Thursday, July 02, 2015

Listen up, morons!

In a parsha sheet I read last Shabbos (Chukas), I saw the following:

Someone at my table in shul expressed dissatisfaction with this Rashi. How would klal Yisrael know Greek? or that Moshe was specifically choosing a Greek word here, rather than the Hebrew word morim [to mean, say, סרבנים, rebellious ones, as Rashi says earlier]? Was there even a Greek language at that time?

I suggested that there may well have been a Greek language (yaft Elokim leyefet) or some precursor thereof, and that perhaps Rashi (or whatever midrash he is channeling) was doing comparative linguistics, and explaining the meaning of a Biblical Hebrew word on the basis of its Greek cognate. And that the Hebrew term got its meaning from the Greek, as a loan word, or vice versa.

I had my own problem with this devar Torah, at least as written. It is internally inconsistent! If the Greek expression morim indeed means:
"fools who instruct their mentors"
then this indicates that within Greek culture at that time, they regarded someone who instructed his mentor to be a fool. If so, how can Rav Trunk turn around and say that Moshe used this Greek term in order to highlight the contrast of Torah studies with secular studies:
"[exemplified by Greek culture and influence]. Each subsequent generation improves and adds to the advances of the previous generation, and it is likely that students can attain greater heights than their mentors."
? The Greeks themselves considered such a student who would presume to instruct his mentor to be a fool!

I think the answer here was a hasty translation in this parsha sheet, and one with which Rav Trunk would not have agreed.

Rashi was actually giving three separate translations of the word morim, in quick succession:
1) סרבנים -- rebellious ones. Compare morim with mordim.
2) Greek cognate - morim, meaning fools.
3) A Hebrew play on words, morim, those who presume to teach those who are their teachers.

So there is a period or comma between לשון יוני שוטים and מורים את מוריהם. And so the Greeks themselves would not regard such a person who taught his teachers to be a fool. And Rav Trunk was connecting items (2) and (3). This is my guess and reconstruction of what Rav Trunk meant, but then I didn't hear the dvar Torah firsthand[1].

Looking now at Judaica Press, I see that they possibly render this Rashi similarly:

Shall we draw water… from this rock?: Since they did not recognize it, for the rock had gone and settled among the other rocks when the well departed. The Israelites said to them,“What difference is it to you from which rock you draw water for us?” Therefore, he said to them, הַמּוֹרִים, obstinate ones; in Greek, ‘fools,’ those who teach (מוֹרִים) their teachers. [He said,] “Can we draw water from this rock regarding which we were not commanded?” - [Midrash Tanchuma Chukath 9, Num. Rabbah 19:9]המן הסלע הזה נוציא: לפי שלא היו מכירין אותו, לפי שהלך הסלע וישב לו בין הסלעים, כשנסתלק הבאר, והיו ישראל אומרים להם מה לכם מאיזה סלע תוציאו לנו מים, לכך אמר להם המורים סרבנים, לשון יוני שוטים, מורים את מוריהם, המן הסלע הזה שלא נצטוינו עליו נוציא לכם מים:

At any rate, we can look at Greek dictionaries and figure out what the likely Greek word was. We can determine whether it just meant "fools" or "fools who instruct their mentors".

And we quickly arrive at the Greek word μωρός. That is, moros, foolish, or μωρὸν, moron, foolishness, or Μωρέ, more, fool, or μωροὶ, moroi, fools. The word just means "fools",  not "fools who instruct their mentors".

Note that this Greek word is the root of the English word "moron". Which means that Rashi is actually rendering this phrase uttered by Moshe as "Listen up, morons!"



[1] The above might be unfair to Rav Blum. After all, Rav Trunk was interpreting the Greekness of the expression plus the message of 'those who instruct their mentors' specifically as of Greek origin, so this might just be an inconsistency in the dvar Torah itself.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Torah Codes vs. Acronyms

In a recent comment, a commenter compared modern Torah Codes to acronyms noted by some traditional Torah scholars of generations past, such as the Arizal and Rav Nachman of Breslav.
I don't believe in the veracity of finding current political events hidden in verses of Tanakh but there is something to equidistant letter skips, especially when they answer the simple meaning of a verse:

“A major principle, according to the Gaon [of Vilna], appears in Sifra de-Tsni’uta, [and that is] everything that was, is, and will be in all the upper and lower worlds, as well as all the general and particular things that will happen in every generation—all these are hinted at in the Torah [cf. M Avot 5:26: Ben Bag-Bag said: Turn it [Torah] over and over for everything is in it; BT Ta’anit 9a: Is there anything written in the Writings to which allusion cannot be found in the Torah?]… every person can find his name and mission in verses” (Qol ha-Tor 1:1; 3:11).

Some compelling examples:

אִם-לַלֵּצִים הוּא-יָלִיץ וְלַעֲנָוִים יִתֶּן-חֵן But to the humble he grants favor (Proverbs 3:34)—אֱלִיָּהוּ חי, Elijah lives, is spelled out by the initial letters of the verse (Arizal).

אוֹר זָרֻעַ לַצַּדִּיק וּלְיִשְׁרֵי-לֵב שִׂמְחָה Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright of heart (Psalms 97:11)—ר עֲקִיבַה, R. Akiva, is spelled out in the final letters of the verse (Arizal).

עִיר וְקַדִּישׁ מִן-שְׁמַיָּא נָחִת And behold, a watcher, a holy one came down from heaven (Daniel 4:10)—שׁמעוֹן, Shim’on, is spelled out by the initial letters of the verse (Rebbe Naḥman of Bratslav, Lekhu Hazu).

כִּי לֹא תִשָּׁכַח מִפִּי זַרְעו For it shall not be forgotten in the mouth of his seed (Deuteronomy 31:21)—יוֹחַאי, Yoḥai, is spelled out in the final letters of the verse (Rebbe Naḥman of Bratslav, Liqqutei Moharan, cf. BT Shabbat 138b: The Torah is destined to be forgotten from Israel).

לְמַעַן) רְבוֹת מוֹפְתַי בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם) (So that) My portents may be multiplied in the land of Egypt (Exodus 11:9)—רמבּם, Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), is spelled out by the initial letters of the verse.

