Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Mishpatim 5767/ February 17, 2007

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

Tannaim , Biblical Exegetes and Aramaic Translations

 

Dr. Ephraim Yitzhaki

 

Department of Talmud

 

When a man gives to another an ass, an ox a sheep or any other animal to guard, and it dies or is injured or is carried off, with no witness about an oath before the Lord shall decide between the two of them that the one has not laid hands on the property of the other; the owner must acquiesce, and no restitution shall be made.   But if [the animal] was stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner.  If it was torn by beasts, he shall bring it as evidence; he need not replace what has been torn by beasts (Ex. 22:9-12).

The Torah speaks of one who undertakes to watch the possessions of his friend, and the item under his care was stolen, or lost, or was attacked by another animal. What is the responsibility of the shomer, the guardian? According to the Masoretic notation, the last verse is read thus:   Im tarof yittaref yevi’ehu ed; ha- terefah lo yeshalem.  However, there is a tannaitic dispute regarding the correct reading of verse 12, its vocalization, punctuation, and meaning. The dispute is found in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Mishpatim, Tractate de-Nezikin ch. 16:

If it was torn by beasts, he shall bring it as evidence.   That is, the skin.   These are the words of Rabbi Josiah.  And although there is no explicit proof of this, there is a suggestion of it in the passage:   “Thus said the Lord:   As a shepherd rescues from the lion’s jaws two shank bones or the tip of an ear ...” (Amos 3:12).  Rabbi Ahai b. Rabbi Josiah says:    If it was torn by beasts, he shall bring witnesses for it , that is, let him bring witnesses that it was torn by beasts and then he will be free from payment.  Rabbi Jonathan says:  He shall bring him to the torn animal, [reading yevi’ehu ad instead of ed ] that is, he shall conduct the owner to the torn animal and be free from payment.

Here we have three different readings of the verse, yielding three different meanings:

  1. According to Rabbi Josiah, one should read ed, i.e., evidence, and the pause should come after the word terefah, the animal torn by beasts.  In other words, one should read:  bring evidence of the torn animal   [yevi’ehu ed ha-terefah], bring a part of the torn animal as evidence, and then “[the guardian] need not pay” [lo yeshalem].
  2. According to Rabbi Ahai b. Rabbi Josiah, one should read ed, but the comma should come before the word terefah.  That is, “let him bring witnesses [yevi’ehu ed]  that the animal was torn apart by beasts and then “the torn animal he need not pay” [ha-terefah lo yeshalem].
  3. According to Rabbi Johanan, one should read ad, and the comma should come after terefah.   One should read:   He shall bring him to the torn animal [yevi’ehu ad ha- terefah], i.e., shall bring the owners to the torn animal, and then “he [the guardian] need not pay” [lo yeshalem].

The baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud (Bava Kama 11a) only presents two opinions:

It is taught:  If it was torn by beasts, he shall bring him a witness – he shall bring witnesses to the fact that it was forcefully torn by beasts; then he is exempt.  Abba Saul says:   he shall bring idudah [according to Rashi, loc. sit. , the torn carcass] to the court.

The two opinions are as follows:

  1. The guardian must bring witnesses that it was torn apart and he could do nothing about it – “yevi’ehu ed, ha-terefah lo yeshalem.”
  2. He must bring the carcass itself to the court – “yevi’ehu ed ha-terefah, lo yeshalem.”

According to both views in the Babylonian Talmud then, the word is to be read ed, and the dispute is only about the placement of the comma.  The Masoretic tradition relied on the former opinion in the baraitha cited from the Babylonian Talmud, and determined that the verse should be read as follows:  Im tarof yittaref, yevi’ehu ed; ha- terefah lo yeshalem.   Rashi, relying on the baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud together with the Masoretic tradition, interpreted the verse as follows:  “If it is torn by beasts, he shall bring witness that it was torn by beasts and he could do nothing about it; then he is exempt from paying.”

Nahmanides challenged Rashi’s interpretation, asking how a person could bring witnesses that the animal was torn apart by beasts, for at the outset Scripture said:   “it dies or is injured or is carried off, with no witness about,” which Rashi himself explained as meaning “with no one seeing who could testify.”   If there was no one who saw, how could he bring witnesses?  Therefore Ramban explained, “He shall bring some of the torn animal as evidence,” following the second opinion in the baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud.

In the Aramaic translations of the Torah, we find all three views:

  1. Onkelos:  If it was torn apart, he shall bring witnesses that it was torn apart, then he need not pay – as in the first opinion in the baraitha and as in the Masoretic text.
  2. Targum Jonathan (actually, pseudo-Jonathan [PJ], or Jerusalem Targum I):  If it was torn apart by beasts, he shall bring witnesses or shall bring the carcass of the torn animal, then he need not pay.  This translation does not rely on the baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud, rather on the views presented by Rabbis Josiah and Jonathan, disciples of Rabbi Ishmael, as brought in the Mekhilta.
  3. Jerusalem Targum II (also known as the fragment- targum or FT):  If it was killed, he shall bring a limb of the killed animal, then he need not pay – as in the interpretation of Abba Saul in the baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud.

One could say that certain halakhic disputes among the Tannaim stem from different readings of the written Torah, or from the fact that the Tannaim used Aramaic translations of Scripture in determining rules of halakhah, or that each beit midrash had its own Aramaic translation, just as they each had their own halakah and mishnah.

When we say that the Torah is multifaceted (lit., has seventy faces), perhaps what we have in mind is that a single verse can be read in many ways, and from the different readings one can arrive at a variety of explanations and perhaps even different halakhic conclusions.