The Faculty of Jewish Studies
The Office of the Campus Rabbi
Parashat Ki Tissa
And Moses Did not Know that the Skin of his Face
Dr. Ya'akov Gaartner
Department of Talmud
"And it was as Moses came down from Mount Sinai and the two tablets of the testimony were in the hand of Moses when he came down from the mountain and Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was beaming when he spoke with Him" (Ex 34: 29). According to this passage, the skin of Moses' face was shining when he descended from Mount Sinai after receiving the second tablets. We wish to clarify the meaning of the expression "that the skin of his face was beaming". What is the meaning of the verb "beaming" (Heb. - karan) and what change overcame the face of Moses ?
The Biblical commentator Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor (Northern France, 12th century) wrote about this expression as follows (ed. Y. Nevo, Mossad HaRav Kook, 5754 p.176):
"Behold the skin of his face was beaming" : His skin was shining
from the aura of the Holy Presence. It is the same in 'Rays (Karnayim)
issued from His hand' (Habakkuk 3:4). The explanation is that when the
light shone from his face, and the pillar of light which formed opposite
him it resembled horns (Keren = horn of an animal). Similar to this
is the expression Gazelle of Dawn (Ayelet Hashahar) because the
shining sun looks like a gazelle whose horns (karnayim, sing. keren)
are spread out. Thus (the Torah) used the word keren, since the
first tablets were given amidst much commotion and these second ones in
secret. The Holy One Blessed Be He demonstrated that these, too, were holy,
by the fact that the face of Moses shined from the aura of the Holy Presence
when he received them.
Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor explains that the passage before us describes
a shining light - that the face of Moses shone from the aura of the Holy
Presence. This wondrous phenomenon occurred only when he received the second
Tablets and this came to demonstrate that despite the fact that they were
given in secret, their holiness was no less than the holiness of the first
Tablets which were given amid much pomp.
In any case the meaning of the verb karan in this passage is
a description of a beam or ray of light which emanated from the face of
Moses. Rabbi Yosef adds that the same meaning can be found in another passage
, in the prayer of the prophet Habakkuk which describes , among other things
, the revelation of the Holy Presence going forth to strike the Chaldeans
: "And there is a brightness as the light; rays issued from His hand"
(from the place or the hand of God).
This passage from Habakkuk is the only passage in the Bible in which
the word keren appears as a noun in the sense of a ray of light
(keren or). Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor also commented on the parallel
usage of keren as light and keren in the sense of horns or antlers
. He explained that the light that emanated from the face of Moses like
the pillar of dawn looked like horns, (See illustration 1, drawn by
the French painter Gustave Dor and this similarity gave the first rays
of dawn the name Ayelet Hashahar (Gazelle of Dawn).
But we have another explanation for this passage which did not explain
the term "the skin of his face was shining" in the sense of light
emanating from his face. Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam), the grandson
of Rashi and a contemporary of Bechor Shor, writes in his Torah commentary
concerning the term in question as follows: "karan refers to
splendor, and similarly in 'rays issue from His hand' (Hab. 3:4), and anyone
who compares [our verse] to "his horn are like the horns of a wild
ox" (karnei re'em karnav - Deut. 33:17) is mistaken .
Rashbam's understanding of the word keren is similar to that
of Rabbi Yosef (and that of our Sages and of Rashi, see note 1 and 2)ý;
but in his comments we hear of others who interpreted keren literally
in keeping with its meaning in Deut. 33:17. Who were these interpreters?
E. Touitouý has shown that the commentary of Rashbam on the
Torah challenged Christian Biblical exegesis, as indicated by the Rashbam's
phrase: "[This explanation is] according to the way of the world and
an answer to the heretics" (E.g. Lev. 19:19). In our passage, the
Rashbam rejects the interpretation that Moses sprouted horns, probably
espoused by Christian scholars with whom he had contact. Such an interpretation
is based on the Latin Biblical translation , the Vulgate, which translated
keren in our passage: quod cornuta esset. The Vulgate
followed Jerome, one of the Church Fathers, whose interpretation follows
the Greek translation of Aquilas in translating karnayim (Amos
6:13) with the Greek equivalent word for "horn".
R. Mellinkoff, in her book devoted to this subject, claims that neither Aquilas nor the Vulgate , which both translated keren as the horns of an animal, intended to say that Moses sprouted horns. Rather in the ancient world, and as it seems from numerous Biblical passages, horns were simply a metaphor for might, honor and splendor. It is therefore not surprising that until the 11th century no illustrations are to be found in which Moses is portrayed as having horns.
