Sunday, January 29, 2006

Onkelos Translation

There is a new sefer which offers a translation of Onkelos published by Gefen books. Onkelos, which is considered the authoritative translation of the Torah has, unfortunatly, suffered from the difficulty people have in reading it. Instead, most English speakers rely upon other translation, some which do not follow Onkelos. This has now been remidied by this new book "Onkelos on the Torah: Understanding the Bible Text" by Israel Drazin and Stanley Wagner.
The book is very user friendly. It contains the Hebrew text of the Torah, Onkelos and Rashi (vocalized). Additionally, it contains an English translation of Onkelos. The translation bolds any words that Onkelos changed from the literal meaning. The authors then have a commentary on each of those changes explaining why this was changed. Additionally, the authors provide an even more in-depth commentary in the Appendix, for those who want to go even further. Drazin, has edited a more scholarly treatment of Onkelos published by Ktav (for a lot more money).

One example from last weeks Parsha. Exodos 8:2 discusses the begining of the frog plauge. The translation is as follows: "Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of the Egyptians, and the frogs ascended and covered the land of Egypt." Thus, both Egyptians and frogs have been chaged by the targum. We will focus on the "frogs" change. The authors explain
FROGS The biblical reading is "bring up the frog" (in the singular), suggesting that one frog covered the entire land. Indeed, Rashi cites an opinion found in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 67b) and the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 10:4) that a single from came, split into other frogs and swarmed over Egypt. Our targumist prefers to interpret the biblical singular as "frogs," which is closer to the intended meaning. Rashi also states that the singular form represents a swarm of frogs, just as the word kinam in verse 13 and 14, in the singular, refers to many lice. Our tagumist translates kinam in the plural in keeping with his understanding of the intended meaning of the word.
The authors in a section titled "Onkelos Highlights" offer an additional reason why the targumist picked this explaination.
Onkelos most often attempts to translate Scripture in accordance with the view of Rabbi Ishmael, rather thatn that of Rabbi Akiva - both spiritual giants of the second centruy CE. Rabbi Akiva, recognizing the sacredness of every word in the Bible, understood Scripture literally. Hence, when the Bible describes the second plauge in verse 8:2, stating that a "frog," in the singular, covered Egypt, he understood it to mean that it was a single frog that miraculously afflicted Egypt. Rabbi Ishmael, on the other hand, insisted that "Scripture speaks in human language," and that it often metaphoric and imprecise, a view embraced by Onkelos. The tragumist, therefore, translates the Hebrew word as "frogs," to reflect the intention of the Bible, which frequently uses the singular in the place of the plural.

Thus, there is a basic controversy how to understand the Bible, with Onkelos taking one position which is reflected in his targum.

It is worthwhile to note how other translations have translated this verse (8:2) to compare and understand what they were doing.

Artscroll actually differs depending upon which book one is looking at. In the Artscroll translation that includes a translation of Rashi, the verse is translated in the singular - "frog." This, as noted above, reflects Rashi's understanding of the verse based upon the Midrash and the Talmud. Artscroll in their introduction claim they follow Rashi in their translation.
In the Artscroll Stone edition which is just a translation of the Torah with a commentary, the verse is translated as "frog-infestation." The commentary notes that they followed Rashi on this as well (the second explaination offered in Rashi). However, a closer reading of Rashi actually leads to a different translation. Rashi states "The simple understading of this verse is that a singular form of frog can mean frog infestation." Thus, Rashi is saying although only the singular is used it can mean multitudes. Therefore, Rashi would actually translate the verse, according to this understanding, as "frog" which would mean frog infestation, not that the translation is actually frog infestation.

Additionally, Artscroll does not explain why in one book they translated it one way and in the other a different way.

JPS follows Onkelos and translates "frogs."

I do have one criticism of the an otherwise excellent work. I think it would have been even better if they had aside from bolding the English to bold the actual targum words that are changed. However, beside for this, this work allows many, who constrained by the difficult language employeed by the Targum to now study this invaluable work.

