Monday, May 06, 2013

Do male lions hunt? Ain mikra yotzei miydei peshuto

Over at Rationalist Judaism, Rabbi Slifkin makes
the point that male lions don't hunt for their families, even though a pasuk in Nachum asserts that they do.
As he writes:
In the previous post, we saw a reference to the following verse:
[Where is] the lion that tore prey for his cubs, and strangled for his lionesses, and filled his lairs with prey, and his dens with mangled flesh? (Nachum 2:13)
Although this verse appears as part of a metaphor, metaphors are intended to be genuine, i.e. to reflect actual facts. Furthermore, the Gemara certainly takes it as expressing facts about lion hunting.

But, as one reader pointed out, lions do not in fact hunt for their cubs and lionesses. It's the lionesses who do all the work!

This is yet another example of the same phenomenon that appears with Scriptural descriptions of hares and hyraxes chewing cud, dew falling from the heavens, the heart and kidneys as housing the mind, and the sky as a solid dome. As Rambam says with regard to Yechezekel's account of the heavens, which Rambam saw as scientifically inaccurate, prophesy appears via the worldview of the prophet. Or, to use another phrase: Dibra Torah k'lashon bnei adam, "the Torah speaks in the language of man."
And thus, this demonstrates that the assumption is that it is the natural order for the males to work for a living and provide for their wives and families, rather than the opposite.

In the comment section, someone brings a nice objection, in that it helps flesh out the question of how to approach metaphor in Tanach:
I'm not sure the premise is correct, that the metaphor has to reflect a true reality to be a metaphor. If Rashi and Radak are correct, this is a lamentation about the downfall of kings, and so that certainly was male-oriented. The mashal is used for the nimshal, not really to be an accurate description in and of itself. 
To this comment, I got to reply, and this is my comment that I feel merits a post of its own. What should be one's methodology where there is mashal. Does the existence of nimshal entirely obliterate the truth of the mashal?

I wrote there:
That premise is the premise of Rav Kahana:
From Shabbat 63a:
מ"ט דר"א דאמר תכשיטין הן לו דכתיב (תהילים מה) חגור חרבך על ירך גבור הודך והדרך א"ל רב כהנא למר בריה דרב הונא האי בדברי תורה כתיב א"ל אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו א"ר כהנא כד הוינא בר תמני סרי שנין והוה גמירנא ליה לכוליה תלמודא ולא הוה ידענא דאין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו עד השתא מאי קמ"ל דליגמר איניש והדר ליסבר:

Originally he thought that since the pasuk in Tehillim was a metaphor referring to divrei Torah, it need not be true on a literal level, so we cannot learn that a sword is a tachshit in terms of Shabbos. But then he learned that ain mikra yotzei miydei peshuto, that even where the intent is a metaphor, that does not mean that the literal level of the metaphor is not true. (And that, BTW, is the true basic meaning of ain mikra, before being modified by others.)
To add to that idea, I want to make an additional point. Ain mikra yotzei miydei peshuto only occurs three times in all of Shas:

סדר נשים, מסכת יבמות
  • דף כד, א גמרא: אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו הכא אתאי גזרה שוה אפיקתיה מפשטיה לגמרי ואי לאו גזרה שוה הוה אמינא שם שם ממש למאן קמזהר רחמנא ליבם יקום על שם אחיך מיבעי ליה אי לבי דינא יקום על שם אחי אביו מיבעי
סדר מועד, מסכת שבת
  • דף סג, א גמרא: א"ל אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו א"ר כהנא כד הוינא בר תמני סרי שנין והוה גמירנא ליה לכוליה <הש"ס> {תלמודא} ולא הוה ידענא דאין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו עד השתא מאי קמ"ל דליגמר איניש והדר ליסבר
סדר נשים, מסכת יבמות
  • דף יא, ב גמרא: הא צרתה תועבה כי תיבעי לך אליבא דרבנן אע"ג דאמור רבנן טומאה בסוטה הוא דכתיב אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו או דלמא כיון דאיעקר איעקר איכא דאמרי אליבא דרבנן לא תיבעי לך כיון דאיתעקר איעקר כי תיבעי לך

I have seen this pointed out by folks trying to demonstrate that the Rishonim took this fairly limited principle* and made it into a broad methodological approach, and furthermore changed it from what Chazal meant by it. Rashi's ain mikra principle is not necessarily the same as Chazal's ain mikra principle. This is a good point, and true, I think. (Update: See here for a random example.)

[* well, though I say fairly limited, note in Yevamos 24, Rava starts his statement with 'though in kol haTorah kulah we say ain mikra... here we don't.]

But further than this, two out of the three applications of ain mikra are not (necessarily) true applications of ain mikra either. In Shabbos is a true application. In Yevamos 24, Rava is saying that this is an exclusion. And Yevamos 11 is a stama degemara.

Could we argue based on Shabbos for a definition of ain mikra limited to pure mashal and nimshal. I am pretty sure of it, though we would still need to handle Yevamos 24.


Bennett said...

There is a difference between Nachum 2:13 and Tehillim 45:4. Nachum 2:13 is obviously a metaphor, Tehillim 45:4 is not.

joshwaxman said...

i think that to chazal, though, tehillim was also a metaphor. (because of how they understood sacred literature. i'm not sure they are wrong here, reading up to pasuk 7. i don't know how to gauge obviousness, as i am not them.) and a metaphor is different from a derasha.


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