Thursday, January 17, 2008

Some objections to Shadal's Proof on Talmudic Mention of Nikkud

I spun this off into its own post. The words of Shadal appear in another post, but here I inject a few of my own objections. Shadal may well be correct that they lacked the orthography of nikkud in Talmudic times, but I can raise substantive rejoinders to some of his arguments. My interjections in a cyan font color. (Meanwhile, see previous the selection of Shadal's Vikuach here.)

The guest: Yet when it comes down to it, all this is only half a proof, and we require clear proofs which have no rejoinder.

And now, please listen to a statement found in Sanhedrin daf 4, from which is is apparent that there was no vowel points in the days of our Sages:

"The students {of Rabbi Yehuda ben Roetz} asked Rabbi Yehuda ben Roetz upon what is written {in Vayikra 12:5}:
ה וְאִם-נְקֵבָה תֵלֵד, וְטָמְאָה שְׁבֻעַיִם כְּנִדָּתָהּ; וְשִׁשִּׁים יוֹם וְשֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, תֵּשֵׁב עַל-דְּמֵי טָהֳרָה. 5 But if she bear a maid-child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her impurity; and she shall continue in the blood of purification threescore and six days.
Let me read shiv'im {rather than shevu'ayim}, thus perhaps a woman who bears a female child is impure for 70!
He said to them: It fixed impurity and purity exist for a male {child} and it fixed impurity and purity for a female {child}. Just as where it fixed {days} of purity for bearing a male child, for a female child it is double, so too where it fixed impurity for bearing a male child, for a female child it is double.

After they left he sought after them and said to them: You have no need of this {derivation}, for we read shevu'ayim, and we derive the law from the pronounced reading {rather than the consonantal text in the Torah}."
And behold, if they had sefarim with vowel points, how did the student ask "let me read shiv'im?" And why did the teacher need to evaluate with his own reasoning, and state "it fixed impurity and purity by a male, etc.?" And how did he say in the end "we read shevuayim," and he did not say "the vocal points are shevuayim?" And how did he say "the reading is determinant, and he did not say the nikkud is determinant?"
{In terms of the last two points, Shadal ignores that language changes, and perhaps the term nikkud had not been innovated for the orthography just yet, and instead, they called it mikra. Furthermore, there are two issues at play. Is it miSinai and did it exist in Mishnaic or Talmudic times. Even if an orthography existed, this does not mean that they did not feel free to argue on it. Particularly if, as it stands today and in Shadal's day, and in Rambam's day, sifrei Torah did not have nikkud but external books, such as Chumashim, did. This question from the student might not be a question stemming from confusion, but rather a suggestion in learning. Let me revocalize, just like Shadal feels he is able to revocalize. That Shadal is willing to revocalize is not proof that nikkud orthography did not exist in his days. The teacher, Rabbi Yehuda ben Roetz, responds based on sevara. This could easily be cast into a paradigm similar to yesh em lamikra vs. yesh em lamasoret. As written, without double-yud, one could say that the masoret allows for this reading. And Rabbi Yehuda ben Roetz answers within the moment, proving which makes sense from context. But look! how he abandons this sevara and notes the traditional reading. This is not suddenly remembering the traditional reading. He, and the student, knew this reading all along! The innovation is that yesh em lamikra, so there is no room for argument within the potential readings. }

The guest {?? not the author??}: Your works are good and true. And so too in all places they say "the mikra {reading} is determinant," and they do not say "the vowel points are determinant."

And furthermore, they explicitly say {see Nedarim 37b}, "mikra soferim {the reading of the Soferim} is halacha leMoshe miSinai," and it is known that every halacha leMoshe miSinai is not something written in the Torah, but is transmitted Orally.

{The examples in that gemara are ארץ and מצרים and שמים. It is unclear what these example mean. Rashi takes it as nikkud such as segol under the aleph of eretz despite no yud present. Ran takes the first example but not the others as pausal form or aretz. And the same could be true for the others. This seems sufficient to make Shadal's point, for some vowels are involved. I can see how someone might begin to mount an opposition, though, making this not about general nikkud.
It would be interesting to see how he interprets ittur soferim, which is the next thing which is halacha leMoshe miSinai in the list in that gemara. The gemara's examples appear to be about word order, which surely is written in the consonantal text of the Torah. Unless he holds like the teacher of the Ran who understood it as trup.

