Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ibn Janach on וְעָשְׂתָה אֶת צִפָּרְנֶיהָ

Summary: as well as Chizkuni, Shadal, Ibn Caspi, and my own thoughts. It could be cutting, growing, or it could be that we don't have enough background knowledge (from cultural setting, rather than from psukim) to make an informed decision.

Post: There is a famous machlokes as to whether וְעָשְׂתָה אֶת צִפָּרְנֶיהָ means that the eshet yefat toar should grow her nails or cut her nails. Rashi endorses the interpretation which is accordance with halacha. Thus:

12. You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow.יב. וַהֲבֵאתָהּ אֶל תּוֹךְ בֵּיתֶךָ וְגִלְּחָה אֶת רֹאשָׁהּ וְעָשְׂתָה אֶת צִפָּרְנֶיהָ:
ועשתה את צפרניה: תגדלם כדי שתתנוול:

"She should grow them long, so that she should become disgusting."

But Rabbi Yonah Ibn Janach has an interesting comment:

"She should cut; in parallel to וְגִלְּחָה אֶת רֹאשָׁהּ. And in the Talmud (Yevamot 38), it is a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer who says she should cut and Rabbi Akiva who said that she should grow it. And the halacha is like Rabbi Akiva."

Yet, the halacha being like Rabbi Akiva does not stand in the way of Ibn Janach saying the reverse, based on internal textual evidence. Yes, Rashi does this as well, citing a midrash which is more in line with peshat even though the halacha is different. But as far as I know, he never explicitly rejects the halachic interpretation, saying it is halacha while endorsing the reverse. Yet here Ibn Janach explicitly mentions that the halacha is not like the opinion he selects. He might subscribe to some idea of halacha superseding peshat, but I don't know enough about Ibn Janach to say for sure.

Chizkuni arrives at the same conclusion, citing other evidence for asiyah referring to cutting. Namely, by Mepiboshet -- “he had not done his mustache and had not done his feet {=toenails}”. Presumably, this would refer to cutting the toenails, as something to do or neglect to do, just like his mustache. He notes that this is one side of the machlokes, but does not note that the halacha is like the other side.

Indeed, this selection of Rabbi Eliezer over Rabbi Akiva is well manifest; the explicit mention of contrary halacha was just something I found interesting.

Shadal has a rather wonderful statement of "I don't know." This is a mark of precision, to know what you do not know. Plus, it is a statement that perhaps others do not know either. Shadal writes:
 ולשון ועשתה את צפרניה אין ספק שענינו תיקון. ואנחנו לא נדע מנהג הימים ההם, ואולי תיקון הצפרנים לאבלות הוא הוא גידולן, שאם היה מנהג האבלים לגדל צפרניהם, גידולן זהו תיקונן.
"And the language of וְעָשְׂתָה אֶת צִפָּרְנֶיהָ, there is no doubt that its meaning is 'fixing'. But we don't know the custom of those days. And perhaps the 'fixing' of fingernails for mourning was their growing. For if the custom of mourners was to grow their fingernails, their growing was their fixing."

This overcomes any prooftext from Mepiboshet, since 'do' means different things in different contexts.

On the other hand, I don't think that cutting the hair necessarily has to do with the custom of mourners. They may grow their hair long. Rather, consider Yosef leaving the pit, where his hair was cut (not necessarily shaved) before seeing Pharaoh. If so, maybe this is a matter of preparation before her marriage, so that she does not enter as a captive of war, but a normal woman who has had chance to recover from the trauma and has full rights as a wife (as the pesukim indeed continue). The question might then be whether trimming the nails or letting them grow is a sign of beauty. I would guess that trimming would be -- a manicure -- since why should we assume that they would be trim at the time she was captured.

Ibn Caspi takes it as a sort of purification ritual. She removes all connection to her old life. Her hair, she shaves off. So too, she trims her fingernails. And he says, by way of stress, that 'if she could remove one of her limbs it would be a mitzvah -- and the intent in this is that there is an impression in her soul that she is like another woman, and that she should forget her entire father's household and her relatives.' This naturally leads into her mourning her father and mother for a month.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin