Friday, October 08, 2010

Rashi's Rocket Ship

Summary: On the heels of my discussion (here and here) of Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz's (nonexistent) rocket ship, here I discuss whether a Rashi in Chagiga asserts that the tower of Bavel flew. While a quick, surface reading of Rashi might give one this impression, a more careful reading will reveal that it is simply not so.

Post: What would give us the impression that Rashi asserts that the migdal Bavel was a flying tower? It would be Rashi's statement in Chagiga 15b regarding the gemara's mention of במגדל הפורח באויר that וי"א מגדל דור הפלגה, in other words that this refers to the tower of the generation of the Dispersion. (See also here, and in comments on the previous post.) Pretty clear cut, huh? Not really.

We must really start with Sanhedrin 106b. The gemara there reads:

וא"ר יצחק מאי דכתיב (ישעיהו לג, יח) איה סופר איה שוקל איה סופר את המגדלים איה סופר כל אותיות שבתורה איה שוקל ששוקל כל קלים וחמורים שבתורה איה סופר את המגדלים שהיה סופר שלש מאות הלכות פסוקות במגדל הפורח באויר א"ר ארבע מאה בעיי' בעו דואג ואחיתופל במגדל הפורח באויר [ולא איפשט להו חד] אמר רבא רבותא למבעי בעיי
Or, in English translation:
R. Isaac also said: What is meant by the verse, Where is the enumerator, where is the weigher! Where is he that counted the towers!22  — Where is he who enumerated all the letters of the Torah?23  Where is he who weighed all the light [comparatively unimportant] and heavy [important] [precepts] of the Torah?24  Where is he that counted the towers — who counted three hundred fixed laws on a 'tower flying in the air.'25
R. Ammi said: Doeg and Ahitophel propounded four hundred problems with respect to a tower flying in the air, and not one was solved. Raba observed: Is there any greatness in propounding problems?
The question then is just how Doeg and Achitophel propounded problems with respect to a migdal haporeach ba'avir, and how one would count three hundred laws on a migdal haporeach ba'avir. Rashi grapples with this issue, on this very daf:

במגדל הפורח באויר - מתג עליונה שלמעלה מן הלמ"ד מפני מה כפופה למטה. לשון מ"ר מפי השמועה. ל"א במגדל הפורח באויר הנכנס לארץ העמים בשידה תיבה ומגדל אם הוא טמא אם לאו. ל"א ג' מאות הלכות במגדל הפורח באויר לעשות כישוף להעמיד מגדל באויר כגון שלש מאות הלכות בנטיעות קשואין דאמרן בפירקין דלעיל (דף סח.) ולמורי נראה דה"ג שלש מאות הלכות במגדל העומד [באויר] ומשנה אחת באהלות (פ"ד משנה א) דמשתעי בהכי מגדל העומד באויר וטומאה בתוכה כלים שבתוכו טמאים וכן נראה לר':

The first explanation of Rashi is that the מגדל refers to the top line of the letter lamed, the ל, and they were darshening why it bends downward. This seems, to me, somewhat reminiscent of Rabbi Akiva expounding the crowns, the tagin, on the top of the letters.

The second explanation of Rashi is that the מגדל we are referring to is that of the shida teiva umigdal. That is, a sort of closet or chest. And that {IIUC} if he entered into the land of the nations, outside of Eretz Yisrael, in a shida teiva umigdal, , whether he would contract ritual impurity. This is, thus, a second definition of migdal.

The third explanation of Rashi is that the מגדל we are referring to is one suspended in the air via magic. This would either be a chest as above, or a tower. And it would be akin to the 300 halachot discussed (in Sanhedrin 68a) regarding cucumbers which were magically planted.

The fourth explanation (that of his teacher -- is Rashi, or a student writing on this perek?) is to change the girsa. Leave the word מגדל alone as chest, but have it standing, rather than floating, on the air, and it has to do with the laws of ritual impurity, once again.

We see from this that Rashi's concern is to find the meaning of מגדל in a way that we can render the text of the gemara sensibly.

So much for Sanhedrin. On to Chagiga daf 15b. The Hebrew and Aramaic is rather close to the text we have in Sanhedrin:
א"ל מי זוטרא מאי דכתיב בהו ברבנן (ישעיהו לג, יח) איה סופר איה שוקל איה סופר את המגדלים איה סופר שהיו סופרים כל אותיות שבתורה איה שוקל שהיו שוקלים קלין וחמורין שבתורה איה סופר את המגדלים שהיו שונין ג' מאות הלכות במגדל הפורח באויר ואמר רבי אמי תלת מאה בעיי בעו דואג ואחיתופל במגדל הפורח באויר

Once again, Rashi tries to make sense of it. He writes:
במגדל הפורח באויר - י"מ שדורשין גובהו של למ"ד ודורשין בו כל זאת וי"א מגדל דור הפלגה ולי נראה מגדל הפתוח לאויר גרסינן והן מהלכות אהלות מגדל של עץ שקורין משטיי"ר ועומד בפתח ופתחו פתוח לבקעה או לחצר שהוא אויר במסכת אהלות (פ"ד מ"א) ישנה משנה מגדל העומד באויר:

So, Rashi's first explanation is once again that they darshened the height of the letter ל, such that מגדל refers to the top line.

Rashi's second explanation of the word מגדל is that it is not the line of the lamed, but rather וי"א מגדל דור הפלגה. That is, the מגדל is a tower. He is not quoting this opinion, of others, that tower of the Dor Hapalaga floated in the air. Rather, that the word migdal means tower. By referring to the famous מגדל דור הפלגה, we know the type of מגדל under discussion. To the exclusion to the מגדל of the ל or the מגדל of the שידה תיבה ומגדל.

His third explanation, which he once again prefers, is to emend the text. Change the ר to a ת such that it is מגדל הפתוח לאויר. The מגדל refers to a chest (as in שידה תיבה ומגדל) made of wood which they call משטייר and it is open to a valley or a courtyard.

Thus, he once again has a few different explanations of the word מגדל. And he uses a reference to מגדל בבל to disambiguate and make it clear what kind of migdal he meant in each context, to a readership that otherwise would be confused by the word מגדל.

But again, Rashi was NOT saying that the tower of Bavel flew. And he is not citing others who said that the tower of Bavel flew. It is only once we read sources from much later, such as that of Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz, that we can go back and get this surface mistaken impression.

There is also R' Menachem Tziyuni on this topic, to be addressed in a separate post.


Shmerl said...

While Rashi himself proposed to change the girso, he brought man deomar, that migdal hapoyreach beavir refers to migdal Bovel. Your statement that he doesn't mean that someone held it for floating in the air doesn't fit Rashi's words: וי"א מגדל דור הפלגה Refers to במגדל הפורח באויר mentioned before. This is pretty straightforward, there is no need to bend Rashi's words to fit it not to mean flying tower.

A gut Shabes.

Shmerl said...

References in Sanhedrin discuss the same issue of מגדל הפורח באויר. Rashi investigates what that can mean. He is interested not just in "tower", but in "flying tower" here, brining different options what it can mean. I'm not sure where you take it from, that he suddenly drops the "flying" aspects, when he switches to migdal Bovel.

Shmerl said...

FYI: here is another interesting piece describing some technomagical characteristics of the migdal.

joshwaxman said...

thanks; i'll try to check it out.

to try again to explain my take on Rashi. Rashi attempts two things for many of his answers. (a) word-sense disambiguation of the word מגדל, and (b) an explanation of how this word fits into context of 300 laws. he does not explain just what the laws about a flying tower would be, but in this particular instance leaves it at just (a), the word sense disambiguation.

a most concise method of word sense disambiguation is to provide an example. i would read it as if it said ke-migdal shel dor hapalaga. that is, it is not the shida teiva umigdal, nor is it the upper stroke of the lamed. thus, he is telling us that one should not interpret it as the lamed-stroke, as in the first item. this is a fairly concise method of word-sense disambiguation because the migdal Bavel was clearly a tower, and not a chest or a lamed-stroke.

I do not consider this to be "bending" his words. the purpose of mentioning dor hapalaga was to show by example what מגדל means. as i have discovered regarding midrash, often peshat is not the most literal, and insisting on absolute literalness and paying overstress to individual words yields derash rather than peshat. i believe that this is what happened in this instance, as well.

(besides which, why should these 300 laws apply just to migdal bavel, and not any other theoretical flying tower?

artscroll, btw, takes it as Migdal Bavel being intended, but insists that this is allegory, that it was so tall that it was as if it floated. i disagree with them on both counts.

kol tuv,

Shmerl said...

the purpose of mentioning dor hapalaga was to show by example what מגדל means
Doesn't sound convincing. Rashi is explaining "במגדל הפורח באויר" in Chagigo. Not he word "מגדל". Even in Sanhedrin, he is working with the phrase as a whole, but proposing a different reading in one case (girso change).

Even if you assume that in Sanhedrin he's really focusing on "migdal" alone - you can't assume that in Chagigo anymore. Rashi's pirush has local application - i.e. it is explaining the text at hand. While it's helpful to know what Rashi says on relative pieces, it's not required for analysis. And in Chagigo Rashi clearly stating what is is focused on: "במגדל הפורח באויר"

Shmerl said...

besides which, why should these 300 laws apply just to migdal bavel, and not any other theoretical flying tower

I understood it as a manual on building flying machine. I.e. it's not specifically migdal Bovel, but rather technology that was used in migdal Bovel, but which allows to build a flying "tower" in general. This can explain a strangely huge number of mishnayoys on one specific subject.

artscroll, btw, takes it as Migdal Bavel being intended, but insists that this is allegory
Artscroll have their own agendas. I wouldn't trust them on such subjects. said...

Another fascinating blog post R. Waxman!

@Shmerl would you please help me improve my translation of Sefer Berit Menuḥa?

"The generation of the dispersion were clever and shrewd, truly they knew secrets. They said: ‘If we offend we will die as the generation of the flood which engulfed this world. [Let us] marshal forces which the upper ones can not do battle with.' They desired to build a tower fortified that it not fall, that would protect from waters and be immune to fire. From it would spread weapons to kill those who would draw close to destroy them. They desired an image made with the power of the Name, as is written, that we may make us a name. An image to speak to them all that would come to pass and tell them 'Do this but do not do that.' They desired to make for the image wings to cover all the city and fend fire descending from the heavens. That the angel of destruction not rule over them with torrents that fall in the city and on its border. All they did was due to the fear of the flood but the fools did not know a God all-knowing is YHWH and His is the measure of actions (1 Samuel 2:3), that every seraf and all the demons and the forces receive from Him with His permission. High and exalted, what does the blessed Holy One do? Lessen the strength of Ḥafniel and of Sandalfon and start to gauge with two seraphim. He stopped up their impure source of power so that they could not build the structure they desired" (Berit Menuḥa: the Tenth Way).


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