נַחַל נֹבֵעַ מְקוֹר חָכְמָה A flowing stream, the wellspring of wisdom (Proverbs 18:4)—נַחמָן, Naḥman, is spelled out by the initial letters of the verse (Rebbe Naḥman of Bratslav, Liqqutei Moharan, Ḥayei Moharan, 189).

וְנֹקֵב שֵׁם-יְהוָה מוֹת יוּמָת And he who invokes YHWH’s name shall be doomed to die (Leviticus 24:16). יֵשׁוּ (Yeshu), Jesus, is spelled out in reverse, indicating judgment, by the first three letters of the first three words (Rabbi Meir Paprish [Poppers], Ohr Ner).

I don't believe in the significance of these first-letter-of-word encodings either, so perhaps I am not the one to best argue this. However, I see no one else prepared to do so, and so will take on the task.

There is a major qualitative and quantitative difference between these examples of yours and Torah Codes.

Yirmeyahu said (23:28):
כח  הַנָּבִיא אֲשֶׁר-אִתּוֹ חֲלוֹם, יְסַפֵּר חֲלוֹם, וַאֲשֶׁר דְּבָרִי אִתּוֹ, יְדַבֵּר דְּבָרִי אֱמֶת:  מַה-לַתֶּבֶן אֶת-הַבָּר, נְאֻם-ה.28 The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath My word; let him speak My word faithfully. What hath the straw to do with the wheat? saith the LORD.

Just because prophecy and dreams bear similarities does not make them equals. One is chaff and the other is wheat.

In short:

The qualitative difference
In works of literature produced by humans, authors employ acronyms as a literary device. Thus, interpreters of that literary text might be expected to look for such messages and (since dibra Torah kilshon benei Adam) it is not surprising for a Divine author to likewise employ it. Utilizing the last letters of words, rather than the first letters, is a simple extension of this.

In contrast, the use of equal skip letters throughout a text, backwards and forwards, with overlapping words in a grid formed by those letters was not historically used as a literary device. It is more like a cipher or steganography than a literary device. The claim is that this message could be intended and deployed alongside the plaintext by someone with Divine Powers. Sure, but a "could" is not the same as a "would".

The quantitative difference
First-letter-encodings: There are 79,847 words in the Torah, which means the corpus formed by first letters of words is of size 79,847. Similarly, the corpus formed by last letters of words is of size 79,847.

If one searches and finds a message, this is looking for and finding a needle in a haystack. 

Torah codes: There are 304,805 letters in the Torah. That means that the corpus for an ELS (skip length) of 1 is 304,805. 

What about for an ELS of 2? Well, the corpus size would be half of 304,805 letters, because we are only looking at only every other letter. But there are two such corpora -- one beginning with the Bet of Bereishit (and looking at every odd letter) and one beginning with the Resh of Bereishit (and looking at every even letter). So we have a total corpus, for ELS of 2, of 304,805.

What about for an ELS of 3? Each corpus is a third the size, but there are three such corpora. So, total length of of 304,805.

ELS of 4? Each corpus is a quarter the size, but there are four such corpora. So, total length of 304,805.

And so on and so forth. That means that the total length of the corpus, considering every positive number ELS, 304,805 squared. That is 92,906,088,025 letters. That is 92 billion letters. And if we consider negative ELS as well, it is twice that, 185,812,176,050. That is 185 billion letters.

Compare 185 billion letters to search through for Torah codes vs. 79 thousands letters to search through for first-letter acronyms. Of course you are going to find something. Given how many instances there will be, of course in a few of them you will be able to convince yourself that there is some significant tie-in to the enclosing verses.

This is searching for hay in a haystack and declaring it to be a needle!

There is only one ELS that I am persuaded carries an intended message. That is an ELS of +1.

Update: As Joe in Australia pointed out in the comment section, many of these "compelling" examples are not just acronyms but also anagrams. This makes a match much more likely. His rough calculation was that, for a 5 letter word, since there were 5! permutations, this multiplies the corpus size by at least 120.

My updated response is then this: First, it makes these compelling examples much less compelling. I had focused on the three that did not involve (any or much) permuting - Eliyahu, Rambam, and Rabbi Akiva. But indeed, ones which involve acronyms bring the literary form slightly closer to the steganography of Torah Codes. In terms of quantitative difference, though, if we do have this rough estimate of multiplying by a constant of 120, this is still a far cry from squaring the corpus size.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Shelach: Why specifically the ripening of the grapes?

I'll start this with a quote, in full, of a post on Shirat Devorah, which in turn is a quote from the Chumash Kol Menachem, page 102, from the commentary Toras Menachem:

"It was the season when the first grapes ripen..." [Shelach 13:20 ]

Moses did not command the spies to bring back grapes in particular, but just "fruit", and we find that they brought back various fruits - grapes, pomegranates and figs [v.23]

So why does the Torah stress that "It was the season when the first grapes ripen" and not simply, the time when fruit was ripening?

The process of spying out the Land to conquer it represents our daily mission of evaluating how to advance the "conquering" of this physical world for G-d, through the most effective use of time and resources for Torah.  Verse 20 concludes that the goal of this process is represented by grapes: grapes are unique in that their seeds are visible through their skins, and this teaches us that the goal of our observance is to make the physical "skin" of this world transparent to its higher, spiritual purpose.

Source: Based on Sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbos Parshas Shelach 5750

That is, Bemidbar 13:20 -- the last pasuk of the first aliyah -- reads:
וּמָה הָאָרֶץ הַשְּׁמֵנָה הִוא אִם רָזָה הֲיֵשׁ בָּהּ עֵץ אִם אַיִן וְהִתְחַזַּקְתֶּם וּלְקַחְתֶּם מִפְּרִי הָאָרֶץ וְהַיָּמִים יְמֵי בִּכּוּרֵי עֲנָבִים:
Such that Moshe instructs them to take 'of the fruit', מִפְּרִי הָאָרֶץ, without specifying type of fruit. And the pasuk ends וְהַיָּמִים יְמֵי בִּכּוּרֵי עֲנָבִים, that the season was when the first grapes ripen. Yet, three pesukim later:

וַיָּבֹאוּ עַד נַחַל אֶשְׁכֹּל וַיִּכְרְתוּ מִשָּׁם זְמוֹרָה וְאֶשְׁכּוֹל עֲנָבִים אֶחָד וַיִּשָּׂאֻהוּ בַמּוֹט בִּשְׁנָיִם וּמִן הָרִמֹּנִים וּמִן הַתְּאֵנִים:
they take a branch and on it a cluster of grapes, זְמוֹרָה וְאֶשְׁכּוֹל עֲנָבִים, but they also take from the pomegranates and figs.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks a question based on this, and derives an important life lesson. And this is good drash, or drush, even if we eliminate the question on the basis of realia or close analysis of the narrative on a peshat level.

