Friday, September 11, 2009

Arami Oved Avi -- the Karaites have their cake and eat it too!

In a post this week I discussed Arami Oved Avi, and how many medieval meforshim -- such as Ibn Ezra, Radak, Rashbam; and I see now Chizkuni, and Rabbenu Yosef Bechor Shor, and Seforno, and Abarbanel and Tur (who are willing to consider it as a possibility) suggest that the Aramean in question is not Lavan, as per the famous and popular midrash. Rather, it is Yaakov, or Avraham. All this is based on concerns of dikduk and well as context.

And DovBear discussed a related issue the other day. After discussing the dispute, he argued that it is impossible for the Aramean to be both Lavan and Yaakov, such that there is a contradiction. In which case frum Jews have a dilemma. I agree that this is one option, but can think of a few other ways to consider this dispute. Perhaps another post about this later.

The purpose of this post is to bring forth an interesting explanation I saw in the commentary of Aharon ben Yosef the Karaite. It seems like he wants to have his cake and eat it too. That is, he agrees that אובד is a poel omed, an intransitive verb, and thus means that he was a pauper, as per Ibn Ezra. But at the same time, the Arami is Lavan!

Thus, he writes that

Arami is missing a bet prefix. That is to say, it means בארמי, my father was אובד. {By an Aramean = Lavan, my father was a pauper.} For when Yaakov came to Lavan the Arami, he was a pauper. And אובד is an adjective, like a transitive and intransitive. {The supercommentator explains תאר to mean here intransitive verb. But adjective works.} And soo too תנו שכר לאובד in Mishlei. And so is written {along the same theme of Yaakov the pauper}, "for with {only} my staff I crossed over this Jordan river." And many {e.g. Rashi} say that Yaakov Avinu was the Aramean, for he dwelled in Aram, just as Yeter the Yishme'eili {of Divrei Hayamim, who we see from another pasuk, in sefer Shmuel, that he is called Yeter the Yisraeli}; and it is not correct.
Thus, he disagrees with the parse of Ibn Ezra and company, and the transformation of Yaakov into the Aramean. But he agrees with the import of the pasuk, presumably based on context, of Yaakov being a pauper, as a result of ארמי not being a transitive verb.

This is pretty clever, though I don't buy it, for its awkwardness. As I stated elsewhere, I hold something similar to Rashbam and Shadal, that it refers to the Avot in general or Avraham in particular being the Aramean. And Aharon ben Yosef's suggestion requires the awkward insertion of a bet prefix.

But what motivates Aharon ben Yosef the Karaite here? Surely not the midrash! Why make it Lavan, and introduce an irregularity here?

I am no expert in his thought and commentary, but I would venture the following suggestions. Firstly, as a pashtan he is motivated my dikduk, and he agrees with their grammar-based conclusions that אובד should not be a transitive verb. But Karaites are not immune to derash based methodology. One thing they seem to like for the sake of proving the meaning of Biblical text is a variant of the gezeira shava. Here, Arami is uncertain, but one should seek elsewhere and find Lavan the Arami. Likely one of the initial sparks of the famous midrash. With this interpretation, I wonder if one can make connections / parallels to Im Lavan Garti.

I would add (though this was not necessarily a motivating factor), the trup now works out.
By an Aramean || my father was a pauper.

which is the division provided by the trup.

1 comment:

Lurker said...

Also, as Steiner points out in his article (p. 131, f. 24) this same interpretation of “ארמי אבד אבי” was already cited 350 years earlier by the Karaite commentator Yefet ben Ali. In fact, ben Ali actually brings two alternate explanations, both of which make “ארמי” a prepositional phrase:

(1) “With Lavan, my father was destitute”. (This is the same as ben Yosef’s explanation.)

(2) “At the hands of Lavan (on Mt. Gilead), my father [nearly] perished”.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin