Friday, August 28, 2015

Onkelos and the peshat of לֹא-יוּמְתוּ אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים

In a recent shiur on masechet Sanhedrin (either Introduction to Masechet Sanhedrin or Sanhedrin #1 - Beit Din and Dinei Mamonot), Rav Schachter pointed out an oddity in Onkelos on parashat Ki Teitzei:

כד,טז לֹא-יוּמְתוּ אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים, וּבָנִים לֹא-יוּמְתוּ עַל-אָבוֹת:  אִישׁ בְּחֶטְאוֹ, יוּמָתוּ.  {ס}לָא יְמוּתוּן אֲבָהָן עַל פֹּם בְּנִין, וּבְנִין לָא יְמוּתוּן עַל פֹּם אֲבָהָן:  אֲנָשׁ בְּחוֹבֵיהּ, יְמוּתוּן.  {ס}

Onkelos' general style and purpose is to give the peshat translation of the pasuk. Yet here, in translating לֹא-יוּמְתוּ אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים, he renders the phrase as לָא יְמוּתוּן אֲבָהָן עַל פֹּם בְּנִין.

The peshat would be that one does not punish the fathers for the sins of the sons. The derashat Chazal is that the testimony of the sons cannot be used against the father (in a capital case). And עַל פֹּם means "on the mouth of", which is "on the word of".

So, Rav Schachter remarks, it is very strange that Onkelos here deviates and translates based on the derasha instead of the peshat.

It is a good question. However, I think the answer is that, indeed, Rav Schachter is right, that Onkelos regularly gives the peshat translation. If so, we should consider whether עַל פֹּם can convey the peshat meaning.

Looking to Jastrow, we see that sometimes, פם together with a preposition can mean "because of". On page 1142:

In the phrase עַל פֹּם, the word עַל is there because it is there in the pasuk, in the Biblical Hebrew. But maybe one might think עַל means "at the same time as," just as not taking the mother bird עַל the baby birds from a kan tzipor. And so, it is a little clearer to render the ambiguous עַל as עַל פֹּם. Father are not killed because of [the sins of] the sons, and sons are not killed because of [the sins of] their father.

Indeed, if עַל פֹּם meant "the testimony of" in Aramaic, then we would expect that phrase to appear in Onkelos when the pasuk itself uses עַל-פִּי to mean "the testimony of". Compare what happens in Ki Tzeitzei with the pasuk and Targum Onkelos in parashat Shofetim:

יז,ו עַל-פִּי שְׁנַיִם עֵדִים, אוֹ שְׁלֹשָׁה עֵדִים--יוּמַת הַמֵּת:  לֹא יוּמַת, עַל-פִּי עֵד אֶחָד.עַל מֵימַר תְּרֵין סָהֲדִין, אוֹ תְּלָתָא סָהֲדִין--יִתְקְטִיל דְּחַיָּב קְטוֹל:  לָא יִתְקְטִיל, עַל מֵימַר סָהִיד חַד.

Rather than writing עַל פֹּם, Onkelos writes there עַל מֵימַר. We might have even thought in parashat Shofetim that this עַל-פִּי to mean "because of" rather than "upon the mouth of", but Onkelos there emphasizes that פי is to be taken literally as "mouth", and thus the "statement".

And so, I would suggest the since Onkelos does not say עַל מֵימַר in Ki Teitzei, and because this would accord with the peshat meaning of the pasuk, he means עַל פֹּם as "because".


daniel said...

Excellent post! Thank you.

Abi Jakubovic said...

Thank you for shedding some light on a Targum Onkeles that I would have simply breezed through without thinking twice about.

Moshe Laymore said...

Thank you for a great vort.


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