On a peshat level, though, how can we resolve this question?

The obvious answer is that not all fruits ripen at the same time. It could well be the יְמֵי בִּכּוּרֵי עֲנָבִים, the season of the ripening of the first grapes, and not yet the season of the full ripening of pomegranates or figs. Those fruits might still exist on the trees, but not fully ripe. Or they could have already have been ripe for a while, and still exist on the trees.

We can point to this chart, taken from Agriculture in Iron Age Israel [Oded Borowski, 1987, page 7], which tries to fix the seasons in Ancient Israel on the basis of harvesting in modern Israel, under the theory that the climate in the same geographical location would be the same across eras:

As you can see from the chart, the time of harvest of figs and pomegranates is about a month after the time of harvest for grapes. This handily answers the Lubavitcher Rebbe's question -- it was indeed not the time of harvest for pomegranates and figs.

From a peshat perspective, there is still an issue in need of resolution. Moshe indicated fruits in general, and indeed, they took other fruits besides grapes, so why even bother to mention that it was the יְמֵי בִּכּוּרֵי עֲנָבִים?

The answer is that this יְמֵי בִּכּוּרֵי עֲנָבִים is anticipating the stress placed in a later pasuk on the abundance of the size of the grapes. Thus,
וַיִּכְרְתוּ מִשָּׁם זְמוֹרָה וְאֶשְׁכּוֹל עֲנָבִים אֶחָד וַיִּשָּׂאֻהוּ בַמּוֹט בִּשְׁנָיִם
they cut off a single branch with grapes, and carried it on a pole using two people to carry it. See how great the produce of the land was. (And how dare they criticize it?) This was in spite of it being only the beginning of the first ripening of the grapes? Or, if bikkurim are more abundant than later growth, this יְמֵי בִּכּוּרֵי עֲנָבִים accounts for the abundance.

לַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא קָרָא נַחַל אֶשְׁכּוֹל עַל אֹדוֹת הָאֶשְׁכּוֹל אֲשֶׁר כָּרְתוּ מִשָּׁם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
And these grapes were so impressive that they named the place after that cluster of grapes.

Yes, they also took samples of other canonical fruits of the land, מִן הָרִמֹּנִים וּמִן הַתְּאֵנִים, which was part of Moshe's instruction.


Question: I've only eaten, and purchased, seedless grapes recently. Are the seeds of non-seedless grapes indeed visible through the skin? I would guess that it depends on the specific type of grape -- some grapeskins are thinner or more translucent than others -- and whether the sun in shining behind them. There is a book, Illustrated Descriptive Catalogue of American Grape Vines: A Grape Growers' Manual, which described different species of grapes, with some of them having translucent skin. And here is a picture of grapes, where I think you can see some dark seeds through the skin:

Friday, June 05, 2015

Ibn Ezra on Lower Biblical Criticism, part v

The last post in the series. See also parts one, two, three, and four.

The last difference described and explained by Ibn Ezra is that the number of Yishai's sons. In I Divrei Hayamim 2:12-16, Yishai has seven sons and David is the seventh.

יב  וּבֹעַז הוֹלִיד אֶת-עוֹבֵד, וְעוֹבֵד הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִשָׁי.12 and Boaz begot Obed, and Obed begot Jesse;
יג  וְאִישַׁי הוֹלִיד אֶת-בְּכֹרוֹ, אֶת-אֱלִיאָב--וַאֲבִינָדָב, הַשֵּׁנִי, וְשִׁמְעָא, הַשְּׁלִשִׁי.13 and Jesse begot his first-born Eliab, and Abinadab the second, and Shimea the third;
יד  נְתַנְאֵל, הָרְבִיעִי, רַדַּי, הַחֲמִישִׁי.14 Nethanel the fourth, Raddai the fifth;
טו  אֹצֶם, הַשִּׁשִּׁי, דָּוִיד, הַשְּׁבִעִי.15 Ozem the sixth, David the seventh.
טז  וְאַחְיֹתֵיהֶם, צְרוּיָה וַאֲבִיגָיִל; וּבְנֵי צְרוּיָה, אַבְשַׁי וְיוֹאָב וַעֲשָׂהאֵל--שְׁלֹשָׁה.16 And their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. And the sons of Zeruiah: Abishai, and Joab, and Asahel, three.

Meanwhile, in I Shmuel 16:6-12, Yishai sets out his seven sons before Shmuel -- see pasuk 10 -- and only after that brings out David, which would make David the eighth.

ו  וַיְהִי בְּבוֹאָם, וַיַּרְא אֶת-אֱלִיאָב; וַיֹּאמֶר, אַךְ נֶגֶד יְהוָה מְשִׁיחוֹ.  {ס}6 And it came to pass, when they were come, that he beheld Eliab, and said: 'Surely the LORD'S anointed is before Him.' {S}
ז  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל, אַל-תַּבֵּט אֶל-מַרְאֵהוּ וְאֶל-גְּבֹהַּ קוֹמָתוֹ--כִּי מְאַסְתִּיהוּ:  כִּי לֹא, אֲשֶׁר יִרְאֶה הָאָדָם--כִּי הָאָדָם יִרְאֶה לַעֵינַיִם, וַה' יִרְאֶה לַלֵּבָב.7 But the LORD said unto Samuel: 'Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him; for it is not as man seeth: for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.'
ח  וַיִּקְרָא יִשַׁי אֶל-אֲבִינָדָב, וַיַּעֲבִרֵהוּ לִפְנֵי שְׁמוּאֵל; וַיֹּאמֶר, גַּם-בָּזֶה לֹא-בָחַר ה'.8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said: 'Neither hath the LORD chosen this.'
ט  וַיַּעֲבֵר יִשַׁי, שַׁמָּה; וַיֹּאמֶר, גַּם-בָּזֶה לֹא-בָחַר ה'.9 Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said: 'Neither hath the LORD chosen this.'
י  וַיַּעֲבֵר יִשַׁי שִׁבְעַת בָּנָיו, לִפְנֵי שְׁמוּאֵל; וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל-יִשַׁי, לֹא-בָחַר ה' בָּאֵלֶּה.10 And Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse: 'The LORD hath not chosen these.'
יא  וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל-יִשַׁי, הֲתַמּוּ הַנְּעָרִים, וַיֹּאמֶר עוֹד שָׁאַר הַקָּטָן, וְהִנֵּה רֹעֶה בַּצֹּאן; וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל-יִשַׁי שִׁלְחָה וְקָחֶנּוּ, כִּי לֹא-נָסֹב עַד-בֹּאוֹ פֹה.11 And Samuel said unto Jesse: 'Are here all thy children?' And he said: 'There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep.' And Samuel said unto Jesse: 'Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he come hither.'
יב  וַיִּשְׁלַח וַיְבִיאֵהוּ וְהוּא אַדְמוֹנִי, עִם-יְפֵה עֵינַיִם וְטוֹב רֹאִי;  {פ}

וַיֹּאמֶר ה' קוּם מְשָׁחֵהוּ, כִּי-זֶה הוּא.
12 And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of beautiful eyes, and goodly to look upon. {P}

And the LORD said: 'Arise, anoint him; for this is he.'

Ibn Ezra writes:
[Divrei Hayamim] דָּוִיד הַשְּׁבִעִי, he [the anonymous grammarian with whom Ibn Ezra is arguing] says that it should have been הַשְּׁמִנִי, for so is written [in sefer Shmuel] וַיַּעֲבֵר יִשַׁי שִׁבְעַת בָּנָיו [before bringing out David]. 
And many have answered that one of them died, and they are not saying anything [of substance], for in the days of the author of Divrei Hayamim, none of them were alive. 
Rather, it is possible that Yishai had another wife who bore him a son, and so the first pasuk [namely, the 10'th pasuk which gave a figure of seven sons] listed sons from whichever wife there was, while in Divrei Hayamim they were listed as they were from one womb. And like it is [I Divrei Hayamim 8:1] בֶּלַע בְּכֹרוֹ אַשְׁבֵּל הַשֵּׁנִי.

With this, Ibn Ezra ends his discussion of Lower Biblical Criticism, and moves on to the question of whether Biblical Hebrew has contranyms.

Perhaps some analysis in a follow-up post, but I should explain his reference to בֶּלַע בְּכֹרוֹ אַשְׁבֵּל הַשֵּׁנִי.

In  I Divrei Hayamim 8:1-5, the author describes the sons and grandsons of Binyamin:

א  וּבִנְיָמִן--הוֹלִיד, אֶת-בֶּלַע בְּכֹרוֹ; אַשְׁבֵּל, הַשֵּׁנִי, וְאַחְרַח, הַשְּׁלִישִׁי.1 And Benjamin begot Bela his first-born, Ashbel the second, and Aharah the third;
ב  נוֹחָה, הָרְבִיעִי, וְרָפָא, הַחֲמִישִׁי.2 Nohah the fourth, and Rapha the fifth.
ג  וַיִּהְיוּ בָנִים, לְבָלַע--אַדָּר וְגֵרָא, וַאֲבִיהוּד.3 And Bela had sons, Addar, and Gera, and Abihud;
ד  וַאֲבִישׁוּעַ וְנַעֲמָן, וַאֲחוֹחַ.4 and Abishua, and Naaman, and Ahoah;
ה  וְגֵרָא וּשְׁפוּפָן, וְחוּרָם.5 and Gera, and Shephuphan, and Huram.
Meanwhile, in Bereishit 46:21, we see these sons of Binyamin:

כא  וּבְנֵי בִנְיָמִן, בֶּלַע וָבֶכֶר וְאַשְׁבֵּל, גֵּרָא וְנַעֲמָן, אֵחִי וָרֹאשׁ; מֻפִּים וְחֻפִּים, וָאָרְדְּ.21 And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, and Becher, and Ashbel, Gera, and Naaman, Ehi, and Rosh, Muppim, and Huppim, and Ard.

These lists don't match, and Ibn Ezra asserts that the same explanation could apply here as there.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Knowing when to speak up and when to shut up

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, this piece by the Vilna Gaon about the difference between taam elyon and taam tachton in the Aseres HaDibros.

Let me preface this with a peshat explanation of any and all differences between the two sets of trup. In one version -- the taam elyon, each of the Ten Commandments is given its own pasuk, except for the short ones. Here is an image, though in general (without looking carefully at this), there are many corruptions in the elyon and tachton so one should get it from a better source:

As you can see, Anochi starts the first pasuk, and there is no silluq or sof pasuk until Mitzvotai, five lines down. Interestingly, though, the short Lo Tirtzach until Ed Shaker are grouped together.

Meanwhile, the taam tachton has regular pasuk divisions, without real regard towards separating the Dibros. See here in in a Mikraos Gedolos.

Here is an interesting image, which I think shows the elyon / tachton with variations alongside one another:

This image appears to have (as the elyon variant) pasuk terminations pauses at the end of Lo Tirtzach alone and Lo Tinaf alone, and the dagesh kal / refeh and patach / kametz variations to match.

A natural consequence of this difference in approach to division is a difference in both trup and nikkud. There is a mechanical (though also probabilistic) process, based on logical and syntactic division, number of words in the current phrase or subphrase, and distance from the end of the next disjunctive trup mark, which defines what trup marks go where. And this will in turn define nikkud because certain trup marks (such as etnachta and silluq, and sometimes zakef) will transform the pronunciation of the word into its pausal form (where e.g. a patach will become a kametz). The trup will also affect the presence or absence of dagesh kal in the letters bet, gimel, daled, kaf, peh and tav. Following a disjunctive trup mark, there will be a dagesh kal even if the previous word ended in aleph, heh, vav or yud. Following a conjunctive trup mark, there will not be a dagesh kal if the previous word ended in alephheh, vav or yud

In sum, this is a mechanical process set in motion by the choice in pasuk length.

The Vilna Gaon says, in Kol Eliyahu on parashat Yitro :
"Lo Tirtzach: Behold, in the taam elyon it is read with a kametz and in the tachton it is read with a patach under the tzadik.
And there is to say that this hints to that which our Sages za'l said in the gemara in Masechet Avodah Zara (daf 19b)[1] upon the pasuk [in Mishlei 7:26] כי רבים חללים הפילה - This is a student who has not reached the level of ruling yet rules [from the language of nafal indicating that he will not fill out his days], ועצומים כל הרוגיה - this is a student who has reached the level of ruling yet does not rule [from the language of otzem einav], see there in Rashi's commentary. And Chazal referred to both of them as murderers, this one by opening [petichat] his mouth to rule and this one with the closing [kemitzat] his mouth and averting his eye from the people of the generation, such that he does not give them the benefit of his ruling. And to this the kametz and patach hint, for they indicate that both the opening [petichat] of the mouth and its closing [kemitzati] are within the realm of lo tirtzach."
I don't have the kamatz in the taam elyon picture above, but he must have had it in this way -- it is one of the alternates given in the second image.

Avodah Zarah 19b
אמר רבי אבא אמר רב הונא אמר רב מאי דכתיב (משלי ז, כו) כי רבים חללים הפילה זה תלמיד שלא הגיע להוראה ומורה ועצומים כל הרוגיה זה תלמיד שהגיע להוראה ואינו מורה 

Friday, May 08, 2015

Ibn Ezra on Lower Biblical Criticism, part iv

See part one, part two, and part three.

The context for the next suggested swap is as follows, in Shofetim 14:

יב  וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם שִׁמְשׁוֹן, אָחוּדָה-נָּא לָכֶם חִידָה:  אִם-הַגֵּד תַּגִּידוּ אוֹתָהּ לִי שִׁבְעַת יְמֵי הַמִּשְׁתֶּה, וּמְצָאתֶם--וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם שְׁלֹשִׁים סְדִינִים, וּשְׁלֹשִׁים חֲלִפֹת בְּגָדִים.12 And Samson said unto them: 'Let me now put forth a riddle unto you; if ye can declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of raiment;
יג  וְאִם-לֹא תוּכְלוּ, לְהַגִּיד לִי--וּנְתַתֶּם אַתֶּם לִי שְׁלֹשִׁים סְדִינִים, וּשְׁלֹשִׁים חֲלִיפוֹת בְּגָדִים; וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ--חוּדָה חִידָתְךָ, וְנִשְׁמָעֶנָּה.13 but if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of raiment.' And they said unto him: 'Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it.'
יד  וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם, מֵהָאֹכֵל יָצָא מַאֲכָל, וּמֵעַז, יָצָא מָתוֹק; וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהַגִּיד הַחִידָה, שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים.14 And he said unto them: Out of the eater came forth food, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days declare the riddle.
טו  וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, וַיֹּאמְרוּ לְאֵשֶׁת-שִׁמְשׁוֹן פַּתִּי אֶת-אִישֵׁךְ וְיַגֶּד-לָנוּ אֶת-הַחִידָה--פֶּן-נִשְׂרֹף אוֹתָךְ וְאֶת-בֵּית אָבִיךְ, בָּאֵשׁ; הַלְיָרְשֵׁנוּ, קְרָאתֶם לָנוּ הֲלֹא.15 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson's wife: 'Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father's house with fire; have ye called us hither to impoverish us?'
טז  וַתֵּבְךְּ אֵשֶׁת שִׁמְשׁוֹן עָלָיו, וַתֹּאמֶר רַק-שְׂנֵאתַנִי וְלֹא אֲהַבְתָּנִי--הַחִידָה חַדְתָּ לִבְנֵי עַמִּי, וְלִי לֹא הִגַּדְתָּה; וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ, הִנֵּה לְאָבִי וּלְאִמִּי לֹא הִגַּדְתִּי--וְלָךְ אַגִּיד.16 And Samson's wife wept before him, and said: 'Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not; thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and wilt thou not tell it me?' And he said unto her: 'Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell thee?'
יז  וַתֵּבְךְּ עָלָיו שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה לָהֶם הַמִּשְׁתֶּה; וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, וַיַּגֶּד-לָהּ כִּי הֱצִיקַתְהוּ, וַתַּגֵּד הַחִידָה, לִבְנֵי עַמָּהּ.17 And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted; and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she pressed him sore; and she told the riddle to the children of her people.
יח  וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ אַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, בְּטֶרֶם יָבֹא הַחַרְסָה, מַה-מָּתוֹק מִדְּבַשׁ, וּמֶה עַז מֵאֲרִי; וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם--לוּלֵא חֲרַשְׁתֶּם בְּעֶגְלָתִי, לֹא מְצָאתֶם חִידָתִי.18 And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down: What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto them: If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.

That is, in pasuk 12, Shimshon gives them a deadline of the seven days of the feast to solve the riddle. In pasuk 14, in three days they could not arrive at the answer. In pasuk 15, on the seventh day they spoke to Shimshon's wife. In pasuk 17, she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted, and finally elicits the answer from Shimson. In pasuk 18, they answer the riddle before the sun goes down on the seventh.

The difficulties are why they only approach her on the seventh day rather than the fourth. Further, how she is able to cry before Shimshon for all seven days when they only approach her after seven (or at least after the first three days).

The anonymous grammarian suggests that in pasuk 15, it should read fourth rather than seventh. This would be a simple switch of a resh for a shin. Ibn Ezra's words follow:

"[Shofetim 14:15]
וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, וַיֹּאמְרוּ לְאֵשֶׁת-שִׁמְשׁוֹן - it is appropriate to be, according to the opinion of the mahavil [speaking of vanity and striving after wind] to be הָרְבִיעִי, since he found above [in pasuk 14] וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהַגִּיד הַחִידָה, שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים [for three days, such that this would be the fourth].
And he is not saying anything, and here is its explanation: They engaged and strove for three days to solve the riddle and were not able, and when they say this, they gave up on it. And once it was the seventh day, they said to Shimshon's wife, 'entice your husband', and because she pressed him sore on the seventh day because of the things they said, so that he would relate it to her, for so it written.
[Meanwhile], the meaning of 'and she wept to him for seven days', Scriptures is relating that she, by her own initiative, was crying all seven days in order that he relate to her the [answer to the] riddle, even though no one has asked her to do this."

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Ibn Ezra on Lower Biblical Criticism, part iii

See part one and part two.

3) Ibn Ezra continues his response to the grammarian who proposed numerous emendations to the text of Scriptures. The third proposed emendation is the word הַדָּבָר in the following pasuk, which this anonymous grammarian asserts should read הָעָם:

Yehoshua 5:4:
ד  וְזֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר-מָל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ:  כָּל-הָעָם הַיֹּצֵא מִמִּצְרַיִם הַזְּכָרִים כֹּל אַנְשֵׁי הַמִּלְחָמָה, מֵתוּ בַמִּדְבָּר בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתָם, מִמִּצְרָיִם.4 And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: all the people that came forth out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came forth out of Egypt.
ה  כִּי-מֻלִים הָיוּ, כָּל-הָעָם הַיֹּצְאִים; וְכָל-הָעָם הַיִּלֹּדִים בַּמִּדְבָּר בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתָם מִמִּצְרַיִם--לֹא-מָלוּ.5 For all the people that came out were circumcised; but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, had not been circumcised.

Ibn Ezra writes:

"וְזֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר-מָל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ -- he says that הַדָּבָר is in place of הָעָם. But in reality it is just as its simple implication, 'and this is the davar -- that is to say, because of this davar [matter] -- Yehoshua circumcised them'. "

And indeed, reading this in context of the next few verses, which explains how and why those born in the wilderness were not circumcised, this makes good sense.

4) The next verse this anonymous grammarian proposes emending is I Melachim 2:28, which reads:

כח  וְהַשְּׁמֻעָה, בָּאָה עַד-יוֹאָב, כִּי יוֹאָב נָטָה אַחֲרֵי אֲדֹנִיָּה, וְאַחֲרֵי אַבְשָׁלוֹם לֹא נָטָה; וַיָּנָס יוֹאָב אֶל-אֹהֶל יְהוָה, וַיַּחֲזֵק בְּקַרְנוֹת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ.
28 And the tidings came to Joab; for Joab had turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom. And Joab fled unto the Tent of the LORD, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.

Ibn Ezra writes:

"וְאַחֲרֵי אַבְשָׁלוֹם לֹא נָטָה -- he said that it is [erroneously] in place of 'after שְׁלֹמֹה'.  And there is no need for this, for once the verse stated that he [Yoav] went after Adoniyah, what need would there be to say that he did not go after Shlomo, for this would be immediately apparent to anyone who heard it. Rather, 

the verse comes to explain something else, that Yoav did not go after Avshalom, because he knew that he [Avshalom] was not fit to have the kingship, and thought so as well regarding Shlomo." 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ibn Ezra on Lower Biblical Criticism, part ii

Read part i here.

This is a presentation of Ibn Ezra's response to a commentator [perhaps Yitzchaki] who suggested switching more than one hundred words in Scriptures. Here, he considers and rejects a swap in parashat Yitro, based on a mismatch of הַגְבֵּל of the nation or the mountain.

Thus, Ibn Ezra continues with the second suggested swap:

"2) Shemot 19:12:

יב  וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ אֶת-הָעָם סָבִיב לֵאמֹר, הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם עֲלוֹת בָּהָר וּנְגֹעַ בְּקָצֵהוּ:  כָּל-הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהָר, מוֹת יוּמָת.

12 And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying: Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it; whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death

vs. Shemot 19:23:

כג  וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-ה, לֹא-יוּכַל הָעָם, לַעֲלֹת אֶל-הַר סִינָי:  כִּי-אַתָּה הַעֵדֹתָה בָּנוּ, לֵאמֹר, הַגְבֵּל אֶת-הָהָר, וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ.

23 And Moses said unto the LORD: 'The people cannot come up to mount Sinai; for thou didst charge us, saying: Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.'

He said that it [the word in the latter verse] ought to be הָעָם.

And he did not say anything, for if one were to הַגְבֵּל the nation, then the גבול [boundary] would be around the mountain, and if one said to place [?] a boundary around the mountain, then there would be not difference between them."

End quote of Ibn Ezra.

In other words, since since the later verse is a rephrasing of God's command, and perhaps because הַגְבֵּל should be taken cause to form a perimeter, both should be the 'the nation'. Ibn Ezra's response is that one need not harmonize to use the same noun in the command and the restatement of the command, because with either word choice, this is a valid way of describing the action.

The Samaritans were also interested in such harmonizations, and they freely emended the text to make it smoother. In this instance, they similarly emended the text. Here is Vetus Testamentum, with the Masoretic text on the right and the Samaritan text on the left. A - means the Samaritan text is identical to the Hebrew, and a * means a corresponding letter or word is missing.

Their solution was to modify only verse 12 so as to make both instances, ההר, rather than העם. This introduces a problem, because of the word לֵאמֹר in pasuk 12. If Moshe were to וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ the nation, then there could be a לֵאמֹר as he instructs the nation. But the text will not flow if Moshe were to וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ the mountain. Therefore, the Samaritan scribe added an extra phrase, ואל העם תאמר, "and you should say to the nation".

Update: Also see Ibn Ezra on the pasuk:

[יט, יב]
והגבלת -
שים גבול בהר. ע"כ כמוהו הגבל את ההר וקדשתו לשום גבול בהר. והארכתי כל כך בעבור שאמר המשוגע שהפך בספרו דברי אלוהים חיים, אמר: כי רצה משה לומ: הגבל את העם. ויצא מפיו ההר במקום העם.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ibn Ezra on Lower Biblical Criticism, part i

In Sefer Tzachot, Ibn Ezra writes at length against a grammarian [מדקדק] who proposed more than one hundred words which should be replaced in Scriptures. Ibn Ezra writes that the book is fit to be burned. (Elsewhere, in his commentary to Shemot 19:12, he labels this fellow a meshuga.) I've seen it asserted, but alas, as I write now can't find the source [update: see here] , that this grammarian is the same as Yitzchaki (whom people identify as Isaac Ibn Castar Ben Yashush of Toledo), who claimed fairly late authorship of a lengthy passage in sefer Bereishit, about whose book Ezra said that it deserved to be burned.

Ibn Ezra's opposition seems somewhat grounded in religious sensibilities --
"Forfend, forfend, for this is not correct, not in non-sacred words and certainly not in the words of the Living God. And his book is fit to be burnt." 
Further, this grammarian describes difficulties in the text which can only be resolved by emending the text. Ibn Ezra argues that with a bit of deeper thought and analysis, many of these difficulties are readily resolved, such that the radical course of emending the Biblical text is unwarranted.

