Thursday, April 03, 2014

Ish and Isha

I'll solve this problem with just a dash of kefirah!

According to Torah (Bereishit 2:23), the word אשה is derived from איש. Thus:
כג  וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם, זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי, וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי; לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה, כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקְחָה-זֹּאת.23 And the man said: 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.'

This is strange anyway because he was an איש and אשה already would be the natural feminine form of the word איש, so positing that it is because she was taking out of איש seems unnecessary. Like פר and פרה, where the פרה was not taken out of the cow. Is this the very first feminine noun?

But a bigger problem seems that אשה is a cognate of אתתה, and the feminine form of אנש, with the dagesh in the ש representing the assimilated nun. As discussed on the Balashon blog at length (and see the entire post, it is good), quoting Horowitz in How the Hebrew Language Grew:
Strange and unbelievable as it seems the word אשה has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the word איש. In אשה in the first place a nun has fallen out; the word is really אנשה (insha). The plural נשים gives some hint of that. The really important fact, though, is that the shin of אשה is really a tav. In Aramaic the word for woman is either אתא or more commonly אתתא.
We could posit all sorts of answers, such as that the etymology was based on assonance, and that is therefore OK. Or that this etymology in the Torah is fanciful. Or that Adam HaRishon didn't learn dikduk in Yeshiva Shem veEiver, because that was considered to secular a subject.

But here, I will handily solve the problem by asking a pointed question or two about the Biblical text. Where in the world did that yud come from in the word איש? Yud was a consonantal letter, and only later adopted as one of the imot hakeriah (matres lectiones).

And where in the world did that dagesh come from in the word אשה? The orthography of those points were only introduced post-Talmudically, just like nikkud and trup. Sure, it might well have reflected something about the pronunciation at the time the Masoretes wrote down that dagesh, but that pronunciation does not necessarily go all the way back to the time of the Sinai.

The dagesh, when it was written, reflected a gemination of the sound, a doubling of the letter, which indeed reflects the assimilation of the nun and relatedly the closing of the short vowel chirik which preceded it, since a short-voweled unstressed syllable needs closing. But why not put in a yud into אישה and remove the dagesh from the shin?

All of a sudden, the Biblical etymology works!

So, you are making an etymology of אשה based on later insertions into the text and based on assumptions of the pronunciation and spelling of the words, and then asking about the veracity of the text? That won't work.


Anonymous said...

Interesting what do you think Haggadah and Shemos in archeology

Reuven Chaim Klein said...

I was always מסופק whether that Midrash means to allude to the etymological relationship between איש and אשה or to a phonological relationship between the two words (see the Midrash's examples from Greek and Aramaic).

Chanokh said...

It's quite simple, really. The pasuk is saying : why do we say Isha when we should say Insha or Intha ? Because she was taken from Ish - and not from Enosh. Cue all the well-know diyyukim between Ish, Adam, Enosh. Is that so farfetched?


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