Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Ki Tavo #2: Bowdlerization of Torah?

In Ki Tavo, where Moshe informs the Jews of the punishment of noncompliance with Hashem's mitzvot, we encounter the following two instances of kerei/ketiv:

Devarim 28:27:
יַכְּכָה ה בִּשְׁחִין מִצְרַיִם, ובעפלים (וּבַטְּחֹרִים), וּבַגָּרָב, וּבֶחָרֶס--אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תוּכַל, לְהֵרָפֵא.
"The LORD will smite thee with the boil of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed."

Devarim 28:30:
אִשָּׁה תְאָרֵשׂ, וְאִישׁ אַחֵר ישגלנה (יִשְׁכָּבֶנָּה)--בַּיִת תִּבְנֶה, וְלֹא-תֵשֵׁב בּוֹ; כֶּרֶם תִּטַּע, וְלֹא תְחַלְּלֶנּוּ.
"Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her; thou shalt build a house, and thou shalt not dwell therein; thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not use the fruit thereof."

In both instances, the ketiv in written without nikud, and the kerei is written in parentheses with nikud.

The first example of kerei/ketiv actually occurs twice in Shmuel Aleph, twice in the 6th perek, where the Aron is taken by the Pelishtim and are punished by Hashem:

Shmuel I 6:4-5
וַיֹּאמְרוּ, מָה הָאָשָׁם אֲשֶׁר נָשִׁיב לוֹ, וַיֹּאמְרוּ מִסְפַּר סַרְנֵי פְלִשְׁתִּים, חֲמִשָּׁה עפלי (טְחֹרֵי) זָהָב וַחֲמִשָּׁה עַכְבְּרֵי זָהָב: כִּי-מַגֵּפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם, וּלְסַרְנֵיכֶם.
וַעֲשִׂיתֶם צַלְמֵי עפליכם (טְחֹרֵיכֶם) וְצַלְמֵי עַכְבְּרֵיכֶם, הַמַּשְׁחִיתִם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וּנְתַתֶּם לֵאלֹקֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, כָּבוֹד; אוּלַי, יָקֵל אֶת-יָדוֹ מֵעֲלֵיכֶם, וּמֵעַל אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, וּמֵעַל אַרְצְכֶם.

"Then said they: 'What shall be the guilt-offering which we shall return to Him?' And they said: 'Five golden emerods, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines; for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.

Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel; peradventure He will lighten His hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land."

and once the word occurs in the same perek in the plain text - that is, both krei and ktiv, in pasuk 11:
וַיָּשִׂמוּ אֶת-אֲרוֹן ה, אֶל-הָעֲגָלָה; וְאֵת הָאַרְגַּז, וְאֵת עַכְבְּרֵי הַזָּהָב, וְאֵת, צַלְמֵי טְחֹרֵיהֶם.
"And they put the ark of the LORD upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods."

In case you don't speak archaic, emerods means hemorrhoids.

I heard the following suggestion in an Intro to Bible class with Dr. Bernstein, perhaps (?? I can't recall ??) attributed to Abarbanel: When the text was composed, the words ובעפלים and ישגלנה were perfectly decent words. However, as time passed, the language changed and the archaic words became slang, and became the lewd and crude terms for the same. As such, the words were not appropriate to be read publicly in shul, nor did they capture the true original and neutral of the words. As a result, the anshei keneset hagedola, the Men of the Geat Assembly, instituted the krei to get the impart the true connotation.

This is indeed very possible. Many of the four letter words that we now consider crude were originally neutral terms of Germanic origin to describe the same things they describe today, and only with the passing of time and developing of the language did they evolve to be "dirty" words.

It is interesting, though, how טְחֹרֵיהֶם does indeed occur in the main text of Shmuel Aleph, which might suggest variant readings as an explanation rather than bowdlerization.

Also, since the issue here is punishment and the Torah is trying to convey the awfulness of the punishment, part of the attitude it may want to impart may have been best conveyed by the use of crude terms...


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

What of the Rambam's opinion that Hebrew has the status of Lashon Ha-qodesh because it doesn't have any crude words?

OJ said...

Well, if the ketiv isn't crude, why the kri?

joshwaxman said...

it seems to be that there are three possible positions:

1) the word was *always* crude, and was supposed to be such for shock value; but still, in laining, there was always this krei, because it was always crude.

2) the suggestion of this post: that is was initially innocuous, and for generations people read it as written. then, the word became crude, and so this krei was innovated.

3) it is a krei/ketiv for some other unknown or unknowable reason, perhaps like other krei/ketiv pairs. and both were said bedibbur echad. maybe, for example, it is important to have this particular ketiv because it makes various Bible Codes work out! ;)

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

"What of the Rambam's opinion..."

well, we can say this conflicts with it; or we can say that indeed Lashon Hakodesh does not in fact, but repeated use of the term in this way caused the *misperception* of this meaning something rather crude.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

And then there's the curse words that Ravshaḳeh uses in addressing the people of Jerusalem in Mǝlakhim B 18.


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