Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chayyei Sarah: Does The Torah's Calling Rivkah A Naarah Mean That She Was *Not* Three Years Old?

This is a point that has been raised. Some meforshim look to the identification of Rivkah as a naarah and thus say she must have been 12 years old. As the pasuk in Chayei Sarah reads {Bereishit 24}:
טז וְהַנַּעֲרָ, טֹבַת מַרְאֶה מְאֹד--בְּתוּלָה, וְאִישׁ לֹא יְדָעָהּ; וַתֵּרֶד הָעַיְנָה, וַתְּמַלֵּא כַדָּהּ וַתָּעַל. 16 And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her; and she went down to the fountain, and filled her pitcher, and came up.
The problem with such a proof, on a peshat level, is that how do we know that naarah really means a girl only of that age?

Sure, in Rabbinic Hebrew, that is the meaning of naarah, as opposed to ketana and as opposed to bogeret, and Chazal even make derashot and halachic conclusions on that basis, based on pesukim. But must a pashtan agree to this assessment?

I will give a counterexample, from II Kings 5:
ב וַאֲרָם יָצְאוּ גְדוּדִים, וַיִּשְׁבּוּ מֵאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל נַעֲרָה קְטַנָּה; וַתְּהִי, לִפְנֵי אֵשֶׁת נַעֲמָן. 2 And the Arameans had gone out in bands, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife.
Thus, we can have a "little maid," a naarah who is little, ketanah. And throughout the rest of the perek she is called naarah. How is this possible?

Chazal deal with this, and Rashi explains:
a young girl Heb. naarah ketannah, a young girl from the town of Naaran.
Yet if we disagree with this assessment, then the term naarah might even encompass a very young girl.

Now, we might reject in locally in parshas Chayei Sara for other reasons, but still -- when you are going out to reject a midrash, it is questionable to base yourself on a midrashic assessment of a term as used elsewhere.


Ariella's blog said...

Moshe, as a baby, is described as "na'ar boche" when bas Paroh finds him.

I brought up Rivka'sr age in connection with her status as bethulah here: http://kallahmagazine.com/WordPress/?p=594

joshwaxman said...

Good point.

Rashi has work to do there as well, and (IIRC) brings down the midrash claiming that his cries were like that of a much older child.

But not adopting that midrash, it is another effective prooftext.

Interesting idea of the connection there.


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