Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Is Sefer HaTorah masculine of feminine?

Here is a dvar Torah of the type I love -- all about trup and how it impacts how we parse the pasuk -- where we need to go no further than Rashi on Chumash.

In Nitzavim, we read {Devarim 29:20}:
יט לֹא-יֹאבֶה ה', סְלֹחַ לוֹ--כִּי אָז יֶעְשַׁן אַף-יְהוָה וְקִנְאָתוֹ בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא, וְרָבְצָה בּוֹ כָּל-הָאָלָה הַכְּתוּבָה בַּסֵּפֶר הַזֶּה; וּמָחָה ה' אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם.19 the LORD will not be willing to pardon him, but then the anger of the LORD and His jealousy shall be kindled against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven;
כ וְהִבְדִּילוֹ ה' לְרָעָה, מִכֹּל שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--כְּכֹל, אָלוֹת הַבְּרִית, הַכְּתוּבָה, בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה.20 and the LORD shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that is written in this book of the law.

and similarly in a bit later, in Devarim 30:
י כִּי תִשְׁמַע, בְּקוֹל ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹר מִצְו‍ֹתָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו, הַכְּתוּבָה בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה: כִּי תָשׁוּב אֶל-ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ. {ס}10 if thou shalt hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law; if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul. {S}

These are the only two instances of this phrase, and it is the subject of a masoretic note to that effect.

But earlier, at the end of parshat Ki Tavo, the gender of the בספר התורה appears to be feminine, for we have זאת rather than זה. Thus, in Devarim 28:

סא גַּם כָּל-חֳלִי, וְכָל-מַכָּה, אֲשֶׁר לֹא כָתוּב, בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת--יַעְלֵם ה' עָלֶיךָ, עַד הִשָּׁמְדָךְ.61 Also every sickness, and every plague, which is not written in the book of this law, them will the LORD bring upon thee, until thou be destroyed.

Which is it? After all, sefer is masculine, so the phrase sefer hatorah should be masculine. Rashi deals with this, and Minchas Shai takes note.

This can all be explained on the basis of the trup. Rashi writes:

that is written in this book: Heb. בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה, “written in this Torah scroll.” [Here, the word for“this” (הַזֶּה) is in the masculine form. However,] earlier, the verse says,“And also every sickness and plague… in this Torah scroll הַתּוֹרָה הַזּאֹת בְּסֵפֶר ” (Deut. 28:61), [where the word for“this” (הַזּאֹת), appearing in the identical phrase, is in the feminine form. How do we explain the difference of gender for the same word, appearing in an identical phrase in Scripture? The answer is that there in Deut. 28:61,] the הַזּאֹת, which is in the feminine form, qualifies the word הַתּוֹרָה,“Torah” [which is in the feminine form]. And [here in our verse,] the word הַזֶּה, which is in the masculine form, qualifies the word סֵפֶר, “scroll” [which is in the masculine form. How do we know that each respective mention of the word “this” is qualifying the particular word described, and not otherwise? Because in these two verses,] the cantillation symbols punctuate the words [of the phrase“this Torah scroll”] in two different ways, [as follows]: In the passage [describing] the curses [i.e., in Deut. 28: 61], the [cantillation symbol called] tipcha is placed under the word בְּסֵפֶר, [thus separating it from the next words הַתּוֹרָה הַזּאֹת,] while [the words], הַתּוֹרָה הַזּאֹת are attached to each other [also by virtue of the cantillation symbols]. Hence, [the verse] employs the הַזּאֹת [for the word “this,” because it clearly is qualifying the word“Torah,” which is in the feminine form]. However, here [in our verse], the tipcha is placed under the word הַתּוֹרָה [Thus, together with its previous conjunctive symbol, the meircha placed under the word בְּסֵפֶר, it] joins these two words, בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה, into one attached [expression]. Accordingly, the word [“this”] qualifies the [first word in the expression, namely,] “scroll,”[the direct object in the expression“ Torah scroll,” and since the word“scroll”] is in the masculine form [thus, the qualifying word הָזֶה takes on the masculine form here]. הכתובה בספר התורה הזה: ולמעלה הוא אומר (לעיל כח, סא) בספר התורה הזאת גם כל חלי וכל מכה וגו', הזאת לשון נקבה מוסב על התורה. הזה לשון זכר מוסב על הספר, ועל ידי פסוק הטעמים הן נחלקין לשתי לשונות, בפרשת הקללות הטפחא נתונה תחת בספר, והתורה הזאת דבוקים זה לזה, לכך אמר הזאת וכאן הטפחה נתונה תחת התורה, נמצא ספר התורה דבוקים זה לזה לפיכך לשון זכר נופל אחריו, שהלשון נופל על הספר:

If I may explain, the idea is that is we look carefully at the trup of these pesukim, we will see a marked difference. Where it is sefer hatorah hazeh, the tipcha is under the word hatorah. But where it is besefer hatorah hazot, the tipcha is under besefer.

This is an important distiction because the tipcha is a disjunctive accent, which divides a phrase, while the mercha and munach are both conjunctive accents, which do not.

Therefore, we have:
Besefer HaTorah || Hazeh


Besefer || HaTorah HaZot

It then makes perfect sense. Since in Besefer HaTorah, haTorah is modifying sefer, the entire thing is a sefer. And if you want to say "this Torah sefer", it should be zeh, because sefer is lashon zachar.

On the other hand, if "this" is only going on HaTorah, then Torah is lashon nekeiva, and so it should be zot.

Indeed, compare the JPS translations of these two verses. Besefer hatorah hazeh is rendered "in this book of the law." And Besefer hatorah hazot is rendered "in the book of this law." Note the placement of the word "this" in each translation.

This is fine, though I am not entirely convinced. Natural language is sometimes weird, and defies expectation. That the trup is this way only demonstrates that the author of the trup was an expert enough in dikduk to spot this problem and irregularity, and was forced into this parsing which justifies the grammar. But the resulting phrase, "in the book of this law" seems forced. Especially given the various sefer hazehs in context.

It could be that in a natural, fluid language, words can sometimes be reanalyzed, or certain pairs of words can be joined together to form a single word unit. Just as mother-in-law should, by strict rules, be pluralized mothers-in-law, but people would say mother-in-laws; and attorney general should be pluralized attorneys general but people would say attorney generals, all because the word has become a unit which should not be divided, perhaps a common term such as sefer Torah could be considered a unit, and since it ends with kemetz heh, we should treat it as a single feminine noun which would get hazot when we want to speak about "this one". And this could creep in as an acceptable phrasing, despite the fact that in general we would focus on sefer and say that it is masculine. If so, the trup should not divide the unit in two, at that place.

I cannot prove this in this instance, nor do I have any evidence one way or the other based on analysis of other examples of this pattern. But this possibility does sit in the back of my mind.

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