I purchased this from Biegeleisen for $27. As of yet the only volume published is the Exodus volume, however, the authors note that Genisis is almost complete. One can also buy this directly from the publisher and also see page samples here

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I See Dead People

Mary Roach in her excellent book "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" discusses some of the facinating facts relating to dead bodies. However, she does not discuss some of the more interesting Jewish incidents of dead bodies.

The first is the fairly well known story of R. Yehuda Aszod (1794-1866). R. Aszod's grandson wrote a biography of his grandfather. Portions of this biography are included in R. Aszod's commentary on the Torah, Divre Mahri.

"My grandfather never allowed for a picture or portrait of himself [based upon halachik reasons, for more on these reasons see G. Oberlander's article in the latest Hechal haBeshet]. However, many of his students wanted his picture to remember their teacher. Therefore some of his students decided amongst themselves that after R. Aszod will die they will dress him in his Shabbat clothes, place him on his chair and this is how they obtained his photograph which is found in many people's homes. However, those that participated in this bad befell them. It was not longer before the participants all died." This event even engendered a discussion whether such a practice is permitted. R. Zev Tzvi Klien in his teshuvot Kehana Mesaya Kehana (no. 12) discusses this practice and concludes although not recommended it is not prohibited.

While this story does appear in R. Aszod's commentary on the torah (p. 32) it is only is the older editions, the most recent the entire story including the relevant footnote was removed.

Additionally, there is a picture of R. Aryeh Leib ben Asher Gunzberg (Sha'agat Areyeh) which it appears he is dead. However, the legend underneath the picture reads "This is the picture of the Sha'agat Areyeh at the time he is dying." I assume this "disclaimer" was placed there to mitigate any criticism of the kind the picture of R. Aszod is subject to. One can see this picture in the book R. Y.M. Stern, Gedoli HaDorot Jerusalem 1996, vol. 1.

There is another case, although not with a dead Rabbi, but with a Jewish question regarding the dead. In University College in London the noted philosopher Jermey Bentham had an interesting request in his will. As it appears on Wikipedia,

A further reason for Jeremy Bentham's fame within UCL is due to the fact that his body is on display to the public. Jeremy Bentham specified in his will that he wanted his body to be preserved as a lasting memorial, and this instruction was duly carried out. This 'Auto-Icon' has become famous. Unfortunately, when it came to preserving his head, the process went disastrously wrong and left the head badly disfigured. A wax head was made to replace it, but for many years the real head sat between his legs. However, this head was frequently stolen and subjected to many student pranks, with students from rival King's College London often the culprits. The head is said to have at one time been found in a luggage locker at Aberdeen station, and to have been used as a football by students in the Quad. These events led to the head being removed from display and placed instead in the College vaults, where it remains to this day.

Other rumours surrounding the Auto-Icon are that the box containing his remains is wheeled into senior college meetings, and that he is then listed in minutes as 'present but not voting'. He is also said to have a vote on the council, but only when the vote is split, and that he always votes in favour of the motion.

When the Upper Refectory was refurbished in2003, the room became renamed the Jeremy Bentham Room (sometimes abbreviated JBR) in tribute to the man.


The London Bet Din for a few years put out phamphelts where they would discuss a in depth topics of interest. One of those titled "B'Inyan Ohel ha-Met" Dayan Grosnas no. 14, 1965, discusses whether a Kohen can go through the lobby, or today the JBR where Bentham's body is. They actually state in the begining, which is not mentioned in the Wikipedia article that the head is kept in a special box, which although not on public display, if one asks it will be shown to you. Obviously, the same question of whether one could photograph it as was raised in the case of R. Aszod would apply as well.


You can see Bentham's body here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Censored Texts - Website

There is an interesting post, in Hebrew, on Hydepark, which has a list of censored texts. Although the list is not complete, (for more examples see my article in the latest issue of Hakirah), it still is rather good.
There are also numerous other gems on the site for those that take the time.

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