Monday, April 11, 2011

Yellow, and the Authenticity of the Zohar

Summary: The Zohar uses Tzehivin to refer to a yellowish hue, a usage not found in Chazal. Does Rabbi Moshe Miller's rebuttal to this anachronism work? Here are some earlier posts responding to the article on the basis of Rabbi Yesa, Rabbi AbbaCappadocia, Kefar Kanya, and Archeih, as mentioned in the Zohar.

Post: In a lengthy article attempting to debunk evidence of late authorship of the Zohar, Rabbi Moshe Miller writes:
The words in bold print are from the Zohar that Scholem and his colleagues claim are unique to the Zohar or are invented or misunderstood. Let the reader compare for himself: 
The following is a list of "new" expressions (new in form or root) listed by Tzvi Kedari in Dikduk HaLashon HaAramit shel haZohar (p. 145-6). In several cases the word or expression is found only once in the entire Zohar. How one can generalize from a single occurrence to unusual usages in the original is difficult to understand.
I'd have to see Kedari inside to determine whether he is using these as "proof" of late authorship, or rather simply writing a dictionary and grammar, in which noting novel usage for a different Aramaic is entirely appropriate. Since from the limited information we are given, "new" includes "new in form", many of Rabbi Miller's debunkings are not debunkings at all. For example,
Tzahivin (Zohar II 73a). A similar expression is found in Moed Katan 24b (m'tzhivin). Also in the sense of "glow" in Pesachim 113b;Zevachim 19b, Menachot 68b (tzahavu). The expression "panav tzohavin" is found fairly often: Ketubot 103b; Nedarim 49b; Menachot 18a etc.
So? These are similar expressions, not exact expressions? Meanwhile, Rabbi Miller left out a whole bunch he wasn't able to find in a Bar Ilan search. So we are not evaluating all of the evidence - not by a long shot. Besides these sources he mentioned, he neglected Vayikra Rabba which has tzahivin.

Also, explain to me clearly what the word / expression means in the Zohar, and what it means in all these cases. Thus, in Zohar, we read (Zohar on parashat Yitro):
עיינין צהיבין ירוקין, שגעונא אית ביה, ובגין שגעוניה איהו פום ממלל רברבן, ועביד גרמיה כבר נש רב ברברבנו
90. IF his eyes are yellowish-green, he has madness about him, and because of this madness his mouth speaks in a bombastic manner, and he carries a self-importance about himself, and whoever attacks him, conquers him. He is not worthy of the Torah secrets, since in his heart he can not keep silent about such secrets, AND HE REVEALS THEM TO OTHERS so that through them he can make himself seem a bigger MAN. This is the mystery of the letter Hei, which is only included in the letter Zayin, and is removed from the letter Samech. It is because he conducts himself with pride that he is far removed from the letter Samech and can not approach it. When he speaks, he produces many wrinkles on his forehead.

So, we are speaking here of a yellowish hue. Yellow appears as an adjective, to refer to a color, and in this particular form. What about Rabbi Miller's examples?

Well, he leads with matzhivin, in Moed Kata 24b:
ר' שמעון בן אלעזר אומר היוצא במטה רבים מצהיבין עליו אינו יוצא במטה אין רבים מצהיבין עליו
As Rashi explains there, this means "pained":
מצהיבין - מרגישין ומצערין:

This does not mean yellow at all. That the same three letter root in different form appears, meaning something entirely different is no rebuttal at all. But until we actually look it up, we don't see what nonsense Rabbi Miller is spouting. He writes "Let the reader compare for himself", but probably assumes that the reader is only going to rely on his summary. His other examples -- we can trust him that they exist -- are of panav tzohavin, and the like, which, as he writes, carries the meaning "glowing". That is also not the same as yellow.


He should have explained clearly that in the Zohar it means 'yellow', so that the reader could indeed compare for himself. Instead, he deliberately or accidentally conceals this information, so that the reader is left confused, though strengthened in his emunah.

11 comments:

Rabbi Moshe Miller said...

Both Kedari and (in particular) his teacher, Gershom Scholem, fail to give exact references to the words which they claim are new and not found elsewhere in Talmud etc. so it is sometimes difficult to evaluate their claims.

It seems to me that in this instance YOU misunderstood the word 'tzahivin.' It is not a color (ירוק - yarok) is the word for yellow or greenish-yellow.
Tzahivin here in the Zohar means 'glowing, shining' or 'pained' just as in the Gemara, which is why I did not translate it as yellow. That's what YOU did, based on your soncino translation I assume (which I understand is a translation of a translation -- Maurice Simon et al translated it to English from a French translation which may have translated from a Hebrew translation of the original Aramaic). Talk about authenticity...
Of course there are other references. I make no claim in my introduction that I am giving an exhaustive list. In fact I state clearly that I am not, just a representative selection to prove a point. Here are some more:
מנחות סח, ב: צהבו פניו של רבי יהודה בן נחמיה אמר לו רבי עקיבא יהודה צהבו פניך שהשבת את זקן (צהבו פניו - שמח, רש"י)
מנחות יח, א: צהבו פניו של יוסף הבבלי (רש"י "צהבו פניו - מחמת שמחה"

joshwaxman said...

1) Both Kedari and (in particular) his teacher, Gershom Scholem, fail to give exact references to the words which they claim are new and not found elsewhere in Talmud etc. so it is sometimes difficult to evaluate their claims.

Very nice, but you should know that Tzahov means yellow in post-Talmudic Hebrew, so that if YOUR goal is to debunk these scholars, then rather than **assuming** that the scholars missed a common word meaning "glow", you had the responsibility to think that they believed that the word meant "yellow".

Otherwise, you are falsely portraying to your readers that these scholars thought the word meant "glow" but were ignoramuses or didn't do their homework and missed this common "glow" expression.

Your citation of other examples of צהבו is pointless misdirection. We already acknowledged in the post that it means pains or glows in the Talmud.

I would disagree with you, by the way, that here it means "pained" or "glowing". Look at the context, in the surrounding paragraphs, in Zohar 73a.

1.
עיינין ירוקין, דסחרין (נ"א דמסחרא) בחוורו, ומתערבין אינון ירוקין בההוא חוורו

which is green reduced (or surrounded) with white, with the green mixed with the white

2.
עיינין צהיבין ירוקין

which is the case under discussion

3.
עיינין חוורין דסחרן זעיר בירוקא

White eyes surrounded a bit with green

4.
עיינין ירוקין וחוורין כחדא

eyes with green and white together.

In each of the other cases, they are talking about a mixture of two colors. So, a mixture of two colors would make sense here as well. "Pained"? Why would you suggest that? "Glowing"? It is remotely possible (imho improbable) but fits nowhere near as well in context.

The Sulam commentary translates it as אם עיניו צהובות וירוקות, and intended by this the obvious translation of צהובות, namely the color.

Rabbi Moshe Miller said...

"...these scholars . . were ignoramuses or didn't do their homework and missed this common "glow" expression."

I don't really know what they thought, as the word is merely listed as a "new made-up word", and yes, that's what I'm saying about them, directly or between the lines.

To quote your blog again: "The Zohar uses Tzehivin to refer to a yellowish hue, a usage not found in Chazal."

My understanding is that when the Zohar wants to describe a yellow color it uses the expression זהב which comes in several shades (very same daf in the Razei d'Razin):

גוון דיליה זהב ירקרק באנפוי, גוון דיליה זהב אופיר בדיקניה, גוון דיליה זהב שבא בגבינוי, גוון דיליה (דה"ב ג ו) זהב אפרוים בקריצין דעל עינוי, גוון דיליה זהב סגור בשערא דרישיה, גוון דיליה זהב מופז על חדוי בלוחא דעל לביה, גוון דיליה זהב תרשיש על תרין דרועין

Hence the more plausible translation as "glowing." But if you want to go with the yellow color that's just fine with me. See:

עזרא ח, כז: "וּכְפֹרֵי זָהָב עֶשְׂרִים לַאֲדַרְכֹנִים אָלֶף וּכְלֵי נְחֹשֶׁת מֻצְהָב טוֹבָה שְׁנַיִם חֲמוּדֹת כַּזָּהָב
מצו"צ: מוצהב. מראה כעין גוון הזהב וכן שער צהוב \ויקרא יג
רלב"ג: מוצהב ר''ל כצבע הזהב ותאר הנחשת