And also we find to them that they say (Kiddushin 57) "do we read kodesh? we read kadosh." And they do not say "Is it written," or "is it vowel-pointed kodesh?" "It is written kadosh!" Or "it is vowel-pointed kadosh."

{To argue against this, since the point is that the pronunciation is different from the consonantal text, to wrote ketiv here would have obscured the point, while krei conveys the point of how it is actually read, even if there were indeed orthography for it. And perhaps the word nikkud had not been invented yet, or if it had, would not be chosen in this instance because of the phrase yesh em laMikra.}

And in Avodah Zara (29) he said to him, Yishmael my brother, how do you read {Shir haShirim {1:2}
ב יִשָּׁקֵנִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹת פִּיהוּ, כִּי-טוֹבִים דֹּדֶיךָ מִיָּיִן. 2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth--for thy love is better than wine.
{which means the woman is saying that the man's love is better than wine} or ki tovim dodayich {which has the man talking to the woman}, and he did not say "how is it written" or "how is it pointed?" Besides for the fact that if their sefarim had vowel points, there would not be room for this question.

And if it was that it was forgotten or a few of the vowel points were messed up, they should not have arrived at the conclusion from logic, but rather they should have counted the sefarim and gone after the majority, as they say in Masechet Soferim (perek 6), "they established the two and nullified the one."
{A number of points here. Even if there is a belief in nikkud tradition miSinai, how can we have Sinaitic tradition of the vowel points of post-Sinaitic works. Thus, if King Shlomo wrote Shir haShirim, why would we apply the same tradition of Torah to this. They might have had a tradition of nikkud, and used the orthography of nikkud to record that tradition, for Torah but not for Nach. Especially if we are willing to posit the orthography being post-Sinaitic, why assume they had a valid textual tradition for the vowel points. They could have been asking him how it is pronounced, such that if one wanted to read it, or vowel point it, one could put the appropriate marks. Furthermore, isn't Masechet Soferim post-Talmudic, from the Savoraim? The three sifrei Torah were exceptional sifrei Torah, either from Ezra or kept in the Azara, akin to the Allepo Codex and the Leningrad codex. This is not looking merely at a number of vulgar texts (vulgar in the sense of common). Who says they had such vocalized text for Shir haShirim that were so authoritative? And even if they did, who says that the midrash in the post-Talmudic Masechet Sofrim is authoritative of how to go about this, such that it would be a question on anyone who tried to resolve it in the gemara, misevara?}

And so too in Yevamot (daf 75), "Rava said: "This is why we read petzua' (with a sheva on the peh) and do not read hapetzua'" (with a kametz under the peh.) And he did not say, this is that is written petzua.

{Soncino understands this as referring to the definite article. Masoret HaShat emends hapetzua' to simply petzia', citing Aruch citing Rabbenu Chananel. If so, it is a yud vs. vav difference, which would also be worthy of ketiv. Also, Rashi's dibbur hamatchil appears to have ketiv. And if it were a difference in kametz vs. sheva, use an aleph to denote the kametz.}.

Except for in one place, we find Rava himself, because of swiftness, was not careful and said (in Zevachim 64) "is it written ימצה (yimtzeh)? ימצה (yimmatzeh) it is written." And this, by itself, is the half-proof found in all of the Talmud that those who believe in the early origin of the vowel point {orthography} are able to support themselves with, except that they did not see it.

And in any case, this is not a proof at all, after we find in the majority of places that they make use of the vowels with the language of "reading" {keriah} and not with the language of writing, such that there is no doubt that Rava was not exact in his speech, and his intent was to say "do we read yimtzah," and he said "is it written" because he was relying on the reading which was an Oral tradition, as if it were Written Torah.

Is this not in the way that they are not careful with their statement in another place (Berachot 57) "If one {dreamed that he} had intercourse with his mother, he may expect to obtain understanding, for it is written {Mishlei 2:3}
ג כִּי אִם לַבִּינָה תִקְרָא; לַתְּבוּנָה, תִּתֵּן קוֹלֶךָ. 3 Yea, if thou call for understanding, and lift up thy voice for discernment;
and they should have said {in addition} "read not ki im but rather ki eim, except that they were not exact.

{I see no reason for making the derasha explicit here, and this does not seem to be a case of lo dak. Regardless, if we are willing to say lo dak in one direction, why not in the other, to all the cases of krei instead of ketiv as Shadal is demanding?}

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