Sunday, January 18, 2009

6 in one womb simultaneously, or sequentually?

On a previous post discussing the idea of 6 in one womb, and how Rashi and others understood it and derived it, Shimon, of the blog Lahag, commented on that post:
R' Medan has an interesting take on be'keres echad meaning in one womb - not necessarily at the same time:
Rabbi Medan indeed has an interesting take. He listens to an objection of Shadal about looking at the genealogical lists and seeing how many each person had, and comparing it with the total number of years, such that to reach 600,000 you need the 400+ years and holid meaning being an anscestor rather than father to someone, which would be against the traditional understanding of Chazal. Rabbi Medan gives an answer for Chazal's chronology, wedging more generations in there, and more brothers not listed. See inside, as I am giving a rather rough summary. But part of his claim is that when Chazal say that they had "6 in one keres" this means sequentually, over the course of a woman's entire lifetime, rather than at one shot, because otherwise it would be exceedingly uncommon. And he works out the math such that this would work out, across 9 generations.

The thing about proposing novel reinterpretations of classic sources and claiming that Chazal intended this, is that IMHO one must demonstrate that it is likely that Chazal indeed intended this. As a stand-alone explanation, harnessing existing sources, this proposal is quite likely fine. But is that what Chazal intended when they said "six in one womb?" I have the same objection here as I have when people intepret midrashim allegorically because they do not think the literal interpretation likely. What was Chazal's intent here?

And I don't know. But certainly, a good way to try to ascertain this would be to look up this midrash in its various sources, and look up how Chazal use the phrase in general. I am not sure I will address every such source, but the following is a good beginning.

Let us begin with midrash Tanchuma on Shemot, since Tanchuma is Tannaitic. There, we read:
וימת יוסף וכל אחיו
ואף על פי כן ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו.

ר' ינאי אומר:
כל אחת ואחת יולדת שישה בכרס אחת.

יש אומרים:
י"ב, דכתיב: פרו שנים וישרצו שנים וירבו שנים ויעצמו שנים במאד מאד שנים ותמלא הארץ אותם הא י"ב.
This corresponds, seemingly, to the counting of leshonot, but also possibly, since the cut-off is on the word yishretzu, to the idea of multiplying like a sheretz.

With this source alone, it is not clear what the intent is. I would lean towards it being in one womb simultaneously, but within this source we cannot definitively say.

Also, Chazal are not monolithic, and sources, early and late, might not be monolithic. So it might be a dispute.

At any rate, the midrash appears later, in Shemot Rabbah. This is just about contemporary to Rashi. There, we read:
ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו
אף על פי שמת יוסף ואחיו, אלהיהם לא מת, אלא ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו.

דבר אחר:
כל אחת ואחת ילדה ששה בכרס אחד, שנאמר: ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו וגו'.

ויש אומרים:
שנים עשרה, דכתיב:
פרו שנים,
וישרצו שנים,
וירבו שנים,
ויעצמו שנים,
במאוד מאוד שנים,
ותמלא הארץ אותם שנים,
הרי שנים עשר.

יש אומרים:
ששה בכרס אחד.
ואל תתמה, שהרי עקרב שהיא מן השרצים יולדת שבעים.
This appears to be identical to the midrash in the Tanchuma, but here we have an additional comparison to the scorpion.

Now, there are girsological differences at play, as one would discover by reading the commentaries on this midrash in Shemot Rabba. One is to change "70" into "60," and we find a parallel to the figure 60 in Vayikra Rabba, which is an earlier (7th century) source, and in Bereishit Rabba, which is a still earlier (Amoraic) source. Another is possibly to change this later "6 in one womb" to "60 in one womb."