And that is the way the Sifra (Chazal, would you agree?) understands it as well:
ספרא תזריע ד, יד: "צהוב"-- לא ירוק, לא אדום, ולא שחור. אוציא את כולם ולא אוציא שער לבן? ודין הוא-- ומה אם שער צהוב, שאינו סימן טומאה בנגע, הרי היא סימן טומאה בנתק. שער לבן שהוא סימן טומאה בנגע, אינו דין שיהא סימן טומאה בנתק?! ת"ל "צהוב"-- צהוב ולא לבן. ולמה הוא דומה? לתבנית הזהב

Rabbi Moshe Miller said...

Actually, let me amend that comment about Scholem et al a bit: either they were ignorant of the texts elsewhere OR they had an agenda. There is evidence for both, imho

Rabbi Moshe Miller said...

I did not amend my position. I still would and will translate this as "glowing," for the reasons mentioned above -- that the Zohar on the same daf uses the word זהב to describe yellow. However, since you seem to insist that מצהיבין must mean yellow I have shown you where such a word exists even in TANACH as explained by CHAZAL (Sifra) demonstrating clearly that Scholem et al did not do their homework. I think you're digging your hole ever deeper, and I've reached the limits of דע מה להשיב...

joshwaxman said...

Hi Rabbi Miller,

You are of course free to argue with the Sulam commentary from Rav Ashlag as to the meaning of the term. I am not persuaded because (a) shades of Gold are not precisely the same thing as Yellow, and (b) different authors (such as main Zohar text vs. the Raza deRazin) might employ different terminology.

If I may quote myself as to what we are discussing here,

The Zohar uses Tzehivin to refer to a yellowish hue, a usage not found in Chazal.

If so, we should look for (a) the word tzehivin, and (b) in the words of Chazal.

In terms of your citation from sefer Ezra coupled with Metzudas Tziyon and Ralbag, these two commentators were not Chazal, and so this does not show Chazal's usage of the term. I will therefore dispense with this.

In terms of your citation of the Sifra, now we are talking! To cite it again in closer proximity to my comment:

ספרא תזריע ד, יד: "צהוב"-- לא ירוק, לא אדום, ולא שחור. אוציא את כולם ולא אוציא שער לבן? ודין הוא-- ומה אם שער צהוב, שאינו סימן טומאה בנגע, הרי היא סימן טומאה בנתק. שער לבן שהוא סימן טומאה בנגע, אינו דין שיהא סימן טומאה בנתק?! ת"ל "צהוב"-- צהוב ולא לבן. ולמה הוא דומה? לתבנית הזהב

To try to summarize, the Torah's use of the word Tzahuv excludes all these colors. And then, via a comparison of pesukim and their laws, we also exclude White. (Indeed, earlier in the Sifra, the word Lavan was used to exclude all these colors and finally via comparison, Tzahuv.) Finally, they define Tzahuv as "in the likeness of Gold".

However, I would point out a number of items that you may have overlooked:

joshwaxman said...

1. Does the Sifra anywhere define Yarok? Does it define Adom? Does it define Lavan? Does it define Shachor?

No. And do you know why not? Because these were colors in common use by Chazal and so NEEDED no definition. That the Sifra felt the need to define it indicates that this was NOT a color term in common usage.

2. Look at Onkelos on the pasuk in Tazria. If tzahov, or better, tzahivin, were a common term in the Aramaic of Chazal for this color, you would expect Onkelos to use it in his translation. Instead, he translates it as סֻמָּק, which is red or reddish. Do you think Onkelos intends to argue with Chazal?

3. Look at Targum Pseudo-Yonatan on this pasuk. I mentioned earlier that this dates to post-Chazal, but you maintain that it is from the time of Chazal. We would expect him to translate it as tzahiv, or tzahivin. After all, this should be a word common in the time of Chazal. Instead, he writes מצלהב, metzalhav. Note the lamed. This perhaps from the word lehava, a flame. Perush Yehonasan defines this as a color approaching Red, and relates it to lehava. Why does he not translate it as tzahiv or tzahivin, which should be a common word used by Chazal?

