. . . Victorious Baal. Yamm is dead! Baal shall reign! "

Before processing this, it is important to note that in Ugaritic poetry, as in Biblical poetry, poetic repetition is the norm. (Kefel lashon, as various parshanim call it. Ramban and Malbim disagree that such exists; as well of some really post-modern Biblical scholars, but there you have it.)

An example is: he held the cup in his hand; he held the bowl in his right hand.

That does not mean that he had a cup in his left and a bowl in his right. Rather, hand=right hand, and cup=bowl. The same is true with many, many Biblical poems.

The same seems to be the implication of the above translation. Prince Yamm = Judge Nahar, and head (IIRC the cognate of kodkod) = between the eyes (bein einohi, or whatever the close equivalent is in Ugaritic).

You may disagree with this interpretation - anything is kvetchable -- but it is not *Rabbinic* interpretation (I did not hear it from a rabbi); and it is a very well known text, such that I was operating under what I thought was common knowledge. And it is in the public domain, and not my own chiddush.

The Baal - Anat cycle date to the 14th century BCE. And it was not written by "Aramaic speaking Jews who had a poor command of Biblical Hebrew."

(Of course, not all of these derivations from ancient near eastern texts correspond to Rabbinic practice, but they will likely not correspond to much of Karaitic practice as well. How we deal with that is a good question. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. And no, I don't think, or hope, this will convince you to start donning tefillin, or become a Pharisee.)

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

Todah Rabba Josh! This is awesome. Kol hakavod.

You may disagree with this interpretation - anything is kvetchable

For the time being I'll say there is some guesstimation entailed in arriving at the pro-qodqod conclusion owing to a few uncertainties about how some of the data relate to others.
Prince Yamm might have been hit on his head-pate rather than elsewhere on his head's surface, notably right between his eyes or eyebrows.
Your supposition that he was hit on his head-pate with the phrase "between the eyes" being merely synonimous with qodqod is utterly logical and makes lots of sense to me for sure, for what that's worth. It seems like the natural human propensity to hit someone one their head that way.
But then again, of course, maybe no kefel lashon was intended in this line and the intent was merely to state where exactly he was hit on his head.

You've sort of taken a good shot in the dark, but this doesn't mean you missed your mark. None of my misgivings above altogether preclude the possibility you did reach the right conclusion.

I was familiar with kefel lashon and the tiqbolet phenomenon.

You're indisputably correct about one thing -- I won't be moved to don tefillin.
Even if you're entirely right in your "between the eyes" = head-pate conclusion about Prince Yamm, this is hardly a validation of the Rabbinic stance that maintains that Totafot+Ot should be interpreted literally (and proceeds to carry out its understanding very partially).
Second of all, a critically thinking individual must ask themselves why Rabbis would invent an anti-Tzedoqi/Qaraite lie attributting to the Tsedoqim and later to Qaraite Jews the placement of tefillin boxes right between their eyes unless they (those rabbis) knew or believed that a literal exegetical stance from a Peshat stand point would mean placing the box right between their eyes.

May YHWH be with you,

joshwaxman said...


just to clarify something that may not have come across in my previous comment, the Ugaritic text, if I recall correctly, says kodkod, or its cognate (like the Assyrian kakkadu), rather than any word like rosh. And at least in the language of Chazal, kodkod was a technical term which means the head-pate. In Menachot 37a, the very definition Chazal give of "bein einecha" is kodkod. Thus, בין עיניך זו קדקד. As such, it is remarkably surprising that it parallels the Ugaritic correspondence so closely.

*If* no kefel lashon was intended, it could mean that he was hit twice; or that the blow was so powerful that it reached down to between his eyes; or that kodkod means head in general (we would need to know the typical word in Ugaritic for head. Even so, it is an eerie correspondence.

And even with this correspondence, there is still the taken of the verse literally. But that does not bother me, as a literal putting on these locations might have been intended precisely because of the deeper allegorical and poetic significance. That is, of course rituals have a deep significance and are not just silly performances. So the allegorical and literal might be peshat simultaneously. Just as piercing the perpetual slave's ear against the door is physically performed but might have a deeper, allegorical meaning. That other pesukim in Tanach carry on that metaphor need not undermine the literalness of the pasuk in Chumash.

Meanwhile, this Ugaritic text at the most shows that that was the meaning of the idiom. It does not prove conclusively that tefillin were literal. What it *might* show is that what Chazal gave as a sort of Halacha leMoshe MiSinai as the meaning of "bein einecha" was in fact an old tradition. And the *reason* for that old tradition to be maintained may have been because of a literal understanding of the verse.

In terms of the myths about Karaite or Sadducee practice of placing it on the nose or slightly above, we would need to see *which* rabbis said this. Does it appear in the gemara? Or is it later? Did the Sadducees actually do this? Even if not, the idea that the Sadducees or the Karaites would do this does not mean that they thought that this was "peshat." Rather, it means that without the tradition of the meaning of the idiom, a Karaite might go ahead and interpret it literally, having nothing else to go on. Literalness is not the same as peshat, as you will surely agree. But that does not mean that Chazal are endorsing this as the real peshat, if they in fact say this. Rather, they know that true peshat is as the idiom has been defined, but someone who dismisses traditions will similarly dismiss the value of the idiom in determining peshat. (Compare ayin tachat ayin. I would claim that Chazal would maintain that true *peshat* is that it means monetary payment -- as penalty proportional to the crime, ayin tachat ayin and not nefesh tachat ayin, and as an idiom, much as the phrase has become an idiom nowadays, meaning something slightly different. But someone not knowing the meaning of the idiom will feel compelled to interpret it literally rather than idiomatically, and thus *not* arrive at peshat.)

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...


