Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Gazelle and the Deer

In Nature and Man in the Bible, page 271, Dr. Yehuda Feliks explains how the common identification people make of the Biblical tzvi and ayal is reversed.

Chazal had their identities correct (as we can see from details in the gemara, Chullin 59a), but it was confused in the time of the Rishonim. To cite a post (/letter) from Rabbi Slifkin:
This is no different from how the Rishonim in Ashkenaz mistakenly thought that the tzvi is the deer, and were therefore confounded by the Gemara which states that the horns of a tzvi are not branched. The reason was that that they were unfamiliar with the gazelle, which does not live in Europe, and so transposed the name tzvi to the deer. Only Rav Saadiah Gaon, who was familiar with the animal life of the Middle East, correctly identified the tzvi as the gazelle and the ayal as the deer.
And in another post (/letter):
Europe has very different animals from those of Eretz Yisrael, and the names of animals in Tanach were transposed to local equivalents. For example, the gazelle of Israel perfectly matches all Scriptural, Talmudic and Midrashic descriptions of the tzvi. While Jews in north Africa, which also has gazelles, had a (correct) tradition that the tzvi is the gazelle (and that the deer is the ayal), there were no gazelles in Europe. As a result, the name tzvi in Europe was transposed to the deer (hirsch). This led Rashi, in his commentary to Chullin 59b, to note that the creature traditionally called tzvi in Europe (i.e. the deer) is not the tzvi described by Chazal. Thus, Rashi himself observes that European traditions regarding the identities of animals mentioned in the Torah are not accurate."
I would like to look in this post specifically at what Saadia Gaon says, but we should not forget this point, that "the gazelle of Israel perfectly matches all Scriptural, Talmudic and Midrashic descriptions of the tzvi." And that reversing the identification introduces a mismatch with these descriptions.

From Saadia Gaon's Tafsir on parashat Reeh:

Thus, the Biblical Hebrew word ha-tzevi is translated into the Arabic al-tzabi. And Biblical Hebrew word ha-`ayal is translated into the Arabic wal-`iyal.

In other words, Saadia Gaon is translating these Hebrew words into their Arabic cognates.

In other words, it is not merely Saadia Gaon operating in a place which has both animals transmitting the masorah by identifying these species by their (completely unrelated) Arabic names. There is an even stronger linguistic connection present in this identification, in that people living in the Middle East used the very same names, or their cognates, for these species. And we would expect less linguistic shift in the same area of the Torah and of Chazal. And Saadia endorses that linguistic connection.

On the other hand, this raises the possibility that Saadia Gaon is not really translating at all. Sure, he is writing in Judeo-Arabic, and explicitly identifying Hebrew species by their Judeo-Arabic equivalents, where these were indeed Judeo-Arabic words. (And if the species were indeed reversed, a conscientious translator would make sure to reverse them, as al-`iyal and al-tzabi.) But at the same time, since these are cognates, perhaps he was simply rendering the definite article ha as al and writing the existing Arabic word which was the cognate. Not necessarily as a masorah, but just assuming that word X == equivalent word Y. Just as in Onkelos, tabya is a cognate, because Aramaic letter tet corresponds to Hebrew letter tzadi; and ayla is obviously the Aramaic cognate of ayal.


A bit later in parashat Re'eh, in Devarim 14:5, we again have the tzvi and the ayal, in a list of five kosher wild animals. For the sake of completeness, we should see how Saadia Gaon renders this as well:

Once again, we have the Hebrew ayal rendered into Judeo-Arabic as wal-`iyal and the Hebrew utzevi rendered into the Judeo-Arabic wal-tzabbi.

We also see how many cognates there are in these lists of animals. For instance, Hebrew veyachmur in wal-yachmur in Judeo-Arabic. For the Hebrew ve`ako, we have wal-we'il, which does not match, but notice that the Aramaic in Onkelos is veya'la (note that yud and vav switch off). The other animals listed in this pasuk are not cognates. But see the previous pasuk and the cognates there, for behemah and tochelu, and for bakar, tzon, and ez.

So for some of these creatures, such as the giraffe for zemer, Saadia Gaon clearly is performing an identification and translation. And cognates will be present just because the two languages are closely related. Still, the ambiguity discussed above is present: that these are cognates lends strength to the identification, since these are approximately the same names in approximately the same area. On the other hand, these are easy to assume and fall back upon.


Also, in the Tafsir on Shir HaShirim 2:9, Saadia Gaon translates tzvi and ayal the same way:


SF2K01 said...

Well, just a quick check in modern Arabic, a deer is called أيل, or ayal, while the word Gazelle actually comes from the Arabic, غزال, meaning beautiful. My best guess at Tzvi (transliterated based on the Tafsir) comes out as a word for boy so that doesn't seem to have stuck so obviously.

joshwaxman said...

Going to address in a later post bli neder.


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