6. One would imagine that this would be a useful word to employ in the Talmud. Maybe not, depending on what shade it was. But if it indeed meant "yellowish", then there are plenty of places they could have used this to distinguish it from Yarok. Instead, Yarok is used for both green and yellow, and including defining Yarok as like the yolk of an egg. We might have expect it to be usefully employed in hilchot Niddah, or in hilchot Etrog...

5. No one said that Scholem et al didn't define Biblical tzahov as a color, or know that Chazal defined it as a color. Rather, I said that:

"The Zohar uses Tzehivin to refer to a yellowish hue, a usage not found in Chazal."

Note that this was my summary, rather than having seeing Scholem, Tishbi, etc. inside. I am taking all these examples from your article, and you didn't elaborate -- it seems because they didn't elaborate, but only gave a word-list of "new" expressions. But:

(A) Is this word Tzahov used by Chazal? I mean other than of course where they discuss a שיער צהוב, which is a Biblical term. Do they indeed use Tzahov generally as a color? Indications seem the opposite, as elaborated upon above.

(B) The word Tzahivin is employed by Chazal to mean pain or glow. So perhaps what they meant was that this particular Aramaic form of the word coupled with this particular meaning is unique to Zohar. Which it is.

Once again, rather than shooting from the hip and accusing these scholars -- who knew more than either me or you -- of ignorance, perhaps you should have given them enough benefit of the doubt to momentarily have thought through how they might actually know these sources, and what they might have responded. (Much like, lehavdil, some people try to think how Rashi would have responded to the objections of Tosafos.) If you had, then I would be that the "yellow" explanation would have occurred to you; and that many of the responses I have given above would have occurred to you.

Instead, we have your article which, unfortunately, unfairly maligns these scholars as ignorant, based on the author's misunderstanding of the intent of the scholars and (in many cases) the underlying sources.

All the best,
Josh

Rabbi Moshe Miller said...

You are undercutting your own argument. You were the one who insisted it meant yellow, not me, if you remember correctly.
And now you're moving the goalposts (it's the form not the meaning...) Lookinig back at your post I don't see any suggestion of that.

joshwaxman said...

Huh?

You are undercutting your own argument. You were the one who insisted it meant yellow, not me, if you remember correctly.

Yes, I was the one who insisted that (based on the context, the English translation, and based on the Sulam commentary as well) that the Zohar meant "yellow", and that Scholem et al held that it meant "yellow".

To do a diligent job, then, and not malighn Scholem et al, one must not just do a Bar Ilan search and print out all occurrences of the form. One needs to consider what they mean and see whether that meaning occurs in the language of Chazal with that form. And also, perhaps, whether Chazal employed that language (Tzahov even) as a color in their speech.

And now you're moving the goalposts (it's the form not the meaning...) Lookinig back at your post I don't see any suggestion of that.
How about "The Zohar uses Tzehivin to refer to a yellowish hue, a usage not found in Chazal."

And how about "So, we are speaking here of a yellowish hue. Yellow appears as an adjective, to refer to a color, and in this particular form. "

?

In the meantime, even if you didn't happen to see this in my post, the goal posts never moved. The goal posts were set when you wrote your article, to consider these possibilities (or a different meaning, and of meaning combined with form), rather than thinking that these scholars must be ignorant and that you could therefore debunk this by bald citation of the words occurring.

Do you have any answer to the points I have raised, about Chazal's Aramaic? For instance, why do you think Onkelos does not employ tzehivin but instead uses the common word Sumak? What about Targum Pseudo-Yonatan?

joshwaxman said...

malign, not malighn.

of a different meaning, not or a different meaning.

Rabbi Moshe Miller said...

As far as I am concerned, יהי לך אשר לך. I will stick with the Zohar, Ramak, Arizal, R. Chaim Vital, the Baal Shem and their memalei makom. Just keep in mind Chagiga 15b towards the end of the amud.
Have a nice day

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