I earlier missed and then forgot to respond to your contention, I am stunned to see reasoned analysis about what techeilet must mean, based on the root of the word. If ever there was a place for tradition, it is in the meaning of a color.

I very much concur with your last sentence here.
I'll refer you to Hakham Meir Rekhavi's article on tzitzit in which he specifically tackles tekhelet and attempts to prove -- valiantly but not without some leaps of faith and logical fallacies -- tekhelet is deep blue and had the tradition of being derived from Indigoferra Tinctoria in biblical times through the Mishna's publication. See :

The Mikra does not exactly state from where the dye for tekheleth is to be procured, and if the blue dye is not obtained from the Murex trunculus from where then is it obtained? To answer this question we must first determine the etymology of the word tekheleth. Tekheleth's regular companion in the Tora is argaman [red-purple/violet], argewan is the alternative spelling found in 2 Chronicles, in Akkadian tekheleth = takiltu and argaman = argamannu. By knowing the possible etymology of argaman we can maybe determine the etymology of tekheleth. It should be noted that both words might not be of Semitic origin. The Indians ranked high as dyers in the ancient world especially for their skills in producing purples and blues from vegetable dye matter. Maybe it is towards India that we should look to find the etymology of argaman. Could then the etymology of argaman/argewan be in the Sanskrit ragamen and ragavan, both adjectives derived from raga = red. If argaman is derived from the Sanskrit might not tekheleth its regular companion be traced to the Sanskrit kala = deep blue, indigo blue? The Talmud states that tekheleth is indistinguishable from kala-ilan. In fact kala-ilan is the Talmudic name for indigo which seems to be derived from the Sanskrit kala and the Aramaic ilan = tree in view of the fact that the indigo plant often attains the height of 2m it could popularly be called a tree. Another possibility is that kala-ilan is a corruption of kala-nilam, nilam being the Sanskrit for indigo or kala-lan, lan being the Chinese for indigo. Could indigo then be the source of the blue dye used in the Mishkan, the garments of the Kohen Haggadhol and sisith? Chemical examinations of specimens of ancient Egyptian blue fabrics by Wilkinson in 1878 proved the dye to be that of indigo; none of the fabrics examined were found to be dyed by Murex trunculus or any other such sea snail. When Yisrael left Misrayim [Egypt] they took with them many items of the Misriym [Egyptians] (see Ex. 12:35-36), these items were later on used in the building of the Mishkan and for the garments of the Kohen Haggadhol. Thus the tekheleth cloth that the Aron Hakkodhesh was wrapped in, the tekheleth curtains that adorned the Mishkan and the tekheleth fabric used in the garments of the Kohen Haggadhol, all of which were procured from Misrayim, had been dyed blue with indigo. The indigo plant, a cheap abundant source that gives a fast dye and is kasher, satisfied the need for blue in the ancient Near East to such an extent that there was no interest in or need for any other blues. Therefore the overwhelming evidence points towards indigo as the source dye for tekheleth and not the Murex trunculus or any other form of sea snail. The Rabbis forbade the use of indigo and classified it as a counterfeit source of blue dye, for they were determined to force upon the people their interpretation of the Tora as the only legitimate one. Their ruling that Murex trunculus was the source for the blue dye was therefore part of their drive for religious and political control of the nation. There is also the plausibility that the Pharisees had an economic interest in the dye industry of the Murex trunculus.

Now that we have ascertained that the tekheleth fabrics and materials mentioned in the Tora were dyed tekheleth by indigo, we are left with the problem of what shade of tekheleth determines the exact colour of the tekheleth in question. While investigating this problem we must bear in mind that the word tekheleth means blue in general and not a specific shade of blue. The introduction of the new word kahol in Hebrew for blue cannot serve as an argument that tekheleth is a specific shade of blue. As seen from above it is possible that deep indigo blue determined the exact shade of tekheleth in question. We will now analyse the evidence for this [4] In the LXX, the oldest Greek translation of the Mikra (about 3rd Century B.C.E), tekheleth is rendered by Iakinthos. The word occurs as the name of a precious stone that is deep blue in colour and was also known as Sappheiros = Sapphire.[5] The Sapphire was so called because of its blue colour. The gem that we now know today as Sapphire, which is blue Corundum, was not the same as the Sapphire of the ancients. The Sapphire of the ancients is the stone that we now call Lapis Lazuli. Hieronymus (4th Century C.E) who lived in Eres Yisrael [Land of Israel] and studied under Jewish masters, states in his commentary to Ezekiel 16:10 that the stone Iakinthos resembled the deep blue of the sky. Ambrosius also defines the colour of Iakinthos as a gem the colour of the serene sky and states that the fabric borrowed its name from the precious stone. Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews book 3 chapter 6 describes the construction of the Mishkan and in section 4 mentions its tekheleth coverings, "great was the surprise of those who viewed these curtains at a distance, for they seemed not at all to differ from the colour of the sky." In all probability Josephus here reflects his personnel experience of the illusion created by the sight of tekheleth from a distance. The Karaite Hakhamim render tekheleth as sky colour as do the Samaritans. In conclusion, tekheleth has the appearance of the deep blue of the serene Western Asiatic sky in bright sunshine. To those unacquainted with the subtropical sky this might seem somewhat strange, the colour of the temperate sky even in the finest weather intends to be rather pale than deep blue. The pale blue of the sky in dull weather was not regarded as the real colour of the sky thus, "like the substance of the heavens in purity" (Ex. 24:10) (see below). Deep indigo blue may thus be taken to be the exact shade of the colour tekheleth in question.

YHWH bless you,

joshwaxman said...

thanks. very interesting. i was talking about interpreting it just based on the etymology of the word in Hebrew, but this modern interpretation is much more elaborate.

by the way, we posted within minutes of each other, so it is possible that you missed one of my replies. see above, just in case.



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