Hebrew language and literature

Comparing translations

After completing a cycle of Torah with Targum Onkelos, this year I am going to try to complete a cycle with Peshitta and Septuagint as well, or 𝕾 and 𝕲, as BHS refers to them. Here is something I noticed in Genesis chapter 1:

In  verse 11 God commands the creation of trees:

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תַּדְשֵׁא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי לְמִינוֹ אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ־בוֹ עַל-הָאָרֶץ וַיְהִי־כֵן

And in verse 12 the command is fulfilled:

וַתּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע לְמִינֵהוּ וְעֵץ עֹשֶׂה־פְּרִי אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ־בוֹ לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי-טוֹב

Here are the two verses in English (old JPS translation):

And God said: ‘Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth.’ And it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good.

Note the difference between the two verses that I have highlighted. This is picked up by the Midrash (Bereshit Rabba 5:9) as no mere verbal variation but as an incomplete fulfillment of God’s command by the earth, an original sin even earlier than Adam and Eve’s (explaining why the earth is also cursed in 3:17): God intended the trees to be literally “fruit trees” where even the tree itself was edible, but they only became fruit-bearing.

In the Septuagint the phrase is the same in both verses:

καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Θεός· βλαστησάτω ἡ γῆ … ξύλον κάρπιμον ποιοῦν καρπόν … καὶ ἐξήνεγκεν ἡ γῆ … ξύλον κάρπιμον ποιοῦν καρπόν

Rather to my surprise, neither BHK nor BHS mentions this as a variant reading. It could be just a harmonization by the translator, but it could also be a genuine variant text.

I checked The Biblical Qumran Scrolls: Transcriptions and Textual Variants, ed. Eugene Ulrich; (Brill, Leiden, 2010), and there is no corresponding variant listed there, but he does mention in the apparatus that it also appears in the old Latin version, Targum Neofiti and the Targum attributed to Jonathan.

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מעיד על עצמו

This is the title page of the Pentateuch in the British Foreign and Bible Society edition of the Hebrew bible:

חמישה חומשי תורה מדויקיס על צד היותר טוב על פי המסורה

Hebrew language and literature

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The Rabbis and Environmentalism

Jim Davila was wondering whether the following quotation from Anglican minister Martin Palmer was really Talmudic:

“The Talmud says that the angels went to God and said, ‘You just created this wonderful world and now you’ve created these human beings who will only go and mess it up. Are you start staring mad?’ And God says, ‘I know what I’m doing. I know what I’m doing.’ And then the earth spoke, and the earth was afraid. And the earth said, ‘These creatures, they will only rebel against me and harm me.’ And God answers, ‘I promise you that they will never be allowed to destroy you.'”

I think that Iyov is right that this is derived at some distance from Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 38b or its parallels:

אמר רב יהודה א”ר בשעה שבקש הקב”ה לבראות את האדם ברא כת אחת של מלאכי השרת אמר להם רצונכם נעשה אדם בצלמנו אמרו לפניו רבש”ע מה מעשיו אמר להן כך וכך מעשיו אמרו לפניו רבש”ע (תהילים ח) מה אנוש כי תזכרנו ובן אדם כי תפקדנו הושיט אצבעו קטנה ביניהן ושרפם וכן כת שניה כת שלישית אמרו לפניו רבש”ע ראשונים שאמרו לפניך מה הועילו כל העולם כולו שלך הוא כל מה שאתה רוצה לעשות בעולמך עשה כיון שהגיע לאנשי דור המבול ואנשי דור הפלגה שמעשיהן מקולקלין אמרו לפניו רבש”ע לא יפה אמרו ראשונים לפניך אמר להן (ישעיהו מו) ועד זקנה אני הוא ועד שיבה אני אסבול וגו’

Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: When the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to create man, He [first] created a company of ministering angels and said to them: "Is it your desire that we make a man in our image?"

They answered: "Sovereign of the Universe, what will be his deeds?"

"Such and such will be his deeds," He replied.

Thereupon they exclaimed: "Sovereign of the Universe, What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou thinkest of him?" [Psalm 8:5]

Thereupon He stretched out His little finger among them and consumed them with fire. The same thing happened with a second company.

The third company said to Him: "Sovereign of the Universe, what did it avail the former [angels] that they spoke to Thee [as they did]? The whole world is Thine, and whatsoever that Thou wishest to do therein, do it."

