Monday, February 13, 2006

Daf Yomi - Pesachim 2a: `or does NOT mean `oreta`

The first Mishna begins אור לארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר. What does אור mean? The gemara begins מאי אור רב הונא אמר נגהי ורב יהודה אמר לילי קא סלקא דעתך דמאן דאמר נגהי נגהי ממש ומאן דאמר לילי לילי ממש. Then, the gemara goes off on a tangent, trying to demonstrate that אור means night or that אורmeans day. In the end, because of many strong proofs, the gemara concludes that this was not in fact a dispute of definitions but rather merely reflect a difference in dialect. Both Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda agree that אור means night, but in Rav Yehuda's locale they call night leilei while in Rav Huna's locale they call night naghei.

However, at this point we should shout "Peshitta!" This is obvious! Of course אור means אורתא, night. Why should both Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda feel compelled to tell us that אור means אורתא?

Tannaitic sources use אור to mean night. (The pesukim were ambiguous and furthermore were not using אור as a standalone noun for time of day.) Furthermore, the Amoraim, speaking Aramaic, use the word אורתא. At no time does אורתא mean daytime, only night. And Hebrew אור and Aramaic אורתא are cognates. It should be readily apparent that אור = אורתא, such that it should not be necessary for Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda to provide comment, or the academy of Shmuel to provide translation (leilei). It is as if the Mishna had stated barzel and many Amoraim spoke up to helpfully tell us this is parzela. (Although we do in fact see just this phenomenon elsewhere, but for more arcane items.) Is this not obvious?

Furthermore, in close proximity in the third Mishna, both Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages use the word אור, where it is clear that it means night and not day:

ר' יהודה אומר בודקין אור י"ד ובי"ד שחרית ובשעת הביעור וחכ"א לא בדק אור י"ד יבדוק בי"ד לא בדק בי"ד יבדוק בתוך המועד לא בדק בתוך המועד יבדוק לאחר המועד ומה שמשייר יניחנו בצינעא כדי שלא יהא צריך בדיקה אחרי

Clearly אור cannot mean day, because if he did not search during אור of/to the 14th, he searches in the morning of the 14th. This is something that should be so obvious that an Amora should feel strange putting it forth. The Amoraim all knew the Mishnayot (though may not know some braytot), and certainly they would know other Mishnayot in the same perek, and certainly one only two Mishnayot later. Why should Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda both feel the need to put forth that אור means night?

There is a story of a student at a certain yeshiva (famous for learning things in extreme iyun) who began learning Bava Kamma, and read the first Mishna:
ארבעה אבות
He objected to his chavruta, "But we know there were only three Avot - Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Are we counting Yosef? Terach?"
His chavruta objected, "But if you look at the next word, we see the phrase is
ארבעה אבות נזיקין."
"Don't answer me from bekiyus," he responded.

Indeed, the third Mishna is brought fairly early on in the gemara as proof that אור means night, and thus that Rav Huna must agree to Rav Yehuda that the אור in the Mishna means night, but it is difficult to understand how Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda thought this was something which required clarification in the first place.

I believe that the answer is that אור does NOT mean אורתא. The key to understanding this sugya may be found in the statement of Abaye.

אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק בשעה שבני אדם מצויין בבתיהם ואור הנר יפה לבדיקה
אמר אביי הילכך האי צורבא מרבנן לא לפתח בעידניה באורתא דתליסר דנגהי ארבסר דלמא משכא ליה שמעתיה ואתי לאימנועי ממצוה

To translate Abaye: Therefore a Torah scholar should not begin his regular learning seder at oreta (evening) of the 13th which is the naghei (night) of the 14th, lest his learning draw him in and he come to neglect the precept (of searching for chametz).

Thus, in Aramaic, אורתא means late afternoon while נגהי means night. Another Aramaic term which also means night is לילי, as it is used by Rav Yehuda and the academy of Shmuel. We can see clearly from Abaye's statement that אורתא is not the same as נגהי, and that אורתא is earlier that נגהי.

I mentioned earlier that Hebrew אור and Aramaic אורתא are clearly cognates. They certainly are, but cognates in each language take on particular meanings that they do not in the other language. Thus, mansion is a very big and fancy house in English, but maison in French is merely a house. While Hebrew אור and Aramaic אורתא both refer a time when it is dark, which is not day/morning. However, while אורתא is late afternoon, אור might mean something else, and according to both Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda, it means night.

It is precisely because אור and אורתא are cognates that Rav Yehuda and Rav Huna feel compelled to tell us that אור means night. Otherwise, I might think that אור means אורתא, late afternoon.

This may particularly so because the Mishna begins אור לארבעה עשר. The ל in לארבעה means that it is אור of the 14th, but this could be read as אור going into the 14th. If so, it would be similar to Abaye's statement that a Torah scholar should not begin his learning on the אורתא of the 13th which leads into the night of the 14th.

Thus, it is not a יממא vs. אורתא distinction, as the stama degemara suggests, but rather a לילי vs. אורתא distinction, which Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda are making.

I would suggest that by the time the stama degemara arrived on the scene, the meaning of אורתא had shifted and thus at that time meant לילי. Thus, they can discuss whether אור means יממא or אורתא, and perhaps also do not see the chiddush in Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda's statements.

Update: Stay tuned for my upcoming post on Mar Zutra's proof.


Anonymous said...

you would do well to read prof shamma friedmans recent article on this very issue. he goes into great detail

joshwaxman said...

thanks for the tip.
i'll try to check it out (after the next post about Mar Zutra)


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