Sunday, February 06, 2005

Mishpatim #1: Twice Betrayed part 1

A Case Study in Multivalence

One of the laws discussed in parshat Mishpatim is that of Amah Ivriyah, the Hebrew maidservant, who is sold by her father into a limited period of servitude, with a possible expectation that if things work out, she will marry the purchaser or his son and become a wife with the full stature afforded to such a position. The Torah discusses what happens if the arrangement will not end up in marriage because they do not hit it off. Shemot 21:8:
ח אִם-רָעָה בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנֶיהָ, אֲשֶׁר-לא (לוֹ) יְעָדָהּ--וְהֶפְדָּהּ: לְעַם נָכְרִי לֹא-יִמְשֹׁל לְמָכְרָהּ, בְּבִגְדוֹ-בָהּ. 8 If she please not her master, who hath espoused her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed; to sell her unto a foreign people he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.
though the traditional translation may differ somewhat than that given above. It is more traditionally taken as "if she please not her master, who should/could marry her {such that he does not do this}, he shall let her {/cause her to} be redeemed; to sell her to a stranger he has no power since he has betrayed her."

The translation as given initially implies that this is happening after he marries her, implying that redemption is option after he has already married her. Perhaps they consider the state immediately upon selling her to be that maidservant-marriage to either him or his son, with options of how this marriage can end. If he decides to end it, she can be redeemed, and would have to be, since she bought her. But, he cannot, on termination of this marriage arrangement, sell her to another - that would be a betrayal upon betrayal.

The way the pasuk is understood by Chazal (as explained by Rashi on site - the gemara Kiddushim 18b may may give a different picture) is different - that that she is sold to be a servant, with an option of marriage to either him or his son, but not that marriage happened immediately and automatically. As a result, yi'ud, marriage to him or his son, would be an option that is hoped for. If she does not find favor in his sight such that he marries her {and so, he does not marry her}, then she is to be redeemed. He cannot sell her to someone else, since he has betrayed her by not marrying her as anticipated at the time of the original sale.

Rashi gives two explanation for בְּבִגְדוֹ-בָהּ - seeing that he has betrayed her - and along with it two ways of parsing the end of the verse. One is that he - the master - has no right to sell her - because he betrayed her by not marrying her. The second is that he - the father - has no right to sell her - for he betrayed her by selling her into servitude initially.

That is, parse 1:
ח אִם-רָעָה בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנֶיהָ, אֲשֶׁר-לא (לוֹ) יְעָדָהּ - If she please not her master such that he marry her" {and thus, he does not marry her}
וְהֶפְדָּהּ - then he shall allow her/cause her to be redeemed
Now she is redeemed, presumably by her family - he father. So you should know that even though you would think as a result of the redemption she is once again under the domain of her father such that he may sell her again
לְעַם נָכְרִי לֹא-יִמְשֹׁל לְמָכְרָהּ, בְּבִגְדוֹ-בָהּ - he, the father, may not [again] sell her to a stranger, seeing as he has betrayed her.

and parse 2:
ח אִם-רָעָה בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנֶיהָ, אֲשֶׁר-לא (לוֹ) יְעָדָהּ - If she please not her master such that he marry her" {and thus, he does not marry her}
וְהֶפְדָּהּ - then he shall allow her/cause her to be redeemed
This is the only thing he may do with her. Even though he purchased her, it was in the understanding that he, or a member of his family, would marry her. He does not have the right to sell her to another, but rather she must be redeemed. That is, the remainder of the pasuk spells out what he cannot do and how he must rather allow this redemption:
לְעַם נָכְרִי לֹא-יִמְשֹׁל לְמָכְרָהּ, בְּבִגְדוֹ-בָהּ - he, the master, may not sell her to a stranger, not one of her family {as in redemption} or else perhaps his family {as in marrying her to himself or his son} seeing as he has betrayed her.

Rashi does not present these two parsing as two alternatives. Rather, it seems he presents them as simultaneously intended and correct.

Further, not in the trivial sense of a machloket, dispute, amongst two opinions, and though we decide in favor of one, both were in Hashem's intent because of elu veElu divrei elokim chayaim - that both these and those are the words of the Living God, but more that both are meant and we hold like both. Nor does he does not single one out as the peshat, simple meaning, and another as derash, additional interpretive meaning. Perhaps that is what he means, but I at least did not get that sense.

This is perhaps an early multivalence - insistence that there are two equally acceptable readings of the pasuk, both of which were intended. A further feature, which does not seem present here, is that the ambiguity one would face in seeing these two readings is also intended by the Author.

In fact, there are two other "multivalent" features in this pasuk, in both cases a krei uchtiv, That is, there is a difference between the consonantal text and the way it is read, and perhaps only one was intended, but there is an opinion that both are intended. One is the word לא /לוֹ, written as "No" but "pronounced" as "to him." (It is not clear that there is in fact a difference in pronunciation between the two, but "krei/pronounced" may mean a tradition of meaning. The other is the word בִגְדוֹ, where perhaps the chirik (ee vowel) under the bet could be spelled out with a helper consonant yud to make it clear. With the yud, it would clearly be as we pronounce it, which would then be granted the astounding interpretation of "his clothing." That would be the krei/mikra/pronouncing. Without the yud, we could perhaps put a chataf kametz under the bet (an o sound) such that it would mean (as we usually take it) betrayal. (This I think is Rashi's explanation in the gemara on Kiddushin 18b.) This would be the masoret/ketiv/consonantal text. In both instances, there is an opinion (in the first case Geonic, in the latter Tannaaitic) that both the pronounced and the consonantal texts should be given weight in interpretating the verse, and both are meant. Others (Ibn Ezra in the former, other Tannaim like Rabbi Akiva in the latter) will disagree and say only one is meant.

But, perhaps the krei and ketiv is another manifestation of something similar to multivalence. Perhaps I will expand upon these two cases in a later post.

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