Monday, September 19, 2011

Onkelos' rendition of וְעָבַדְתָּ שָּׁם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, עֵץ וָאָבֶן, and its censorship

Summary: Both Rashi and Onkelos diverge from the most literal rendition. Why? Also, why was this Onkelos crossed out by a censor?

Post: While flipping through a Chumash with Onkelos, dfus Savyonita, 1557, last week, I noticed something censored out. It was two words within the Targum of Devarim 28:36.

What has been crossed out? The text I mark below in red:

כח,לו יוֹלֵךְ יְהוָה אֹתְךָ, וְאֶת-מַלְכְּךָ אֲשֶׁר תָּקִים עָלֶיךָ, אֶל-גּוֹי, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַעְתָּ אַתָּה וַאֲבֹתֶיךָ; וְעָבַדְתָּ שָּׁם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, עֵץ וָאָבֶן.יַגְלֵי יְיָ יָתָךְ, וְיָת מַלְכָּךְ דִּתְקִים עֲלָךְ, לְעַם, דְּלָא יְדַעְתָּא אַתְּ וַאֲבָהָתָךְ; וְתִפְלַח תַּמָּן לְעַמְמַיָּא פָּלְחֵי טָעֲוָתָא, אָעָא וְאַבְנָא.

Similarly, when the phrase reappears in Onkelos on 24:64, it seems to be partially crossed out:
That is,

כח,סד וֶהֱפִיצְךָ יְהוָה בְּכָל-הָעַמִּים, מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ וְעַד-קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ; וְעָבַדְתָּ שָּׁם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַעְתָּ אַתָּה וַאֲבֹתֶיךָ--עֵץ וָאָבֶן.וִיבַדְּרִנָּךְ יְיָ בְּכָל עַמְמַיָּא, מִסְּיָפֵי אַרְעָא וְעַד סְיָפֵי אַרְעָא; וְתִפְלַח תַּמָּן לְעַמְמַיָּא פָּלְחֵי טָעֲוָתָא, דְּלָא יְדַעְתָּא אַתְּ וַאֲבָהָתָךְ--אָעָא וְאַבְנָא.

The Aramaic itself represents a divergence from the most literal rendition of the Hebrew Biblical text. Each time, it is translating וְעָבַדְתָּ שָּׁם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, 'and you will serve, there, foreign gods'. Compare with the earlier translation, of Devarim 28:14:

כח,יד וְלֹא תָסוּר, מִכָּל-הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם--יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול:  לָלֶכֶת, אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים--לְעָבְדָם.  {פ}וְלָא תִּסְטוֹן, מִכָּל פִּתְגָמַיָּא דַּאֲנָא מְפַקֵּיד יָתְכוֹן יוֹמָא דֵּין--לְיַמִּינָא וְלִסְמָאלָא:  לִמְהָךְ, בָּתַר טָעֲוָת עַמְמַיָּא--לְמִפְלַחְהוֹן.  {פ}

where אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים--לְעָבְדָם is rendered by Onkelos as 'after the idols of the nations, to serve them." I would guess that even this is careful wording, in that the אחרים are the nations, and thus, 'the idols of others', elohim shel acheirim, rather than 'other gods', which would imply that there are other forces in shamayim, competing with Hashem.

I should note that Rashi, as well, endorses Onkelos' explanation. At least on the last of these three, in 28:64:

64. And the Lord will scatter you among all the nations, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you will serve other deities unknown to you or your forefathers, [deities of] wood and stone.סד. וֶהֱפִיצְךָ יְ־הֹוָ־ה בְּכָל הָעַמִּים מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ וְעַד קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ וְעָבַדְתָּ שָּׁם אֱ־לֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַעְתָּ אַתָּה וַאֲבֹתֶיךָ עֵץ וָאָבֶן:
and there you will serve other deities: As the Targum [Onkelos] renders: [and there you will serve nations that worship idols. Thus, the verse is] not referring to actual idolatry, but rather paying customs and head taxes to idolatrous priests.ועבדת שם אלהים אחרים: כתרגומו, לא עבודת אלהות ממש, אלא מעלים מס וגולגליות לכומרי עבודה זרה:

But Rashi does not say this on pasuk 14, where Onkelos does not deviate in translation. And he does not even say this on pasuk 36, which was the first time Onkelos said this. This is something which requires investigation.

Regardless, 28:14 introduces the idea of Israel serving foreign idols, so why does Onkelos divert from that explanation in these two places, and why does Rashi divert from that explanation in this one place?

Two ideas come to mind:
  1. If they are serving other gods in other lands, just what is their Jewish identity? How would one expect them to ever return to Hashem? And it does not match the galus that we have experienced.
  2. In terms of placement, there are the misdeeds and the punishments. Devarim 28:14 described the misdeeds, and so serving idols makes sense as a misdeed. But Devarim 28:64, as well as Devarim 28:36 are about punishments. How would their serving other gods be a punishment? It makes more sense to recast this as working for the gentiles who serve idols, rather than worshiping the idols themselves.
(Of course, this was prior to the Anusim, the Marranos, in Spain, who felt compelled to be closet Christians while secretly practicing Judaism to the best of their ability.)

How does the pasuk support such a reading? How does וְעָבַדְתָּ שָּׁם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים become וְתִפְלַח תַּמָּן לְעַמְמַיָּא פָּלְחֵי טָעֲוָתָא? There is a duplication of פלח, but clearly וְתִפְלַח is the direct translation. I would assume it is something like a synecdoche, or metonym, calling the part by the whole (e.g. 'all hands on deck', referring to a sailor as a hand); or calling an eved by the name of his adon. Rashi, by saying מעלים מס וגולגליות לכומרי עבודה זרה, takes Onkelos (or perhaps expanding upon Onkelos) as more specifically targeting idolatrous priests than idolatrous peoples. If so, perhaps it is vicarious working for of the idols, via the intermediate of the priests. I think Rashi casts it that way to allow it to better fit into peshat in the pasuk.

What about this cross-out? It is not a correction, to better match Onkelos to the peshat in the pasuk, but is censorship of offensive text. What is so offensive? Well, in this galus, who are the Jews serving? The Christians, of course. And if those they are serving are described as worshipers of wood and stone, then one is calling the Christian faith idolatry. This then sparks the censorship.


S. said...

Fascinating. Actually, I'm trying to understand how it's supposed to read in the emended version. You will serve wood and stone? What is that supposed to mean?

joshwaxman said...

it's admittedly slightly awkward but i would guess that they revert it back to the other meaning of פלח. thus, 'you will worship wood and stone'. my guess is that this new meaning was intended by the censor, which is why they left the leading ל in place, with no cross out.

or maybe you are right and it means nothing, but they are just stripping out the offensive part, leaving the translation unintelligible.

Sean G. said...

But was is the literal definition of טָעֲוָתָא? Isn't it "Desire" and not really "Idolatry".

joshwaxman said...

maybe you are thinking of taavah spelled with a tav ת and an aleph א, rather than with a tes ט and an ayin ע?

Offhand, I would perhaps translate it literally as 'error'.


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