Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Sort of Petil Did Yehudah Give Tamar As Surety?

There is an interesting discussion amongst meforshim as to the identity of the Petil that Tamar asked as surety. The pasuk states:

יח וַיֹּאמֶר, מָה הָעֵרָבוֹן אֲשֶׁר אֶתֶּן-לָךְ, וַתֹּאמֶר חֹתָמְךָ וּפְתִילֶךָ, וּמַטְּךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּיָדֶךָ; וַיִּתֶּן-לָהּ וַיָּבֹא אֵלֶיהָ, וַתַּהַר לוֹ. 18 And he said: 'What pledge shall I give thee?' And she said: 'Thy signet and thy cord, and thy staff that is in thy hand.' And he gave them to her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.
Tg Onkelos renders this as shoshifach (we will see what this means), while Targum Yonasan renders it as chutyach, "your string."

Rashi endorses, and explains Onkelos:
Your signet, your cloak Heb. וּפְתִיל‏ ֶחֹתָמ‏ְ [Onkelos renders:] עִזְקָת‏ ָוְשׁוֹשִׁיפ‏ָ. Your ring, with which you seal, and your cloak, with which you cover yourself.
Ramban takes issue with this being his cloak. What is Yehuda supposed to do, go home naked, or in his gatkes? Besides, later, it uses the plural form, which would be syntactically inappropriate if it meant cloak. And how does cloak come to be described as petil, anyhow? Therefore he offers his own suggestions:

(יח): חותמך ופתילך -
עזקתך ושושיפך, טבעת שאתה חותם בה, ושמלתך שאתה מתכסה בה, לשון רש"י.

ואיננו נכון שיתן שמלתו וילך ערום ממנה. ואיך תקרא השמלה פתיל. ואיך יאמר הכתוב (בפסוק כה): "והפתילים" בלשון רבים. ואם תאמר כי על שם פתילי הציצית תקרא השמלה פתיל, חלילה שיקיים יהודה מצות ציצית ויזלזל בו לתת אותו בזמה?

ואולי היה בידו סודר קטן אשר יעטוף בו קצת הראש לפעמים. ויקרא פתיל בעבור שהוא קצר כפתיל, והוא תרגום שושיפא, ולא תמצא לאונקלוס בכל שמלה שבתורה שיתרגם אותה שושיפא, אבל לשון כסות ומלבוש תרגום בכלם, מלבד ופרשו השמלה (דברים כב יז): שאומר בו ויפרשון שושיפא, לפי שהוא הסודר הידוע בתלמוד (כתובות י א): שיודעו בו הבתולים, וכן תרגם יונתן בן עוזיאל (ישעיה ג כב): המעטפות "שושיפא", שהם סודרים קטנים יעטפו בהם הראש ויפרשו אותם הנכבדים על המגבעות והפארים אשר על ראשם, וזה המנהג עודנו היום בארצות המזרח.

ויתכן עוד כי היה ליהודה חותם כצורת אריה או צורה אחרת ידועה כמושלים, והיו בידו פתילים שבהם כצורה ההיא לצייר בה. והמטה היה בידו כמשפט שליט ונוגש, כענין שכתוב (יחזקאל יט יד): מטה עוז שבט למשול, וכתיב (להלן מט י): לא יסור שבט מיהודה, ואלה נתן בידה:
That is, he briefly considers that it could be called petil because if it were a 4-cornered garment, it would have tzitzit on it. (And we know the Avot, and shevatim kept the Torah, so they would also be wearing tzitzit. Notice the theme in these past few posts?)

But he dismisses this. Forfend! To pay a prostitute, even if only as a mashkon, with his tzitzis? That would be a terrible thing to do. {Indeed, there is the famous story about the Yid who was going to be with a prostitute, but his tzitzit hit him in the face, reminding him that he should not do this.}

Ramban then translates Onkelos in a way at odds with Rashi. He suggests what is meant is a small sudar used to wrap the head on occassion, which would be called a petil because it is short like a petil. And indeed, a small cloth is called a shoshipha in the gemara, showing that it can take that meaning.

Finally, he offers another suggestion, relating it to the form on the chotam (perhaps that of a lion). And thus it is being used as an identifying mark.

פתילך -

ומטך -
שלשה כלים הללו מזומנים לתת כי אינו מלבוש.
Thus, a belt is a chord, and all three items are not malbush. It seems to me he was responding to Rashi here, without mentioning Rashi by name, and is guided in this by Ramban's objection that he was not going to leave naked.