I am going to separate Ibn Ezra's words into several posts, each tackling a different difficulty / proposed change from this grammarian. His words follow:

"Beware and guard your soul exceedingly, that you do not believe the words of the grammarian who mentioned in his book more than one hundred words and said that all of them need replacing. Forfend, forfend, for this is not correct, not in non-sacred words and certainly not in the words of the Living God. And his book is fit to be burnt.

And behold I will explain to you a few of the difficulties he mentioned, due to which he was unable to explain them in their straightforward manner. And they are:

1) [Yirmeyahu 33:26]

כו  גַּם-זֶרַע יַעֲקוֹב וְדָוִד עַבְדִּי אֶמְאַס, מִקַּחַת מִזַּרְעוֹ מֹשְׁלִים, אֶל-זֶרַע אַבְרָהָם, יִשְׂחָק וְיַעֲקֹב:  כִּי-אשוב (אָשִׁיב) אֶת-שְׁבוּתָם, וְרִחַמְתִּים.  {פ}

26 then will I also cast away the seed of Jacob, and of David My servant, [so that I will not take of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; for I will cause their captivity to return, and will have compassion on them.'] {P}
[Note: Ibn Ezra writes יעקב as chaser but it should be malei.]

He says that in place of "Yaakov" [at the beginning of the verse] should be "Aharon", because it states earlier [in verse 24] two families


כד  הֲלוֹא רָאִיתָ, מָה-הָעָם הַזֶּה דִּבְּרוּ לֵאמֹר, שְׁתֵּי הַמִּשְׁפָּחוֹת אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר יְהוָה בָּהֶם, וַיִּמְאָסֵם; וְאֶת-עַמִּי, יִנְאָצוּן, מִהְיוֹת עוֹד, גּוֹי לִפְנֵיהֶם.  {ס}24 'Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying: The two families which the LORD did choose, He hath cast them off? and they contemn My people, that they should be no more a nation before them. {S}

and the reference should be therefore be to two distinct families, not one within the other, and those should be the Davidic dynasty and the Aharonic priesthood.]

And the correct explaination is to leave it in its simple implication [of Yaakov], and the proof is [the continuation of pasuk 26]

מִקַּחַת מִזַּרְעוֹ מֹשְׁלִים
so that I will not take of his seed to be rulers

and its explanation is as follows: 'how shall I [אֶמְאַס] cast away one who is of the seed of Yaakov, after it is stated in the Torah that there shall be no ruling king in Israel except Yaakov? And further, that he is of the family of David.' And so, there are two positives.

And behold, I will show him the like, against his will, which he will not be able to swap out at all, namely [Tehillim 77:16]:

טז  גָּאַלְתָּ בִּזְרוֹעַ עַמֶּךָ;    בְּנֵי-יַעֲקֹב וְיוֹסֵף סֶלָה.16 Thou hast with Thine arm redeemed Thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

See also Ibn Ezra's interpretation of this verse in Tehillim, where he also makes mention that this is a good response to Yitzchaki:
[עז, טז]
גאלת, עמך -
הוא הפעול כאילו כתוב: גאלת עמך בזרוע נטויה.וטעם להזכיר יוסף עם יעקב כי הוא החיה ישראל, ככתוב משם רועה אבן ישראל. 
והטעם: כי בזכות יעקב ויוסף פדית בניהם וכמוהו גם זרע יעקב ודוד עבדי אמאס, שהטעם מי שהוא מבני נדיבים והעד שאמר מקחת מזרעו מושלים והאומר כי יעקב תחת אהרן, לא דבר נכונה.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A troubling minhag

I have heard reports of a troubling minhag this coming Shabbos [edit: the Shabbos immediately following Pesach], one with seeming pagan origins -- a minhag which has become widespread in recent years -- to bake or eat challah.

To explain, etymologically, to call the braided Shabbos bread bchallah is a bit confusing. Chazal referred to Challah, but as the portion which was removed from the dough and given as a present to the kohen. (See Bamidbar 15:20 -- maybe it refers Biblically to a type of bread itself, as Philologos wrote.) It is only some time later (in a 15th century German work) that the Shabbos bread itself was called "Challah". (See also here for Otzar Ta'amei Haminhagim's explanation.)

To cite Menachem Mendel, who cites others:
I mentioned this to my colleague Rabbi Jill Hammer, and she suggested that I look into the connection between ḥallah and goddess worship. Not really knowing what to expect, I found the following in The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects (p. 482):
The braided bread loaves of Germanic tradition were invented by the women of Teutonic tribes, who used to make offerings of their own hair to their Goddess. Eventually they learned to preserve their braids by substituting the imitative loaf, which was called Berchisbrod or Perchisbrod, bread offered to the Goddess Berchta, or Perchta. The name of the braided Sabbath loaf among German Jews, Berches or Barches, was copied from this tradition.

Could it be that those nice braids that my wife makes when she bakes ḥallah really have their source in pagan goddess worship? The linguist Paul Wexler thinks that the original name was actually the German Holle which was
the name of a pagan Germanic goddess to whom braided bread was once given in offering. [The German] Holle was replaced at a later date-under the pressure of Judaization-by the [Hebrew] ḥallah, which bore formal and semantic similarity. (See his book The Non-Jewish Origins of the Sephardic Jews, pp. 68-69 and numerous other places in his writings.)

If so, we must protest this perversion of Judaism and introduction of pagan rites into our Shabbos festivities.

Yes, I am kidding. (Though given history, people will likely not read this far and assume I am speaking in all seriousness.)

What I wrote above wasn't made up. And it seems at the very least plausible that braided loaves for the pagan Germanic goddess Holle is the basis of both the name and form of the bread.

But some people are up in arms this week about shlissel challah, because of its similarity to hot cross buns. Perhaps. As I wrote in the past about this:
In the minds of the hamon am who practice this, there certainly are no such idolatrous intentions. Instead, they regard it as a holy segulah, and maybe associate all sorts of Torah-based justifications for the practice. So I would not condemn it as the worst thing in the universe.
My primary objection to shlissel challah -- besides of course poisoning yourself with lead leeching from the keys -- has to do with the adoption of the minhag by people for whom it was never a family minhag. As I wrote (same post):
What I find more problematic is what the widespread acceptance of this minhag means.

