Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Did Chazal know the meaning of Hebrew words?

Summary: Given a Tannaitic dispute about the respective meaning of chartzan and zag, some Protestant scholar says no. Shadal says yes, and explains how something so basic can be a matter of dispute. Also, that Targum Onkelos is merely attributed to Onkelos.

Post: Consider the following pasuk, and Rashi, from parashat Naso:

4. For the entire duration of his abstinence, he shall not eat any product of the grape vine, from seeds to skins.ד. כֹּל יְמֵי נִזְרוֹ מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר יֵעָשֶׂה מִגֶּפֶן הַיַּיִן מֵחַרְצַנִּים וְעַד זָג לֹא יֹאכֵל:
seeds: Heb. חַרְצַנִּים. They are the kernels. - [Sifrei Naso 1:93]חרצנים: הם הגרעינין:
skins: Heb. זָג, the outer shells, for the seeds are inside, like the clapper in a bell (זוּג).זג: הם קליפות שמבחוץ, שהחרצנים בתוכן כענבל בזוג:

Shadal writes (here and here):

"That which is made (yei'aseh) from the grape vine" -- the language of asiya is found to also connote gathering and acquisition, such as in {Bereishis 31:1}

1. And he heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, "Jacob has taken all that belonged to our father, and from what belonged to our father, he has amassed this entire fortune."א. וַיִּשְׁמַע אֶת דִּבְרֵי בְנֵי לָבָן לֵאמֹר לָקַח יַעֲקֹב אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר לְאָבִינוּ וּמֵאֲשֶׁר לְאָבִינוּ עָשָׂה אֵת כָּל הַכָּבֹד הַזֶּה:

and {Devarim 8:17}:

17. and you will say to yourself, "My strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me."יז. וְאָמַרְתָּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי עָשָׂה לִי אֶת הַחַיִל הַזֶּה:

and so too here, מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר יֵעָשֶׂה מִגֶּפֶן הַיַּיִן, the import is anything collected from the vine, and its explanation is at its side, [in the continuation of the pasuk], evem the chartzanim and even the zag.

'Chartzanim', in my opinion, are the name for grapes that have already been trodden and wine was made from them, and this encompasses the grapeskin and the seeds within it, and this is as they said in the Yerushalmi {Demai, perel 1 halacha 1}:
At first, the grapes were plentiful and the chartzanim were not considered chashuv, and now that the grapes are not plentiful, the chartanim are considered chashuv.
And the intent is at the time of plentiful grapes, then, the grapes which had already been trodden were not considered to be anything, for no one would purchase them to produce temed from them {water poured on the crushed grapes}, for the good wine was at a very cheap price. And the opposite when the grapes were not plentiful, then the chartzanim were sold in order to produce temed from them.

And so too when they say {Berachot 22a}
'R. Josiah in the matter of mixed kinds', as it is written, Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with two kinds of seeds.14  R. Josiah says: The law has not been broken until one sows wheat, barley and grape kernels with one throw.15 
The intent is the outer skin with the seeds within it.

While it is true that the seeds in and of themselves have in them the force of germination, still, one who comes to plant a vine will not trouble himself to extract the seeds from within the grape skin, but will rather take the grapes which have already been trodden upon and plant them just as they are.

Howbeit, zag is in my opinion the name of the seeds within the grape skin, and the verse is saying that the Nazir shall not eat even chartzanim from which the wine has already gone out, and even a single zag {seed}, even though it is not human food.

My explanation is in accordance with the position of Rabbi Yehuda {in Nazir 34b}:
And the Targum of Onkelos,

ו,ד כֹּל, יְמֵי נִזְרוֹ:  מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר יֵעָשֶׂה מִגֶּפֶן הַיַּיִן, מֵחַרְצַנִּים וְעַד-זָג--לֹא יֹאכֵל.כֹּל, יוֹמֵי נִזְרֵיהּ:  מִכֹּל דְּיִתְעֲבֵיד מִגֻּפְנָא דְּחַמְרָא, מִפֻּרְצְנִין וְעַד עִצּוּרִין--לָא יֵיכוֹל.

is in accordance with the position of Rabbi Yossi (see there, daf 39a).

R. ELEAZAR B. AZARIAH SAID etc.: R. Joseph said: In agreement with whom is the rendering in the Targum2  as 'from the kernels even unto the skins'?3  — In agreement with the opinion of R. Jose.4

And after him [Onkelos] followed most of the meforshim and the authors of books of shorashim [roots]; also Gesenius. Only the Targum Yerushalmi which was created in Eretz Yisrael preserves the import of these words truthfully, just as was well-known in Eretz Yisrael as well in the language of the common folk. Not so was Targum Onkelos, which was produced in Bavel, and the Kadmonim called it by the name of Targum Bavli (see Kerem Chedem 5, page 223). 

And this that we find the Tannaim, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yossi, arguing about the meaning of these words, I think that this is the substance of the matter: Rabbi Yehuda explained the words according to their import even in his days, but Rabbi Yossi, who was from Tzippori which was in the Galil, accustomed himself to not rely upon the custom of the hamon, and he sought the import of the words based upon the roots from which they were hewn. And since he found that the word zog that is can mean a bell, he thought that the zag as well meant the outside and not the inside. 

And with this is removed the complaint of the scholar Gussetius {a French Protestant theologian and philologist, 1635-1702)}, who opened his {big} mouth wide in his Lexicon (in the word zag) and said that one should not rely at all upon the words of Chazal in terms of the meaning of the words, for the understanding of the language had already been forgotten from them, to the extent that they did not know what was a chartzan and what was a zag

And this is a blatant falsehood, for from the Yerushalmi in Demai we see that in their language, they were in no doubt as to the import of the words, and that the Jerusalemite Targumim translated in accordance with the implication of the words in the common speech. And only Rabbi Yossi, who was born in the medina, where they did not preserve their language well, did not wish to rely on the language of the hamon am, and decided to be wise, to explain from his own thought, and the people of Bavel followed after him in the Targum which is attributed to Onkelos."

I, Josh, would simply add that Rabbi Yossi born in Tzippori but whose family was of Babylonian-Jewish origin -- see Yoma 66b. Perhaps we could thus construct this as a Babylonian / Eretz Yisrael divergence even from that early stage.

What sevara would account for these divergent opinions of Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Yehuda? Besides zag as a bell, perhaps the plural in the pasuk itself. That pasuk, again, was:

4. For the entire duration of his abstinence, he shall not eat any product of the grape vine, from seeds to skins.ד. כֹּל יְמֵי נִזְרוֹ מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר יֵעָשֶׂה מִגֶּפֶן הַיַּיִן מֵחַרְצַנִּים וְעַד זָג לֹא יֹאכֵל:

Chartzanim are plural and zag is singular. But a grape only has one husk, and many seeds. I could also point to the following, for the word chartzan, though. Yerushalmi Maasarot, I, 48d, "their kernels {chartzan} must be seen through their berries." Chartzanita, in Tanchuma, Vaera 14: like the berry of a pomegranate whose stones {chartzanita} are seen from within." Also, words of similar meaning might shift slightly semantically between Biblical and Mishnaic times.

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