From the 11th century onward, Europe underwent a change, and the general
public understood the Biblical text, literally, though most Christian theologians,
some of them influenced by the commentary of Rashi , continued to explain
keren as a metaphor for rays of light or glory. It is from this
period that we begin to find drawings and sculptures which show Moses with
horns in a range of shapes (for further details consult the book of R.
Mellinkoff; see example in illustration 2, following this article). The
most well known of these is the statue by Michaelangelo in Rome in which
Moses has two horns protruding from his head. However, other examples of
medieval art reflect the approach of the theologians, and portray Moses
not with the horns of an animal but with rays of light (See illustration
Mellinkoff (p. 135) relates the story of the American Jewish scholar
who, during a trip to the Midwestern United States, became involved in
discussion with a farmer. The farmer refused to believe that the scholar
was a Jew, since he did not have horns! This story and other evidence to
the like clearly show that the medieval superstition that Jews have horns
continued well into the modern period. Several appropriate illustrations
are brought by Mellinkoff, who raises the possibility of a connection between
this belief and the illustrations of Moses in Christian manuscripts in
which Moses appears with animal horns.
 It is interesting to note the comments of our Sages in Shemot Rabbah (47,11) on the question: "From where did Moses derive rays of splendor? Our Rabbis said: From the cave, as it is said: 'And it will be when My honor passes by' etc. (Ex. 32:32)'. R. Berechiah Hacohen said in the name of Shmuel: The Tablets were six Handbreaths in length and six in width; Moses held two handbreaths, the Holy Presence held two and there were two between them and from there Moses took the rays of splendor. R. Yehudah bar Nachman said in the name of R. Shimon Ben Lakish: While writing with a quill something was left over and he passed it over his head and from that the rays of splendor were created for him, as it is said 'And Moses did not know that his face was shining'".
 Rashi also made this point: Ki karan: "In
the sense of horns; the light shined and stood out like a kind of a horn."
 See Yoma 29a: "To the chief musician upon Ayelet
Hashachar (the Gazelle of Dawn) (Psalms 22:1) - Just as that gazelle's
horns divide to here and to there so the dawn comes up here and there";
Yerushalmi, Berachot , chap. 1, halachah 1, Daf 2, col. 3: "Rabbi
Chiya, Rava and Rabbi Shimon Ben Chalafta were walking through the Valley
of Arbel at dawn and they saw the gazelle of Dawn as its light first appeared.
R. Chiya said to R. Shimon Ben Chalafta: 'So will the redemption of Israel
be, at first little by little but as it continues it will grow continually'."
 In reference to our verse, we point out an additional
explanation. The interpretation is cited by R. Abraham Ibn Ezra who rejects
it. It originates with Chivi Habalchi (Ibn Ezra calls him Chivi the Criminal
and appends the curse 'may his bones be crushed' to his name. Chivi was
a Jewish apostate who lived in Afghanistan during the period of the Geonim.
He was identified with the city called Belech, hence the name 'Chivi Habalchi).
He commented: "Because he ate no bread , the face of Moses became
dry like a horn, and the reason that the Children of Israel feared Moses
(verse 30 "And they were afraid to approach him") was because
his face was ugly". Ibn Ezra replies to this: "And how did this
accursed one not open his eyes to see that man only fears something wondrous,
the likes of which he has never seen. There is no one who has not seen
the face of a dead person and yet no one is afraid to approach it. Moreover,
if that were so, [that his appearance was abhorred] why was the mask not
always on his face ? Why did he remove it when speaking to Israel ?"
 E. Touitou, "Shitato Haparshanit shel Harashbam
al Reka Hametziut Hahistorit shel Zmano", Iyunim B'sifrut Chazal Bamikra
Ubetoldot Yisrael, (in honor of Prof. E. Melamed ) Ramat Gan, 1982, pp.48-74.
 See Yerushalmi Megillah chap. 1, halachah 11, p. 71,
col.3: "Aquilas the Convert translated the Torah before Rabbi Eliezer
and Rabbi Yehoshua".
 It must, however, be pointed out that the Septuagint
translates keren in the sense of splendor, and in the Eastern Church
(in which the Septuagint and not the Vulgate is the accepted translation
of the Hebrew Bible) the idea that Moses had horns cannot be found in interpretation
or in art.
 The Horned Moses in Medieval Art and Thought,
Berkely, London and Los Angeles; University of California Press, 1970.
See also a further article by the same author - "More About Horned
Moses," Jewish Art, vol. 12-13 (1986-87), pp.
184-198. (My thanks to Prof. D. Sperber who called my attention to these
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