When He came to the men of the Age of the flood and of the division [of tongues] whose deeds were corrupt, they said to Him: "Lord of the Universe, did not the first [company of angels] speak aright?"

"Even to old age I am the same, and even to hoar hairs will I carry," [Isa. 46:4] He retorted.

However, the classic Rabbinic source for environmentalism is Ecclesiastes Rabbah on 7:13:

בשעה שברא הקב”ה את אדם הראשון נטלו והחזירו על כל אילני גן עדן ואמר לו ראה מעשי כמה נאים ומשובחין הן וכל מה שבראתי בשבילך בראתי, תן דעתך שלא תקלקל ותחריב את עולמי, שאם קלקלת אין מי שיתקן אחריך

When the Holy One, Blessed be He, made the first human, he led him past every tree in the Garden of Eden, saying, “Look at what I have made! See how beautiful and excellent they are! Everything that I created I created for you; take care not to damage or destroy my world, because if you damage it there is nobody else who can repair it after you.”

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It depends which way you look at it

Via Jim Davila, a fascinating account of two readings of the name on a seal discovered in the Temple Mount excavations in Jerusalem. There’s a large image of the seal here.

Eilat Mazar’s original reading תמח was based on reading the name from the seal itself:


𐤕𐤌𐤇

The revised reading שלמת takes into account that one should read the name from the seal impression. Let’s try to simulate that by flipping the image:


𐤔𐤋𐤌𐤕

See also here.

As before, to see the text below the images correctly, you will need a font that supports “Phoenician” and a browser that supports Unicode 5.0.

Hebrew language and literature
Palæohebrew

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Lost in Translation

I really didn’t think that Yehuda Halevi was within my range as a translator, but this came out quite well:

יְפֵה נוֹף מְשׂוֹשׂ תֵּבֵל קִרְיָה לְמֶלֶךְ רָב.
לָךְ נִכְסְפָה נַפְשִׁי מִפַּאֲתֵי מַעְרָב!
הֲמוֹן רַחֲמַי נִכְמָר כִּי אֶזְכְּרָה קֶדֶם,
כְּבוֹדֵךְ אֲשֶׁר גָּלָה וְנָוֵךְ אֲשֶׁר חָרָב.
וּמִי יִתְּנֵנִי עַל כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים, עַד
אֲרַוֶּה בְדִמְעָתִי עֲפָרֵך וְיִתְעָרָב!
דְּרַשְׁתִּיךְ, וְאִם מַלְכֵּךְ אֵין בָּךְ וְאִם בִּמְקוֹם
צֳרִי גִּלְעֲדֵך – נָחָשׁ שָׂרָף וְגַם עַקְרָב.
הֲלֹא אֶת-אֲבָנַיִךְ אֲחוֹנֵן וְאֶשָּׁקֵם
וְטַעַם רְגָבַיִךְ לְפִי מִדְּבַשׁ יֶעְרָב!

Fair hill-top, world’s rejoicing, city of the Mighty King,
I long for you with all my soul from distant Western lands!
It grieves me to remember how you were in days of old:
Your glory, now in exile, and your temple which is ruined.
Let me fly on wings of eagles till I come to you and water
Your dry dust, and mix it with my tears!
How I searched for you! Even though you have no king,
And scorpions and snakes instead of balm of Gilead,
I will stroke your stones and kiss them, and your earth
Will be sweeter than the taste of honey in my mouth!

Hebrew language and literature

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מה כמה?‏

להלן הודעה אמיתית שהתקבלה מ-Windows Update, ללא שינויים.

גודל הורדה (סה"כ): 137.2 MB הערכת זמן במהירות החיבור שלך: 7

אולי זה היה אמור להיות מחווה לישראל פוליאקוב ז״ל?

Hebrew language and literature
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Well, it’s about time

Ever since support for bidirectional languages was implemented in Mozilla by me and my colleagues at IBM. and through all the improvements and bug-fixes that have been made since, one thing that we never got quite right was text with diacritics, aka nikkud, aka harakat, especially in justified text. This was a real obstacle in the way of my recommending Mozilla or Firefox to my friends, many of whom heavily use sites like Mechon Mamre that feature vocalized Hebrew.

