Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Did Saadia Gaon have a masorah on shafan as al-wabr?

According to Ibn Ezra, Saadia Gaon sometimes made things up, for the honor of Torah.

To quote Jewish Encyclopedia on Ibn Ezra's allegation:
Nor was Saadia without influence outside Jewish circles. Abraham ibn Ezra, writing on Gen. ii. 11, states, probably on good authority, that Saadia planned his translation of the Bible for Mohammedans as well as for Jews, and that he used Arabic script for this reason; and Ibn Ezra accordingly explains the fact that Saadia translated even those expressions whose meaning was not known through tradition, as being due to a desire that the Mohammedan reader might not think the Bible contains words which are unintelligible. 

I wrote about this Ibn Ezra a few years back (and even mentioned al-wabr), about whether Saadia Gaon dreamed that the Pishon was the Nile. That is, on Bereishit 2:11, which begins shem ha'echad pishon, it Rav Saadia Gaon's Tafsir, it is the Nile River. Al-Nil.

Rashi agrees and gives a derivation, but Ibn Ezra disagrees in a long and harsh comment. And he ends that comment by saying:

 ואין ראיה על פישון שהוא היאור, רק שתרגם החוילה כפי צרכו, כי אין לו קבלה וכן עשה במשפחות ובמדינות. ובחיות ובעופות ובאבנים. אולי בחלום ראה וכבר טעה במקצתם כאשר אפרש במקומו, א"כ לא נשען על חלומותיו אולי עשה כן לכבוד השם בעבור שתרגם התורה בלשון ישמעאל ובכתיבתם, שלא יאמרו כי יש בתורה מלות לא ידענום. 
And there is no proof regarding the Pishon that it is the Nile {which does not share a single source with these, or flow in this manner}. Rather, he {=Rav Saadia Gaon} translated HaChavilah {the country it surrounds} as he needed, for he had no tradition. And so did he do by the families and countries, and the animals, birds, and stones. Perhaps he saw them in a dream. And he already erred in a few of them, as I will explain in each place. If so, we shall not rely upon his dreams; perhaps he did this for the honor of Hashem, for he translated {in the Tafsir} the Torah into the Arabic language, and in their script, so that they should not say that there are words in the Torah which we do not know.
That is, it would be an embarassment before the Muslims to leave a word untranslated, saying in effect that we don't know what the word is. And so Saadia Gaon made things up, or else tried to figure it out based on other pesukim.

This is more than a simple argument between a Rishon and a Gaon, each perhaps with a masorah or perhaps not.

However, there are a number of points to make about this.

1) This is just Ibn Ezra talking, and alleging this. It does not necessarily mean that it is so, that Saadia Gaon did not make use of a masorah. It might mean that Ibn Ezra is trying to justify his arguing with a Gaon.

2) Along the same lines, it is Ibn Ezra saying this. And some 'frummies' are triumphantly citing this Ibn Ezra as halacha leMoshe miSinai, when they would likely not cite other Ibn Ezras in such matters. For one random example, as to what peshat is in the prohibition to shave with a razor.

3) Ibn Ezra also does not mean that in every case, Saadia Gaon operated without a masorah. For example, surely Saadia Gaon knows what a parah is. But Ibn Ezra says:
And he already erred in a few of them, as I will explain in each place
Ibn Ezra does not argue with Saadia Gaon in his commentary in Shemini, about shafan. He is silent, which means that he does not argue. It might still mean that Saadia was operating without a masorah, but Ibn Ezra still thinks he got it right.

4) Given that the hyrax was an animal local to Eretz Yisrael and its vicinity, and was one of the few animals with a distinctive and readily recognizable sign, of apparent rumination while not possessing split hooves, it stands to reason that this would not be one of the animals for which there was no masorah. That is, if the shafan is indeed the hyrax, then it would make sense for there to have been a masorah for it, unlike for random non-kosher animals and birds, for which the masorah was lost.

5) Last but not least, the same folks suggesting that Saadia lacked a masorah are simultaneously suggesting that the Spanish Rishonim may have had a masorah as to the identity of the shafan. Which is more likely, that Saadia had a masorah, or that the Spanish Rishonim had a masorah?

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