Friday, August 20, 2010

Peshat in יָקוּם עַל שֵׁם אָחִיו הַמֵּת

Summary: While Ibn Caspi and Rashbam says it means literal naming, something not even Karaites say, I agree with the gemara in Yevamos that it certainly doesn't mean this. I would rather call it bad peshat.

Post: In parashas Ki Seitzei, towards the end:

5. If brothers reside together, and one of them dies having no son, the dead man's wife shall not marry an outsider. [Rather,] her husband's brother shall be intimate with her, making her a wife for himself, thus performing the obligation of a husband's brother with her.ה. כִּי יֵשְׁבוּ אַחִים יַחְדָּו וּמֵת אַחַד מֵהֶם וּבֵן אֵין לוֹ לֹא תִהְיֶה אֵשֶׁת הַמֵּת הַחוּצָה לְאִישׁ זָר יְבָמָהּ יָבֹא עָלֶיהָ וּלְקָחָהּ לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה וְיִבְּמָהּ:
6. And it will be, that the eldest brother [who performs the levirate marriage, if] she [can] bear will succeed in the name of his deceased brother, so that his [the deceased brother's] name shall not be obliterated from Israel.ו. וְהָיָה הַבְּכוֹר אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵד יָקוּם עַל שֵׁם אָחִיו הַמֵּת וְלֹא יִמָּחֶה שְׁמוֹ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל:

What does it mean to "succeed in the name"? I would caution against taking this literally. Too many people confuse "peshat" with "the simplest, literal meaning." But that is not the case. People often employ idioms in their language. I say "I took a shower this morning" but that does not imply that one is now missing. The Torah speaks about "the souls which they made in Charan" but that does not imply that they used sefer Yetzirah to create golems or that they converted people to monotheism. On the contrary, the peshat there is likely that they acquired these as servants.

So while this pasuk may indicate that one is to name the child the same name as the father, this need not be the only possible interpretation. I would ask whether naming the child the same name as the brother really accomplishes much. The point, after all, is that וְלֹא יִמָּחֶה שְׁמוֹ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, "his [the deceased brother's] name shall not be obliterated from Israel". Let us say for a moment that the brother had not died. He wouldn't name his child after his own name. Yaakov did not name any of his children Yaakov, and indeed, from those listed who left Egypt, we don't really find any Yaakovs. Does that mean that if people did not ever name any son Yaakov, Yaakov's name would be obliterated?

One could answer that by the child taking the literal name of the deceased brother, since that child will have children of his own, they will recall their ancestor Ploni. But this is a different Ploni. And why bother with the marrying of the deceased brother's wife? Let the living brother simply name one of his children Ploni! There are possible answers on can offer, but these are difficulties which require teirutzim.

A straightforward interpretation which does not require any great kvetch is that al shem achiv hameis means that they are ascribed, attributed, to the deceased brother. It is from the deceased brother's wife, and the living brother is stepping in for the deceased brother, and so it is as if he fathered the child. Al shem is like lesheim mitzvas matzah, "for the sake of the mitzvah of matzah."

If the child carries on the "name", he is carrying it on as the bearer of the deceased brother's lineage. This would naturally also carry with it rights of inheritance, of that brother's portion of the estate. Indeed, shem may be translated as "title".

We must take care not to insert our own suppositions into the Biblical text, but should glean whatever we can from Biblical usage. Now, this is not necessarily provable from the Biblical text. But there are three proofs one might be able to bring.  One is from Yaakov's blessing to Ephraim and Menashe:

5. And now, [as for] your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt, until I came to you, to the land of Egypt they are mine. Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine like Reuben and Simeon.ה. וְעַתָּה שְׁנֵי בָנֶיךָ הַנּוֹלָדִים לְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם עַד בֹּאִי אֵלֶיךָ מִצְרַיְמָה לִי הֵם אֶפְרַיִם וּמְנַשֶּׁה כִּרְאוּבֵן וְשִׁמְעוֹן יִהְיוּ לִי:
6. But your children, if you beget [any] after them, shall be yours; by their brothers' names they shall be called in their inheritance.ו. וּמוֹלַדְתְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹלַדְתָּ אַחֲרֵיהֶם לְךָ יִהְיוּ עַל שֵׁם אֲחֵיהֶם יִקָּרְאוּ בְּנַחֲלָתָם:

The phrase עַל שֵׁם אֲחֵיהֶם is used in terms of inheritance. Ephraim and Menashe count as shevatim, and thus there is a double portion. But any subsequent children born to Yaakov will be part of the Yosef := Ephraim Menashe line. This does not mean that every subsequent child of Yosef was expected to be called Ephraim or Menashe. That would be just silly.

The other proof is from actual cases of yibbum. For example, Tamar:

8. So Judah said to Onan, "Come to your brother's wife and perform the rite of the levirate, and raise up progeny for your brother."ח. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה לְאוֹנָן בֹּא אֶל אֵשֶׁת אָחִיךָ וְיַבֵּם אֹתָהּ וְהָקֵם זֶרַע לְאָחִיךָ:
and raise up progeny: The son shall be called by the name of the deceased. [From Targum Jonathan ben Uzziel]והקם זרע: הבן יקרא על שם המת:
Rashi does not mean this in the literal sense, but in the same sense it is used elsewhere, that it will be attributed. Yehuda's children from Tamar are not called Er and Onan, but rather Peretz and Zarach. Admittedly, the word shem is not mentioned here, but the same cultural values and cultural institution is in play.

Finally, in sefer Rut, we read:

ה  וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז, בְּיוֹם-קְנוֹתְךָ הַשָּׂדֶה מִיַּד נָעֳמִי; וּמֵאֵת רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת-הַמֵּת, קניתי (קָנִיתָ)--לְהָקִים שֵׁם-הַמֵּת, עַל-נַחֲלָתוֹ.5 Then said Boaz: 'What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi--hast thou also bought of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance?'

Here the identical phrase is used, and it is his name upon his inheritance. And then a bit later:

י  וְגַם אֶת-רוּת הַמֹּאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת מַחְלוֹן קָנִיתִי לִי לְאִשָּׁה, לְהָקִים שֵׁם-הַמֵּת עַל-נַחֲלָתוֹ, וְלֹא-יִכָּרֵת שֵׁם-הַמֵּת מֵעִם אֶחָיו, וּמִשַּׁעַר מְקוֹמוֹ:  עֵדִים אַתֶּם, הַיּוֹם.10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I acquired to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place; ye are witnesses this day.'

As Rashi explains:

to preserve the name of the deceased on his heritage: Since his wife comes and goes on the estate and brings in and takes out, people say, “This is Mahlon’s wife,” and his name is remembered upon it.

But we need not resort to this. Rather, he takes her as a wife to bear the child, who will be ascribed to the deceased relative.

We should point out that the child is called Oved, not Machlon or Kilyon! As we read:

יז  וַתִּקְרֶאנָה לוֹ הַשְּׁכֵנוֹת שֵׁם לֵאמֹר, יֻלַּד-בֵּן לְנָעֳמִי; וַתִּקְרֶאנָה שְׁמוֹ עוֹבֵד, הוּא אֲבִי-יִשַׁי אֲבִי דָוִד.  {פ}17 And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying: 'There is a son born to Naomi'; and they called his name Obed; he is the father of Jesse, the father of David. {P}


כא  וְשַׂלְמוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת-בֹּעַז, וּבֹעַז הוֹלִיד אֶת-עוֹבֵד.21 and Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed;
כב  וְעֹבֵד הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִשָׁי, וְיִשַׁי הוֹלִיד אֶת-דָּוִד.  {ש}22 and Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David. {P}

If the intent were really to name the child the same name as the deceased, they would have done so. They would not have left the naming to the women; and if it is a mere nickname, the name would not have been preserved as such in the genealogical list.

But this last is just, for me, a good indication. It was readily apparent to me from the local pesukim itself that the literal name was not intended. (If you want a literal naming, then not as a personal name, but as a family name -- just like Beit Chalutz HaNaal, or mishpachat haKorchi, mishpachat haYishvi, etc. Regardless, I think yakum indicates something other than literal naming.)

Anyhow, on to the meforshim. Rashi writes:

will succeed in the name of his deceased brother:[literally,“will rise in the name of his brother.”] The one who marries his wife, is to take the share of his deceased brother’s inheritance of their father’s property [in addition to his own share]. - [Yev. 24a]יקום על שם אחיו: זה שייבם את אשתו יטול נחלת המת בנכסי אביו:

He bases himself on a gemara in Yevamos 24a. The brayta:
Our Rabbis learned: And it shall be, that the firstborn implies that the commandment of the levirate marriage devolves upon the [surviving elder brother];  that she beareth excludes a woman who is incapable of procreation, since she cannot bear children: shall succeed in the name of his brother, in respect of inheritance. You say, 'in respect of inheritance'; perhaps it does not [mean that] but, 'in respect of the name': [If the deceased, for Instance, was called] Joseph [the child] shall be called Joseph; If Johanan he shall be called Johanan! — Here it is stated, shall succeed in the name of his brother and elsewhere it is stated, They shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance, as the 'name' that was mentioned there [has reference to] inheritance, so the 'name' which was mentioned here [has also reference] to inheritance. That his name be not blotted out excludes a eunuch whose name is blotted out.
Thus, Tannaim considered the possibility that the pasuk should be taken hyper-literally, that the child should be called by the actual, literal name. Therefore, they bring a gezeira shava from Ephraim and Menashe, as I brought above.

I would assert this is no simple gezera shava. This is not bringing laws from one place to another, via derash, but a very peshat-oriented gezera shava which reveals Biblical usage of the the term.

Therefore, Rava continues, with one of the very few instances of the phrase ain mikra yotzei miydei peshuto:
Said Raba: Although throughout the Torah no text loses its ordinary meaning, here the gezerah shawah has come and entirely deprived the text of its ordinary meaning
I agree. Because this gezera shava is operating on the level of peshat, not on the level of derash.

I am not sure what Rashbam means. He says:
על שם [אחיו] ש
לפי הפשט. 
The supercommentator here explains that he is arguing, on a peshat level, with the Sifrei and the gemara in Yevamot and insisting that on a peshat level that we are literally naming.

Ibn Ezra understands this as referring to nachala, just as Rashi does:
ולא ימחה שמו -על הנחלה ידבר.

Ibn Caspi says like Rashbam, a literal naming:

יקום על שם אחיו המת. שיקרא בשמו, וכן שם
בן רות נקרא על שם אישה המת, אבל השכנות קראו לו עובד (רות
: ( ד׳ י"ז), כי יעבוד את נעמי כשיגדל כמו שמבואר משם 3

He thus dismisses the proof from Rus, where the same phrase is used, claiming that this was a nickname from the neighbors. After all, the pasuk says that the neighbors called him this.

A quick note on a Karaite position on this. The Karaite scholar Aharon ben Yosef writes:

They don't take it as inheritance, for other reasons, which I am not going to get into in this post. But they don't take it absolutely literally, to such a silly extent, either.

My take on this is that Rashbam and Ibn Caspi are wrong, on the level of peshat. They took the pasuk too literally.

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