Wednesday, March 08, 2006

parshat Tetzaveh: Yerushalayim - Pretty As A Nymph?

Midrash Rabba on parshat Tetzaveh (parasha 36:1) discusses Tehillim 48:3:

א שִׁיר מִזְמוֹר, לִבְנֵי-קֹרַח. 1 A Song; a Psalm of the sons of Korah.
ב גָּדוֹל ה וּמְהֻלָּל מְאֹד-- בְּעִיר אֱלֹקֵינוּ, הַר-קָדְשׁוֹ. 2 Great is the LORD, and highly to be praised, in the city of our God, His holy mountain,
ג יְפֵה נוֹף, מְשׂוֹשׂ כָּל-הָאָרֶץ:
הַר-צִיּוֹן, יַרְכְּתֵי צָפוֹן; קִרְיַת, מֶלֶךְ רָב.
3 Fair in situation, the joy of the whole earth; {N}
even mount Zion, the uttermost parts of the north, the city of the great King.
And on the words יְפֵה נוֹף מְשׂוֹשׂ כָּל-הָאָרֶץ, the Midrash comments מהו יפה נוף? לשון יוני קורין לכלה נמפי

That is, "how are we to understand יְפֵה נוֹף? In Greek they call a bride a nymph."

So Yerushalayim is compared to a nymph, or to a bride. How so? Maharzu explains that they were joyful in Yerushalayim like a new bride. That explanation is focused on the Hebrew, kallah.

Focusing on the Greek, nymph, I would note that this word נוֹף is connected to יְפֵה, in construct form. The pasuk would then read "beautiful as a nymph."

What is a nymph?, citing American Heritage Dictionary:
nymph (nmf)
  1. Greek & Roman Mythology. Any of numerous minor deities represented as beautiful maidens inhabiting and sometimes personifying features of nature such as trees, waters, and mountains.
  2. A girl, especially a beautiful one.
  3. The larval form of certain insects, such as silverfish and grasshoppers, usually resembling the adult form but smaller and lacking fully developed wings. Also called nympha.
[Middle English nimphe, from Old French, from Latin nympha, from Greek numph.]
nymphal (nmfl) adj.
So a nymph can be any girl, but especially a beautiful one, related to the beautiful maidens who were minor deities in Greek and Roman mythology.

This would reinforce the idea that the connection is to the beauty of a nymph, rather than to the joy associated with her.

Now, nymph is obviously not exactly the same as a bride, so why does the midrash say that the Greek term for a bride is nymph?

A few possible answers among many:
1) We do not know the full extent of the term nymph as it was used in the days of Chazal (by Chazal or by the Greeks), and in fact nymph can mean bride. (This is the correct answer -- see below.)
2) We do not know the full extent of the term kallah as it was used in the days of Chazal, and in fact kallah can refer to a beautiful maiden. (unlikely)
3) Chazal did not understand the true meaning of nymph (since this is afterall a Greek word), and made the connection between the two because both refer to girls.
4) There is some other word similar in form to nymph to which Chazal refer. (See Chidushei HaRashash below, which substitutes a nun for the mem. But then, see what I got from Jastrow.)

An additional possibility -- they are not stating that nymph = bride, but rather, what Chazal say (literally) is that in Greek they call a bride a nymph.

There is a dispute mentioned in Ketubot 16b-17a about how to praise a bride.
תנו רבנן כיצד מרקדין לפני הכלה בית שמאי אומרים
כלה כמות שהיא ובית הלל אומרים כלה נאה וחסודה

Thus we see that it was customary to praise the bride as being beautiful. This should be obvious even without an halachic source.

(Presumably, during other times, it might be inappropriate for men to discuss the beauty of various women, but here, this is a praise and part of the joy of the wedding.)

Thus, in this context, Greek-speaking people might well call the bride a nymph, as in a young, beautiful woman.

Another interesting point: why is there a yud at the end of נמפי? Phonologically speaking, this is necessary in Hebrew because otherwise, we would have a consanant cluster of mf at the end of a word, both with shevas (which would both be sheva nach, by the way), and the peh would get a dagesh. We would end up with nymp rather than nymph. Additionally, if we look in the Greek, that final vowel is there - numph , so we need not resort to the rules of Hebrew phonology. Note also that we do not know the vowel following the nun, since it is written chaser, so while my vowelized Midrash Rabba had a chirik chaser, it could even match the "u" in numph. This would also correspond better with the Hebrew in the pasuk - נוֹף. However, in Chiddushei HaRashash, the dibbur haMatchil is לשון יוני קורין לכלה נימפי, which would support nymph. Chidushei HaRashash also cites a variant of {in Rosh Hashana 26a} נינפי, with the chirik malei, and with a nun in place of the mem.

Also, how does נוֹף equal nymph? What about the m or n before the p? Well, both m and p are labials (from the group בומפ), pronounced with the lips, and so share a place of articulation. Especially at the end of a word, in a single consonant cluster, the mem can assimilate into the final phei, and thus the words may be pronounced quite similarly.

Do Chazal actually think this is the meaning of the pasuk, on the level of peshat? Perhaps, perhaps not. It depends upon one's particular philosophy of midrash. Perhaps words in Tanach (as in all sorts of literature) resonate with all sorts of possible connotations, and so at some level, נוֹף is meant to call to mind the Greek word.

Update: And this is why one's first stop should be Jastrow. Jastrow (pg 905) connects the word with nymph and notes the variant נינפי, and explains that the word means "bride." He gives several examples of this.
In Targum to Shir HaShirim 4:8:

ח אִתִּי מִלְּבָנוֹן כַּלָּה, אִתִּי מִלְּבָנוֹן תָּבוֹאִי; תָּשׁוּרִי מֵרֹאשׁ אֲמָנָה, מֵרֹאשׁ שְׂנִיר וְחֶרְמוֹן, מִמְּעֹנוֹת אֲרָיוֹת, מֵהַרְרֵי נְמֵרִים. 8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, with me from Lebanon; look from the top of Amana, from the top of Senir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards.
there is נימפי as a translation of כַּלָּה. (Of course, that is deriving a meaning of the translation from our interpretation of the source. Perhaps nymph as we use it is meant there in Shir haShirim as well).

Also, in Bereishit Rabba on the pasuk in Bereishit 30:8:

ז וַתַּהַר עוֹד--וַתֵּלֶד, בִּלְהָה שִׁפְחַת רָחֵל: בֵּן שֵׁנִי, לְיַעֲקֹב. 7 And Bilhah Rachel's handmaid conceived again, and bore Jacob a second son.
ח וַתֹּאמֶר רָחֵל, נַפְתּוּלֵי אֱלֹהִים נִפְתַּלְתִּי עִם-אֲחֹתִי--גַּם-יָכֹלְתִּי; וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, נַפְתָּלִי. 8 And Rachel said: 'With mighty wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed.' And she called his name Naphtali.
the Midrash explains נַפְתּוּלֵי as "I should have been a נימפי before my sister," thus a bride.

Tanchuma on Ki Tisa, in reference to a pasuk three pesukim later in Shir Hashirim

יא נֹפֶת תִּטֹּפְנָה שִׂפְתוֹתַיִךְ, כַּלָּה; דְּבַשׁ וְחָלָב תַּחַת לְשׁוֹנֵךְ, וְרֵיחַ שַׂלְמֹתַיִךְ כְּרֵיחַ לְבָנוֹן.
11 Thy lips, O my bride, drop honey--honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.
refers to a כלה נופי, beautiful bride (based perhaps on the nofet rather than on the kallah).
And there is a bit there in Jastrow about קלי נינפי in several sources which is entirely Greek, χάλή νύφη, and means "the beautiful bride."

Jastrow also cites the same gemara referred to by Chidushei haRashash, in Rosh haShana 26a:
אמר ר"ש בן לקיש כשהלכתי לתחום קן נשרייא היו קורין לכלה נינפי ולתרנגול שכוי לכלה נינפי מאי קרא (תהילים מח) יפה נוף משוש כל הארץ

Thus Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish notes a dialectal variance, and connects it to this very pasuk, perhaps as a source for the usage.

Aside from the pasuk, as I noted above, the use of nymph to describe a bride may have developed from praise of the bride as a young beauty, or because women typically married when they were at the age when they would be called a nymph.

Update: Or perhaps the usage of nymph to mean kalla comes from similarity of the two words in Greek., citing American Heritage Dictionary:
Cal·lis·to (k-lst)
  1. Greek Mythology. A nymph, beloved of Zeus and hated by Hera. Hera changed her into a bear, and Zeus then placed her in the sky as the constellation Ursa Major.

[Latin, from Greek Kallist, perhaps from kallistos, superlative of kalos, beautiful.]
Thus, we have a nymph who is called kalei, or kalos. And both nymph and kalos refer to beauty. So a speaker of Greek might move nymph to mean bride, just as kallah means bride.



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