Friday, February 05, 2010

Does Onkelos take a position on whether Moshe divorced or merely sent away?

Summary: Do variant translations in Onkelos of שִׁלּוּחֶיהָ reflect different sides of a dispute in Mechilta, as to whether Moshe sent Tzipporah away or divorced her? I part ways with a consensus, and consider that Onkelos is merely trying to preserve the ambiguity of the Biblical text.

Post: In parshat Yitro:

יח,ב וַיִּקַּח, יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-צִפֹּרָה, אֵשֶׁת מֹשֶׁה--אַחַר, שִׁלּוּחֶיהָ.וּדְבַר, יִתְרוֹ חֲמוּהִי דְּמֹשֶׁה, יָת צִפּוֹרָה, אִתַּת מֹשֶׁה--בָּתַר, דְּשַׁלְּחַהּ.

This, from Mechon-mamre, is based on a Yemenite manuscript, in which אַחַר שִׁלּוּחֶיהָ is translated as בָּתַר דְּשַׁלְּחַהּ. In our Mikraos Gedolos, we have בָּתַר דְּפַטְרָהּ

,  batar de-fatrah. And Shadal in Ohev Ger and Berliner discuss the variants. is an an acceptable translation of the word, but is there any distinction?

I see a general adoption of the idea (here, here, here) that this reflects a dispute found in the Mechilta:
ו[יח, ב] ויקח יתרו חותן משה את צפורה אשת משה אחר שלוחיה - ר' יהושע אומר: 
אחר שנפטרה הימנו בגט.
נאמר כאן שלוח
ונאמר להלן: שילוח.

מה שלוח האמור להלן גט,
אף כאן גט.

ר' אלעזר המודעי אומר:
מאחר שנפטרה ממנו במאמר, שבשעה שאמר הקב"ה למשה: לך הוצא את עמי בני ישראל ממצרים, שנאמר:לכה נא ואשלחך אל פרעה, באותה שעה נטל אשתו ושני בניו והיה מוליכם למצרים, שנאמר: ויקח משה את אשתו ואת בניו וירכיבם על החמור וישב ארצה מצרים. באותה שעה אמר לאהרן: לך לקראת משה, יצא לקראת משה וחבקו ונשקו.
א"ל: משה, היכן היית כל השנים הללו?
אמר לו: במדין.
א"ל: מה טף ונשים אלו עמך?
א"ל: אשתי ובני.
ולאן אתה מוליכם? למצרים.
א"ל: על הראשונים אנו מצטערים ועכשיו נצטער גם באלו?!
באותה שעה אמר לצפורה: לכי לבית אביך.
באותה שעה הלכה לבית אביה ונטלה שני בניה, לכך נאמר: אחר שלוחיה. 
Rabbi Yehoshua says it means that Moshe divorced her, while Rabbi Eleazer HaModa'i maintains that he merely sent her off. And if you consider the distribution of Onkelos' translations of שלח,
where it is freeing a servant or divorcing a wife he uses פטר, while in other instances he uses שלח. Does that mean that he endorses either one position or the other? It would seem so, at least at first glance.

However, in terms of דפטרה, consider that in the midrash in the Mechilta itself, this word is used to describe either. Thus, אחר שנפטרה הימנו בגט; and מאחר שנפטרה ממנו במאמר. If Onkelos were choosing sides, it would be after having read or heard this midrash. If so, this might well be merely preserving the ambiguity just as it was encoded in the midrash. On the other hand, by studying the entire body of Onkelos' translation, we can get a sense of how he uses words, and so perhaps we should heed his regular choice of language rather than the language of the midrash. But this sending away, even without a get, is somewhat unique, in that it still is sort of severing a relationship with her, at least temporarily. (Indeed, Netina LaGer has דפטרה associated with the Mechilta and the position that he sent her away (but not via a get), as in Rashi, though at least one commentator labels this a (typographic) error. Perhaps it is not.)  I don't know that this is really comparable to all the other instances in which Onkelos translated it as שלח. Perhaps פטר would be due here anyway.

In terms of שלח, this would seem to be the default translation. And more than that, it is the Aramaic cognate of the Hebrew שלח. As such, it is not even a real translation at all, but rather Onkelos refraining from translating. If Onkelos saw this machlokes in the Mechilta, and did not wish to take sides, then he might choose the default שלח, in order to maintain the precise level of ambiguity we have in the Biblical text itself.

A separate interesting question is which girsa is correct, and original. I don't know enough about the relative qualities of the manuscripts involved, though Bei'urei Onkelos states that the sefarim meduyakim have דפטרה. What is better in general should more likely be better in the average, other unknown case. On the other hand, we might consider each individual word, and its irregularity. Perhaps the non-translation is "easier" that דפטרה, such that it would become דשלחה if the text were first cast into doubt. Perhaps there is some other vector of change. At this point, צ"ע.


yaak said...

Excuse me for hijacking the post, but I want to know if you heard the following (that is somewhat related to the post) and where the source is:

Moshe Rabbeinu sent his wife away on the same donkey that she was on because he didn't want the donkey that Mashiah was to ride upon to be contaminated by the low spiritual level of Mitzraim.
If you happen to know, is this in Midrash somewhere or is this some later explanation?

joshwaxman said...

i don't know. but i think the long-lived donkey surfaces first in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, and that that midrash does not mention the detail. *If* so, it might well be a later explanation. I'm not sure from where, though.



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