Sforno writes:
וּפְתִילֶךָ. צָמִיד פָּתִיל עָלֶיךָ, כְּמו 'סֻדָּר שֶׁבְּמָתְנָיו' שֶׁמָּנוּ חֲכָמִים. וּבָחֲרָה בְּאֵלֶּה הַכֵּלִים הַמּורִים הַגְּדֻלָּה וְהַגְּבוּרָה כְּחותָם וְשֵׁבֶט הַמּושֵׁל וְהָאֵזור, כְּאָמְרו "אֱזָר נָא כְגֶבֶר חֲלָצֶיךָ " (איוב לח, ג),וְזֶה עָשְׂתָה כְּדֵי שֶׁתְּהַרְהֵר בְּמַעֲלַת יְהוּדָה וּגְדֻלָּתו.
And thus, the belt, as a sign of gedulah.

I would note that there Ramban, in the course of his proposals, makes a wonderful connection to the chotam. And he might not be so distant in his claim about tzitzit, though he was talking about the whole cloak because of the tzitzit.

It turns out that in the Ancient Near East, the nobility, prophets, and others, put strands of blue thread in the corners of their cloaks (perhaps woven into it, rather than dangling). And they used to use it as a type of signature. To cite one website that refers to this (though I have seen similar things in print):
  • In Mari, an ancient city in what is now Syria, a professional prophet or diviner would enclose with his report to the King a lock of his hair and a piece of his hem....Sometimes the hem was impressed on a clay tablet as a kind of signature.
  • Fringes could also be pressed onto the clay instead of the hem. E.A.Speiser has suggested that when we press the corner fringe of the tallit to the Torah scroll we are reflecting this ancient custom.
So when she says petil, she could well have meant the blue thread in his clothing, or a piece of it, or something like that, which would function as an identifying mark, the same as his signet ring and his personal staff. And it might, as well, have been a sign of his gedulah.

Ramban's objection of how could he trade his tzitzis for harlotry would not be a valid objection in this scenario, because we are not talking about the mitzvah of tzitzit but rather the ANE custom among the nobility.

One final fascinating explanation can be found in the commentary of the Baal HaTurim (right page, on page 14, about the middle). It isn't peshat IMHO, but it certainly deserves note. He says that פתילך is תפיליך, and הפתילין is התפילין. This acheived my switching around the order of the letters. But if Ramban thinks that giving your tzitzis as surety to a prostitute is sacrilegious, what would he say about giving your tefillin to a prostitute as surety?? And Baal HaTurim expresses his great regard for Ramban, and surely knew what Ramban said on this.

But this all calls to mind a certain gemara. As we learn in Brachos,
The Sages learnt {in a brayta}: one who enters a privy should remove his tefillin at a distance of 4 cubits and enter, and when he leaves, he should distance himself 4 cubits and don them. These are the words of Bet Shammai. And Bet Hillel say: he grabs them in his hand and enters. Rabbi Akiva says: He grabs them in his garment and enters.
A garment, do you think? Perhaps they mat slip out and fall!
Rather say: he grabs them in his garment and his hand, and he enters.

And he should not place it in the holes which are close
to the public domain, lest passersby take them and it comes to an instance of suspicion.
And there was a story of a student who placed his tefillin in the holes close to the public domain, and a prostitute came and took them, and came before the Sages. She said to them: see what Ploni gave me as my hire. Once that student heard this, he went to the roof and fell and died. At that hour, they established that he grabs it in his garment and his hand and enters.
Thus, Baal HaTurim, master of psak and halacha, also knew this gemara, and the idea of (purportedly) giving tefillin to a prostitute as wages, and the ensuing embarrassment when she presents them (causing suicide). So he did not really innovate the concept. And it is parallel to the embarrassment Yehudah would face when his tefillin were presented by the zonah.

Shadal says it was the string from which the chotam hung:
יח ] חותמך : כן כתב הירודוט כי כל אנשי בבל הולכים בחותם ומטה. ופתילך : שהחותם תלוי בו
A admirable peshat effort, but Shadal was not familiar with the findings at the royal archive at Mari, and was thus not aware of the significance of the petil. So I would still go with the peshat I presented above.


Anonymous said...

Shadal's not so far off - cylinder seals are often hollow, and it seems pretty intuitive that you would put a cord through the hole. Wearing it round your neck or hung on your belt would be quite handy. And then, if you lent someone your seal, of course the string would go with it. Not to discount the Mari findings, but saying it's the seal-string really isn't such a stretch.

joshwaxman said...

good point. my hang-up with it, though, is that I am not so sure it would deserve independent mention, with such important items as signet rings and staff, if it really is goes along with the cylinder seal.



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