The parallel in Breishit Rabbah is:
עקרב,זה יון.
מה עקרב זו יולדת לס' ס', כך העמידה מלכות יון מס' ס'.

and in Vayikra Rabba:
עקרב, זה יון.
מה עקרב זה משרצת ששים ששים.
כך היתה מלכות יון מעמדת ששים ששים.

and so the idea is clearly that each time the scorpion births 60, but may have multiple births of 60. And so says the heilige Wikipedia:
The size of the litter depends on the species and environmental factors, and can range from two to over a hundred scorplings. The average litter however, consists of around 8 scorplings.
Thus, when Chazal spoke of the scorpion as something capable of birthing 60, or 70, it meant at one time. And it is possible that the environmental factors and specific species Chazal were thinking of were the ones with 60 or 70 in a typical litter.

Now, what is meant by ואל תתמה? For a woman to have 6 children over the course of her entire lifetime is certainly not shocking. Say "and do not wonder," for Leah had 6 children over the course of her lifetime. Perhaps if we accept the emendation of 6 in one womb to 60, one could be shocked, such that the midrash would address it.

But even so, the connection to sheretz as explaining X in one keres, by linking it to a specific sheretz that gives forth 60 or 70 each time, strongly suggests to me that Chazal, or at least Shemot Rabba, intended this as simultaneously as opposed to sequentially.

Rashi, in using the dibbur hamatchil of vayishretzu, also seems to strongly endorse the connection to the akrav, and therefore to simultaneous rather than sequential births. And Ibn Ezra, by suggesting this connection to vayishretzu, and noting the possibility of twins, all the way up to septuplets, also endorses the idea that it was simultaneous rather than sequential.

The question then becomes which traditional explanation you are saving when reinterpreting these sources and reading it into them. Perhaps one can establish such a consistent opinion within Tanchuma, and perhaps more forced, in Shemot Rabbah. But surely others read it in a different manner, and at the least one should make note of this. (One is saving, of course, the chronology of Rashi, Ramban, etc., even if it is at odds with their understanding of bekeres...)

How do Chazal use this phrase in other contexts? With a few searches, I was able to find two other places the phrase is used. Thus, we have, in Shir Hashirim Rabba:
ג) רבי היה יושב ודורש ונתנמנם הציבור בקש לעוררן.
אמר: ילדה אשה אחת במצרים שישים רבוא בכרס אחת, והיה שם תלמיד אחד ורבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי שמו.
אמר ליה: מאן הות כן? ש
אמר ליה: זו יוכבד, שילדה את משה ששקול כנגד שישים רבוא של ישראל. הדא הוא דכתיב: (שמות ט"ו) אז ישיר משה ובני ישראל.
So he did not mean it literally, but it was certainly shocking, as was his intention. Does this mean simultaneously or sequentially? Obviously, if it is just Moshe, it is simultaneously. But on the other hand, the meaning of the phrase might just mean in her one womb, with no implication at all of simultaneous or sequential. Though if so, why mention it at all?! If it is one woman giving birth, of course it was all from her one womb! I would consider this as evidence that it means simultaneously. One can argue with this, of course.

Indeed, even without any of this evidence, this is what seems to be the import of the phrase. But still, we should look through the sources.

Here is another instance, in Brachot daf 63b-64a:
R. Eliezer the son of R. Jose the Galilean began to speak in praise of hospitality, expounding the verse, And the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and all his house … because of the Ark of God.38 Have we not here an argument a fortiori? If such was the reward for attending to the ark which did not eat or drink, but before which he merely swept and laid the dust, how much more will it be for one who entertains a scholar in his house and gives him to eat and drink and allows him the use of his possessions! What was the blessing with which God blessed him [Obed-Edom]? — R. Judah b. Zebida says: This refers to Hamoth39 and her eight daughters-in-law who each bore six children at a birth, as it says, Peullethai the eighth son1 for God blessed him,2 and it is written, All these were of the sons of Obed-Edom, they and their sons and their brethren, able men in the strength for the service, threescore and two of Obed-Edom.3
The idea is that in sefer Shmuel we are told that Hashem blessed Oved Edom and all his household, for hosting the aron. This blessing is echoed in Divrei Hayamim I perek 26, in the midst of the counting/genealogy:

ד וּלְעֹבֵד אֱדֹם, בָּנִים--שְׁמַעְיָה הַבְּכוֹר, יְהוֹזָבָד הַשֵּׁנִי, יוֹאָח הַשְּׁלִשִׁי וְשָׂכָר הָרְבִיעִי, וּנְתַנְאֵל הַחֲמִישִׁי.4 And Obed-edom had sons: Shemaiah the first-born, Jehozabad the second, Joah the third, and Sacar the fourth, and Nethanel the fifth;
ה עַמִּיאֵל הַשִּׁשִּׁי יִשָּׂשכָר הַשְּׁבִיעִי, פְּעֻלְּתַי הַשְּׁמִינִי: כִּי בֵרְכוֹ, אֱלֹהִים. {ס}5 Ammiel the sixth, Issachar the seventh, Peullethai the eighth; for God blessed him. {S}
ו וְלִשְׁמַעְיָה בְנוֹ נוֹלַד בָּנִים, הַמִּמְשָׁלִים לְבֵית אֲבִיהֶם: כִּי-גִבּוֹרֵי חַיִל, הֵמָּה.6 Also unto Shemaiah his son were sons born, that ruled over the house of their father; for they were mighty men of valour.
ז בְּנֵי שְׁמַעְיָה, עָתְנִי וּרְפָאֵל וְעוֹבֵד אֶלְזָבָד אֶחָיו--בְּנֵי-חָיִל; אֱלִיהוּ, וּסְמַכְיָהוּ.7 The sons of Shemaiah: Othni, and Rephael and Obed and Elzabad his brethren, valiant men; Elihu also, and Semachiah.
ח כָּל-אֵלֶּה מִבְּנֵי עֹבֵד אֱדֹם, הֵמָּה וּבְנֵיהֶם וַאֲחֵיהֶם, אִישׁ-חַיִל בַּכֹּחַ, לַעֲבֹדָה--שִׁשִּׁים וּשְׁנַיִם, לְעֹבֵד אֱדֹם.8 All these were of the sons of Obed-edom: they and their sons and their brethren, able men in strength for the service; threescore and two of Obed-edom.

Now, if it began with Oved Edom and his eight sons, and each had a wife, there were a total of 9 wives and 9 men. But the tally is to 62 men. How do we arrive at that figure? Well, pasuk 5 echoes this idea from Shmuel, "for God blessed him." And pasuk 6, immediately following, gives a list of 6 sons to one of Oved Edom's sons. So we assume the blessing is that each of the 9 women has 6 sons bekeres echat, such that 9 X 6 = 54. Add this to the original 8 sons, and 54 + 8 = 62.

There is nothing much in evidence here that it must have been at a single birth. Although Oved Edom's wife already gave birth to 8, so if it meant across her entire lifetime, this should have been 14 bekeres echat. All in all, though I don't have definitive proof, I would strongly lean towards the idea that it means simultaneously rather than sequentially.


Anonymous said...

How about this question Why did Moshe have to tell a fib "we will go out for a few days"he should have said we need to leave Permanently?

joshwaxman said...

interesting question. i could imagine it addressed in one of two ways:
(1) that it was no fib, but along the lines of the midrash about Moshe getting the Israelites a day of rest in Shabbat. that Pharaoh refused, such that the demand increased gradually, is something else that one finds in the rest of the text. e.g. whether they are to take their animals becoming Pharaoh providing all the animals, eventually with the Egyptians providing all the rechush. That this was God's plan all along just reflects a foreknowledge, or His hardening of Pharaoh's heart.

(2) The other possibility is that this was indeed a fib, based on the ambiguity of "shalach et ami vayaavduni." And based on how Moshe saw how difficult it was to convince Pharaoh of even the more minor requests, and Moshe's preferred goal was to get the Israelites out earlier, rather than later. This might clash with Hashem's goal.

I am not sure who speaks about this issue, and where.



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