A) Initially, people's practice was more or less mimetic.
B) Then, people turned to texts and away from their mimetic traditions.
C) Then, with the advent of the Internet, each group's personal mimetic traditions become text (or become memes?) and become the expectation for the global Jewish community.
When you combine this chain-mail type of spread with the minhag's questionable background and somewhat negative messaging (of segulah-ism), there is what to oppose.

Anyway, it feels good to "oppose" something. It gives people something to do and something to talk about, heatedly. It is a fun way of channeling one's religious beliefs into a public statement.

Just realize that not just shlissel challah, but regular challah is well, can be subject to many of the same attacks.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The 2000 year old prophecy in Yalkut Shimoni

With recent nerve-wracking events involving Iran and their quest for nuclear weapons, Shirat Devorah reposts a post from JewFacts, about a 2000 year old prophecy. The post reads in part:

A piece of rabbinic literature [written 2000 years ago] known as the Yalkut Shimoni touches on many future scenarios both for the nation of Israel and for the world. In its section on the biblical Book of Isaiah and the prophecies contained therein, a rabbi cited by the Yalkut Shimoni states:

“That the year the Messiah will arrive when all the nations of the world will antagonize each other and threaten with war. The king of Persia (Iran) antagonizes the King of Arabia (Saudi Arabia) with war. The King of Arabia goes to Edom (The Western Countries, headed by USA) for advice. Then the King of Persia destroys the world (and since that cannot be done with conventional weapons it must mean nuclear which can destroy most of the world). And all the nations of the world begin to panic and are afraid, and Israel too is afraid as to how to defend from this. G-d then says to them “Do not fear for everything that I have done is for your benefit, to destroy the evil kingdom of Edom and eradicate evil from this world so that the Messiah can come, your time of redemption is now.”

1) I don't know if I would call this "prophecy". This is a midrash, and so is presumably an interpretation by the midrashic author (Rabbi Yizchak) of pesukim, perhaps from Sefer Yeshaya. The prophet was Yeshaya, and the rabbis took it upon themselves to carefully analyze the words to come to some concrete meaning. And that is how different rabbis might argue with one another about the meaning, without calling one another false prophets. The rabbis of the Talmud themselves said that prophecy was removed, and that the last prophets were Chagai, Zecharia, and Malachi.

2) It is not "2000 years old". Yalkut Shimoni is a Yalkut, a collection. While many of the sources are old (though they may be processed versions of the older material), some of the material is more recent. Yalkut Shimoni was composed either in the 11th century or (more likely) the 13th century. Even though this is attributed to a "Rabbi Yitzchak", I would not jump to say that this is older material, nor 2000 year old material, from the time of the earliest Tannaim.

3) The actual text of the midrash in Yalkut Shimoni is this:
א"ר יצחק שנה שמלך המשיח נגלה בו כל מלכי אומות העולם מתגרים זה בזה, מלך פרס מתגרה במלך ערבי והולך מלך ערבי לארס ליטול עצה מהם וחוזר מלך פרס ומחריב את כל העולם וכל אומות העולם מתרעשים ומתבהלים ונופלים על פניהם ויאחוז אותם צירים כצירי יולדה, וישראל מתרעשים ומתבהלים ואומר להיכן נבוא ונלך להיכן נבוא ונלך להיכן נבוא ונלך, וואומר להם בני אל לתתיראו כל מה שעשיתי לא עשיתי אלא בשבילכם מפני מה אתם מתיראים אל תיראו הגיע זמן גאולתכם, ולא כגאולה ראשונה גאולה אחרונה כי גאולה ראשונה היה לכם צער ושעבוד מלכייות אחריה אבל גאולה אחרונה אין לכם צער ושעבוד מלכיות אחריה:
The identifications of the melech aravi with Saudi Arabia and melech Paras with Iran, and ארם (censored for אדום or רומי) for the US represents the guesswork of the author.

So too, the statement that
destroys the world (and since that cannot be done with conventional weapons it must mean nuclear which can destroy most of the world)
is a presumption of the author. I think those countries conquered in the Muslim Conquests would beg to differ. I think those countries conquered in the Mongol invasions would beg to differ.

4) We are dealing with a 13th century midrash. And the midrash makes reference to empires, rather than countries. From Talmudic times, these were understood as empires rather than countries.

Paras is the Persian empire. Edom is the Roman empire. Aravi is the Arabian empire. These each, in their time, conquered and ruled over wide swaths of the settled world.

While Paras is modern-day Iran, and that country is a potential threat, it is a nothing compared with the Persian empire.

If this is early 13th century, this might refer to the Ilkhanate.
The Ilkhanate, also spelled Il-khanate (Persianایلخانان‎, IlkhananMongolian: Хүлэгийн улс, Hulagu-yn Ulus), was a breakaway state of the Mongol Empire, which was ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu. It was established in the 13th century and was based primarily in Iran as well as neighboring territories, such as present-day Azerbaijan, and the central and eastern parts of present-day Turkey. The Ilkhanate was based, originally, on Genghis Khan's campaigns in the Khwarazmian Empire in 1219–1224 and was founded by Genghis's grandson, Hulagu Khan. In its fullest extent, the state expanded into territories which today comprise most of IranIraq,TurkmenistanArmeniaAzerbaijanGeorgiaTurkey, western Afghanistanand southwestern Pakistan. Later Ilkhanate rulers, beginning with Ghazan in 1295, would convert to Islam.
This strikes me as a plausible interpretation of the midrash (rather than "prophecy"), of applying pesukim to contemporary events and predicting the resurgence of a mighty empire rooted in Persia.

But it depends on the actual composition date of this midrash. Find the date of composition, and find the people engaged in empire-building and conquest in its proximity, and then see if it fits.

4) If Iran got nuclear weapons, and used them, they would be wiped out instantly. There are other countries (such as the US) who would automatically retaliate. If there were worldwide nuclear war, then even in Israel it would not be a good place to live. None of this corresponds nicely to the events described in the midrash. My explanation (IMHO) besides being rooted historically works better with the scenario described in the midrash.

5) All this "ancient prophecy" gets mixed in with other nonsense such as this:
Another interesting fact recently published in the world press is that astrologers see this winter as the “Nuclear Winter” in which the Western world will be destroyed by Iran with Nuclear weapons [which matches up with ancient prophecy].


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