I am happy to say that this is now fixed in trunk builds and the beta of Firefox 3 that will appear RSN. Here are some screenshots of a chapter from Mechon Mamre. Since they are in Hebrew, the “before” shots are on the right, and the “after” shots on the left. Click on the images to see full-size versions.

Linux

חבקוק חיחבקוק חי

OSX

חבקוק חיחבקוק חי

Windows

חבקוק חיחבקוק חי

Hebrew language and literature
Mozilla

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The Siloam Inscription

I’m very excited to read on PaleoJudaica that the Siloam Inscription is likely to be returned to Israel for at least a limited period. There is a translation and images of the text at the English Wikipedia article, a transcription in both Ancient and Modern Hebrew characters from the Jewish Encyclopedia and a transcription and translation into Modern Hebrew at the Hebrew Wikipedia article, but as far as I know the original text is not available anywhere online in text format. Here it is:

  𐤄𐤍𐤒𐤁𐤄𐤟𐤅𐤆𐤄𐤟𐤄𐤉𐤄𐤟𐤃𐤁𐤓𐤟𐤄𐤍𐤒𐤁𐤄𐤟𐤁𐤏𐤅𐤃
𐤄𐤂𐤓𐤆𐤍𐤟𐤀𐤔𐤟𐤀𐤋𐤟𐤓𐤏𐤅𐤟𐤅𐤁𐤏𐤅𐤃𐤟𐤔𐤋𐤔𐤟𐤀𐤌𐤕𐤟𐤋𐤄𐤍    𐤏𐤟𐤒𐤋𐤟𐤀𐤔𐤟𐤒
𐤀𐤟𐤀𐤋𐤟𐤓𐤏𐤅𐤟𐤊𐤉𐤟𐤄𐤉𐤕𐤟𐤆𐤃𐤄𐤟𐤁𐤑𐤓𐤟𐤌𐤉𐤌𐤍 𐤅𐤋𐤟𐤅𐤁𐤉𐤌𐤟𐤄
𐤍𐤒𐤁𐤄𐤟𐤄𐤊𐤅𐤟𐤄𐤇𐤑𐤁𐤌𐤟𐤀𐤔𐤟𐤋𐤒𐤓𐤕𐤟𐤓𐤏𐤅𐤟𐤂𐤓𐤆𐤍𐤟𐤏𐤋 𐤓𐤂𐤍𐤟𐤅𐤉𐤋𐤊𐤅
𐤄𐤌𐤉𐤌𐤟𐤌𐤍𐤟𐤄𐤌𐤅𐤑𐤀𐤟𐤀𐤋𐤟𐤄𐤁𐤓𐤊𐤄𐤟𐤁𐤌𐤀𐤕𐤉 𐤋𐤐𐤟𐤀𐤌𐤄𐤟𐤅𐤌 
𐤕𐤟𐤀𐤌𐤄𐤟𐤄𐤉𐤄𐤟𐤂𐤁𐤄𐤟𐤄𐤑𐤓𐤟𐤏𐤋𐤟𐤓𐤀𐤔𐤟𐤄𐤇𐤑𐤁

You will need a font that supports “Phoenician” and a browser that supports Unicode 5.0 to see the text correctly

Hebrew language and literature
Palæohebrew

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A Riddle

I’ve been enjoying the Kri and Ketiv games at Balashon, and also the pun quizzes at ADDeRabbi, so here’s one of my own.

Which biblical book is this:

((ק))

Hebrew language and literature

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De trop

Ari Kinsberg saw a poster in Jerusalem with a picture of a bottle of Johnny Walker and the caption יְהוֹשֻׁ֙עַ֙, i.e. “Joshua” in Hebrew with cantillation.

He says:

I’m willing to bet that this is the only instance of [Hebrew with cantillation] in Israeli advertising.

I wonder just how much he is willing to bet, and would he up the stakes for an instance of Hebrew with cantillation in a phrase which isn’t even a Biblical quotation?

Update: a commenter on Ari’s blog notes that the human rights pressure group B’Tselem also use cantillation in their logo. From a marketing point of view I think I understand why they do this: they are trying to make the point, on a subliminal level, that the values that they advocate are Jewish values rooted in the Torah. The bakery I linked to originally is probably aiming for something slightly different: using a Biblical style to suggest old-time, pre-industrial, healthy values. Ari’s original poster had me puzzled for a while, but I think I’ve got it: since apparently it’s advertising a bar in Ben Sira Street, maybe they chose the name of the bar as a reference to Joshua Ben Sira, and using cantillation is a way of saying “Look! We are a bar named after an extracanonical biblical book”. (Naming your place of business as an oblique reference to your street address is not unusual in Israel: another example is Ginzberg in Ahad Ha`am Street, Tel Aviv).

Hebrew language and literature

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Yossi Banai 1932-2006

In memory of Yossi Banai, who died today, here is one of his less well-known songs which I’ve always been attached to. It’s very minimal, not much more than a list, but it beautifully conveys some of the paradoxes of life in this country. For example, here’s a rough translation of the last verse:

A land of dreams and purchase tax
A land of peace and taxi ranks
A land of visions from above
Halleluiah, the land we love.

אֶרֶץ מְשַׁגַּעַת
מִילִים: יוֹסִי בַּנָּאי
לַחַן: יָאִיר רוֹזֶנְבְלוּם

אֶרֶץ יָפָה, תַּשְׁדִיר שֵׁירוּת
שֶׁמֶשׁ טוֹבָה, חֵפֶץ חָשׁוּד
יָם וְחוֹלוֹת, גְּבוּל בִּטָּחוֹן
וּתוֹכְנִיוֹת לְחִסָּכוֹן

אֶרֶץ יָפָה, אוּלְפַּן עוֹלִים
עִבְרִית שָׂפָה קָשָׁה לְמַתְחִילִים
תְּלוּשׁ נִיכּוּיִים, הוֹד וְהָדָר
אוֹר לַגּוֹיִים, יַלְלָה בֵּיתָר

זֶה שִׁיר מְשׁוּגַּע עַל אֶרֶץ שֶמְּשַגַּעַת
בְּחַמּוּדוֹתֶיהָ אֶת כָּל הַסְּבִיבָה
זָה שִׁיר מְשׁוּגַּע עַל אֶרֶץ שֶׁיּוֹדַעַת
שֶעִם כָּל שִגְעוֹנוֹתֶיהָ אֵין עוֹד אֶרֶץ מִלְּבָדֶיהָ
אֶרֶץ יָפָה

אֶרֶץ יָפָה וּמִסְתּוֹרִית
גַּם חֲבִיבִה גַּם מַמְזֵרִית
קֶבֶר קָדוֹשׁ, שְנֵי תַיָּירִים
וּכְאֵב ראשׁ, שְבִיתוֹת מוֹרִים

אֶרֶץ נִיסִים וְהַפְגָנוֹת
מִיץ תַּפּוּזִים, חוֹק הֲפָלוֹת
דִיסְקוֹ תֲנָ”ךְ, טַנְגּוֹ שָׁלוֹם
רַעַם תּוֹתָח, פְּסוּקוֹ שֶׁל יוֹם

זֶה שִׁיר מְשׁוּגַּע …

אֶרֶץ חוֹבוֹת וְשִׁילוּמִים
אֶלֶף שָׂפוֹת וּלְאוּמִים
יַלְדָּה יָפָה, אָבִיב קָצָר
מִילָה טוֹבָה שֶׁל שַׂר אוֹצָר

אֶרֶץ חֲלוֹם וּמַס קְנִיָה
אֶרֶץ שָׁלוֹם בְּלִי חֲנִיָה
אֶרֶץ חֲזוֹן בְּכָל שְׁנִיָה
אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן הֲלְלוּיָהּ.

זֶה שִׁיר מְשׁוּגַּע ..

Hebrew language and literature

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Purim Torah

I used to have a large collection of Purim Torah that I had accumulated over the years, with things like Massechet Purim, Shulchan Aruch Even Shetiya, Haman’s Ethical Will, etc. etc., and I had the idea of publishing an anthology of this kind of literature, most of which is rather hard to find. I can’t now lay my hands on the material, and I suspect it may have got lost during one of the moves during the last few years, or maybe I left it behind at a Megilla reading.

A few things have been republished in modern times, for example this Kiddush for Purim:

יוֹם הַפּוּרִים וַיּכֻלוּ הַַמַּיִם מֵהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם׃
וַיְּכַל לוֹט בּיוֹם הַפּוּרִים מִכָּל כָּדָיו אֲשֶׁר שָׁתָה׃
וַיִּשְׁתֶּה בּיוֹם הַפּוּרִים מִכָּל כָּדָיו אֲשֶׁר שָׁתָה׃
וַיְּבָרֶךְ אֶת יוֹם הַפּוּרִים וַיּקַדֶּשׁ אוֹתוׁ׃
כִּי בוׁ שָׁתָה מִכָּל מַשְׁקָיו אֲשֶׁר בָּחָר לִשְׁתּוׁת׃

סַבְרֵי סוֹרְרִים וּמוׁרִים וְשִׁיכּוֹרִים, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה מוֹכֵר פְּרִי הַגֶּפֶן׃

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אַשֶׁר מָכַר לָנוּ מִכָּל יַיִן וְהִשׁקָנוּ מִכָּל דְּבָשׁ וְהִשְׂכִּירָנוּ בְּכוׁסוׁתָיו. וַתִּתֵּן לָנוּ בְּאַהֲבָה מַשְׁקִים לְשִׂמְחָה יַיִן וּדְבַשׁ לְשָׂשׂוֹן, אֶת יוׁם חַג הַפּוּרִים הַזֶּה זְמַן שִׁיכּרוּתֵנו, בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לַחוֹדֶשׁ, אָסוּר לִשְׁתִּיַת מַיִם׃
כִּי לָנוּ מָכַרְתָּ וְאוֹתָנוּ הִרְוֵיתָ מִפְּרִי כְּרָמִים, וּמַשְׁקֵי כָדֶיךָ בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְשָׂשׂוֹן הִשְׂכַּרְתָּנוּ
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה מוֹכֵר מַשְׁקִים וּמַעֲדָנִים׃

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה שֶׁהִשְׁקָנוּ וְהִשְּכִּירָנוּ וְהִגְמִיאָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה׃

Hebrew language and literature

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What is the last word of the Bible?

I was sitting at the computer the other day, and picking up with half an ear children’s television from the next room, when I heard the presenter ask a general knowledge question, “What is the last word of the Bible?”. This struck me as unfair. So, if I have any readers, please tell me what you think.

What is the last word of the bible?

  1. וְיָעַל
  2. לְטוֹבָה
  3. בַגּוֹיִם
  4. אָמֵן

Hebrew language and literature

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Jewish Book Week II

Thanks to Hagahot, I picked up the bargain of my life today: the Magnes Press facsimile edition of Gershom Scholem’s own copy of the Zohar.

According to the introduction Scholem bought this Zohar in 1915 when he was 17, and it never left his desk for the rest of his life. At some point when the margins were too full of his annotations, he had it rebound with blank pages interleaved, and he went on to fill most of those with annotations as well, and also stuffed the volumes with notes on separate sheets. The whole lot is reproduced in the facsimile, six fat volumes weighing in at 10.3 kg.

And this was going for ₪185, about $50 Canadian, or less than the list price of one volume of the Pritzker Zohar.

Let’s look at one of the annotations, on something which puzzles me in the very first paragraph of the Zohar, which I had been meaning to blog about if I had found a good answer to my question:

There are a lot of numbers in that paragraph: two colours in the rose (which represent justice and mercy), thirteen petals (which represent thirteen measures of compassion), five leaves (which are five gates and which are symbolized by five fingers holding the kiddush cup).

These numbers are hidden in a “figure/ground” kind of way in the first verses of Genesis: if you take the occurences of God’s name, אלהים, and count the words in between them, you get:

בראשית ברא — 2 
את השמים ואת הארץ והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על פני תהום ורוח — 13
מרחפת על פני המים ויאמר — 5 

So far I follow. But then in the last line we get another number appearing out of left field:

וכמה דדיוקנא דברית אזדרע בארבעין ותרין זווגין דההוא זרעא. כך אזדרע שמא גליפא מפרש במ”ב אתוון דעובדא דבראשית

And just as the image of the covenant sows that seed in forty-two couplings so the engraved, explicit Name sows in forty-two letters of the Work of Creation.

Which forty-two letters are those exactly? The commentary I linked to above has a few suggestions, but none of them really seem to me to fit the description “forty-two letters of the Work of Creation”. Because of the “couplings”, I tried to work out a theory that it was a calculation of the number of possible pairings of the seven days of the week (or the seven lower sefirot), 7 × 6 = 42 but never came up with anything totally convincing.

So let’s see what Scholem says:

מ”ב זווגים (צ”ל גוונין?) דהיינו לב אלהים + י’ מאמרות

First, he suggests emending זווגין, couplings, to גוונין, colours, and then he explains 42 as the sum of 32 times that אלהים occurs in the whole chapter plus the “10 sayings”, i.e. the 10 occurences of ויאמר אלהים, “and God said”. (Actually there are 9 but let’s not get sidetracked. There are several ways of resolving this difficulty, trust me on this.)

He then points to an earlier work that lists the 32 occurences of אלהים, Sha’arei Orah (I think this is by Yosef Gikatilla, an important Spanish Kabbalist from a generation or two before the first appearance of the Zohar), and then there is a note in German which I can’t really read and wouldn’t be able to understand if I could (the notes are mostly in very clearly written Hebrew, interspersed with quite illegible German), but I can at least see that it points to a parallel passage on page 30a. Turning to there, I see more notes pointing to two more parallel passages …

… and so it goes on. This clearly doesn’t represent anything like a systematic course on the Zohar, but it’s a huge resource of information, and a great acquisition, and did I say it was a huge bargain?

Books
Hebrew language and literature

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void star

What do you call this symbol (assuming you have a font that shows it): ✡?

In England it’s usually called a Star of David (which is also the Unicode name for the character), and here in Israel it’s a Magen David (מגן דוד), which literally means Shield of David. In America, people seem to call it a Jewish star (though it has only been a distinctly Jewish symbol for 100 years or so), and in Arabic there’s a generation shift to Khatam Suleiman (خاتم سليمان), Solomon’s Seal.

And now, Google translator has found a new name for it: stomach David.

(Hat-tip to James Davila)

Hebrew language and literature

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Hebrew Haikus

I couldn’t resist this challenge on a mailing list I subscribe to. As someone pointed out there, a haiku should be about nature or seasons, otherwise it’s a senryu.

אֲסַפֵּר לִבְנִי
עַל יְצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם
בְּחוֹדֶשׁ אָבִיב

פָּך שֶׁמֶן אֶחָד
נָתַן אוֹרוֹ בְּחוֹרֶף
לִשְׁמוֹנָה יָמִים

שֶׁבַע הֲקָפוֹת
עֲרָבוֹת בְּעוֹז חוֹבְטִים
גֶּשֶׁם לִבְרָכָה

Hebrew language and literature

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Nearly Yom Kippur

If I was capable, I would translate this into English. I’ve tried many times to translate Agnon, but I just can’t capture it.

השמים היו טהורים והארץ היתה שקטה וכל הרחובות היו נקיים, ורוח חדשה היתה מפרפרת בחללו של
עולם. ואני תינוק כבן ארבע הייתי ומלובש הייתי בגדי מועד, ואיש אחד מקרובי הוליכני אצל אבי
ואצל זקני לבית התפילה, ובית התפילה היה מלא עטופי טליתות ועטרות כסף בראשיהם ובגדיהם בגדי
לבן ובידיהם ספרים, ונרות הרבה תקועים בתיבות ארוכות של חול, ואור מופלא עם ריח טוב יוצא
מן הנרות. ואיש זקן עומד מוטה לפני התיבה וטליתו יורדת עד למטה מלבו וקולות ערבים ומתוקים
יוצאים מטליתו. ואני עומד בחלון בית התפילה מרעיד ומשתומם על הקולות הערבים ועל עטרות הכסף
ועל האור המופלא ועל ריח הדבש היוצא מן הנרות נרות השעוה. ודומה היה לי שהארץ שהלכתי עליה
והרחובות שעברתי בהם וכל העולם כולו אינם אלא פרוזדור לבית זה. עדיין לא הייתי יודע להגות
במושגים עיוניים ואת המושג הדרת קודש לא הכרתי. אבל אין ספק בלבי שבאותה שעה הרגשתי בקדושת
המקום ובקדושת היום ובקדושת האנשים העומדים בבית ה’ בתפילה ובניגונים. ואף על פי שעד לאותה
השעה לא ראיתי דבר כזה לא עלה על דעתי שיש הפסק לדבר. וכך הייתי עומד ומביט על הבית ועל
האנשים שעמדו בבית, ולא הבחנתי בין אדם לאדם, שכולם כאחד עם כל הבית כולו דומים היו
עלי כחטיבה אחת. ושמחה גדולה היתה בלבי ולבי נדבק באהבה לבית זה ולאנשים אלו ולניגונים
אלו. על יד על יד פסקו הניגונים, ועדיין בת קול היתה מנהמת עד שפסקה אף היא. נתקמטה
נפשי פתאום וגעיתי בבכייה גדולה. אבי וזקני נתחלחלו ושאר כל העם עמדו עלי לפייסני. ואני
דמעותי מתגלגלות והולכות מתוך הבכייה. אלו לאלו שואלים, מי גרם לתינוק שיבכה? ואלו לאלו
משיבים, מי יודע.

עתה אספר מי גרם לי שאבכה. אותה שעה שנפסקה התפילה נפסקה פתאום אותה חטיבה נאה. מקצת מן
האנשים הורידו טליתותיהם מעל ראשיהם ומקצתם התחילו מסיחים זה עם זה. אותם שאהבתי נדבקה
בהם החליפו פניהם פתאום והשחיתו את דמותם הנאה ואת דמות הבית ודמות היום. ועל זה היה דוה לבי ועל זה געיתי בבכייה.

כמה שנים יצאו ועדיין אותה השתוממות מופקדת בלבי. וכשם שהיא מופקדת בלבי כך שמור בלבי
אותו הצער. וכל שנה ושנה ביום הכיפורים כשאני רואה אנשים מישראל “כולם צנים לובן מוצעפים,
לאדרך בשרפים עפים”, מחליפים פנים של חילוי בפנים של חולין נפשי מתקמטת כבאותו היום.

S. Y. Agnon, Introduction to “Days of Awe”

Hebrew language and literature
Judaism and religion

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Some Poetry

I recently discovered a very cool site, Seforim Online. Downloads are a little slow, but they have lots of excellent stuff. I’ve been reading and enjoying some of Abraham Ibn Ezra‘s poems. Look at this little gem:

אִלּוּ לְפִי אֵידִי דְּמָעַי יִזְלוּן
לֹא דָרְכָה רֶגֶל אֱנוֹשׁ יַבֶּשֶׁת,
אַךְ לֹא לְמֵי נֹח לְבַד כֹּרַת בְּרִית,
כִּי גַם לְדִמְעִי נִרְאֲתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת.

Or this question and answer, each one a perfect palindrome that reads more naturally than any palindrome I have seen in any language

אבי אל חי שמך למה מלך משיח לא יבא?
דעו מאביכם כי לא בוש אבוש, שוב אשוב אליכם כי בא מועד.

Hebrew language and literature

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Qamats and Segol are now endangered species.

I am still in shock from this article, maybe because I have never accepted the concept of the “Academy of the Hebrew language” as dictators of what is or isn’t correct Hebrew. And my confidence is hardly increased when that last link doesn’t work for me and I have to root out the original article from Google cache.

However, my chief astonishment comes from the confident statement that Tsere and Segol are pronounced the same. It just goes to show that native speakers of a language are simply unaware of many of the distinctions that they themselves make when speaking it. Now I come to think of it, I was never aware that the two “l”s in “little” are prononounced differently in English, until someone pointed it out to me.

Hebrew language and literature

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One in a million

The wise men of Chelm were discussing whether one would be better off to have been born or never to have been born. After seven days and seven nights they came to their conclusion: one would be better off never to have been born, but who is that lucky? Maybe one in a million.

Here is a quotation from Agnon with the same subtext, from the last chapter of Temol Shilshom:

קל להם לאותם שאינם טורדים עצמם בהרהורים יתירים, אם מחמת תמימות יתירה אם מחמת חכמה יתירה, אבל כל מי שאינו לא תמים הרבה ולא חכם הרבה מה יענה ומה יאמר?

My translation:

It’s easy for those who don’t trouble themselves with too much thought, either because they’re too wise or because they’re too simple. But someone who is not so wise and not so simple is left with nothing to say.

Hebrew language and literature
My Life and Opinions

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