24 March 2010

Drew 3.0: Now Wearing Contacts

After spending the last 19 years of my life with glasses, I decided that I wanted to make the switch over to contacts. Although I had tried at some point during adolescence to try contacts, I had immense difficulty getting my finger near my eye and gave up quite quickly. However, I've been feeling for a while I wanted to move beyond glasses. Although my physical therapist (back when I went to physical therapy after my second knee surgery) had had Lasik surgery and loved not having to have any eye device (glasses or contacts), I haven't felt so great about the idea.
So, recently, I tried contacts for the first time, then got them and liked not having glasses on my face, although it took me a few hours to get the contacts out the first night. Also, the next day, it took me some time to get them in and out, but after several days, I started figuring out ways to get them in and out, though getting one's fingers near/on one's eyes is really a mental barrier. The other issue was that my contacts prescription left me still seeing things somewhat blurrily. When I went in for my check-in after a week, I then had them checked out and fortunately, ended up getting a better prescription, albeit not quite as sharp as my glasses, but still sufficient. Anyways, I'm liking them and it's a new look!

21 March 2010

Red Sea, Reed Sea, or Something Else?

Once again, in the recent issue of Jewish Action (Spring 2010), Ari Zivotofsky has an excellent brief article. This one is "What’s the Truth about . . . the Translation of Yam Suf?" There are three points I want to mention about it: 1) His excellent conclusion about translations, 2) About Artscroll's translation consistency, and 3) An error in a footnote.
His amusing yet informative conclusion about translations, both specifically and generally:
In summary, Yam Suf in the Bible refers to multiple places, many of which were translated by the ancients as Red Sea. Similarly, specific bodies of water were referred to by multiple names, such as the Mediterranean Sea, which seems to have at least three names: Yam Plishtim (Exodus 23:31), Yam Hagadol (Numbers 34:6, 7) and Yam Ha’acharon (Deuteronomy 34:2). This leaves a translator in a serious quandary. But it is important to remember that translations are not always meant to be literal but rather to inform the reader of the target language what was intended in the source language. Thus, in general, Yam Hagadol is translated in English as Mediterranean Sea and not as Great Sea; Moshe is called Moses and not “drawn forth,” Yam Hamelach is referred to as Dead Sea and not as Salt Sea, and Sha’ar Ha’ashpot is translated as Dung Gate and not Refuse Gate.

Thus, it is possible that the name Yam Suf has nothing to do with suf and was simply the name of the body of water. The name need not have any meaning beyond that, similar to other names of locations (there are not and have never been buffalo in Buffalo, New York, and Beit Lechem, a hilly region, is not known for either its bread or its wheat).

While no one today can state definitively which body of water God split so that the Israelites could pass, the most ancient translations translate Yam Suf in the Exodus story as Red Sea. I would argue that despite the fact that reeds cannot grow in the Red Sea, we should accept the tradition of the Septuagint and of the Geonim and translate Yam Suf as the Red Sea. For those who cannot tolerate anything but a literal translation, they can always simply refer to Yam Suf as the Cattail Sea.
His note 16 on Artscroll's consistency in translations:
One has to credit ArtScroll for being consistent in its policy of translating places literally. It translates Yam Hamelach as Salt Sea (Genesis 14:3, Numbers 34:3 and 34:12) and Yam Hagadol as Great Sea (Numbers 34:6, 7). In truth, while the Yam Suf translation may be justifiable because of the ArtScroll policy of translating according to Rashi, the other two translations cited are inexplicable. Even ArtScroll does not translate Abraham’s two sons as “He is rejoicing” and “May God listen.”
The error Professor Zivotofsky makes is found at the very end of his article in footnote 17, where he says
This, is in fact, the subject of a Tannaic dispute. In the context of the infant Moshe story, Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani says that suf refers to a marsh with reeds and willows. But Rabbi Elazar opines that suf was shorthand for Yam Suf, and the Torah was not describing the physical surroundings but the actual location (Shemot Rabbah 1:21; Sotah 12a-b).
First, Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani and Rabbi Elazar are both third generation amoraim, so they shouldn't be appearing in tannaitic texts. Secondly, although there is a tannaitic text (a beraisa) just above where their discussion is found, commenting on the same verse on which they are commenting, they are not part of that beraisa:
תנא: חמר מבפנים וזפת מבחוץ, כדי שלא יריח אותו צדיק ריח רע.
ותשם בה את הילד ותשם בסוף.
רבי אלעזר אומר: ים סוף
רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר אגם, כדכתיב קנה וסוף קמל

12 March 2010

Eye for an Eye for Something Else?

Eye for an Eye?Coming across the verse עין תחת עין - "eye in place of an eye" (Ex. 21.24 & Lev. 24.20), I would always read in commentary nearby that it would be barbaric to understand it literally (along with the other surrounding statements).
Indeed, as Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman recently wrote, "The Rabbis simply dismissed its Draconian possibilities by explaining that every person’s eyes are different: who can compare what your eyes mean to you with what my eyes mean to me? Unable to exact theoretical justice, we settle for monetary compensation."1
However, at some point, I came to realize that the original intent of the Biblical text was indeed, meant to be taken literally - it's certainly a more significant deterrent of bodily harm to people in such a society! Indeed, as Hoffman continues, "the Torah’s legislation remains in place lest we forget its theoretical lesson: no amount of money can truly compensate for mayhem. The human body is sacred. Its damaged parts are beyond financial recompense."2
On another note, I came across Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's description of this verse, where he wrote "the Talmudic interpretation of this verse, 'an eye for an eye', has always been that this does not mean that the eye of the offender must literally be extracted, but rather he must pay monetary compensation. Our rabbis' tradition that 'an eye for an eye' means monetary restitution has preoccupied the commentaries throughout the generations."3 I was surprised to see that Rabbi Shmuley was so adamant about it. Why?
Having begun to read the NT, I came across, quite early on, the statement attributed to Jesus "'You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." But I tell you, don't resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also'" (Matthew 5:38-39). I began to realize that there must have been a Christian polemic against Jewish Scriptures.... Who knows what else I will find and answer those questions.

1 - Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, "Ethical Truths Within 'Harsh' Legalisms," The Jewish Week, 12 February 2010, 51.
2 - Ibid.
3 - Rabbi Shmuel Boteach, Moses of Oxford: A Jewish Vision of a University and Its Life, vol. 1 (London: André Deutsch, 1994), 15.

11 March 2010

Driving Driving

Car & Drew
Having spent very little of the past 5+ years driving in New York City (aside from the occasional rental car for a trip), a big facet of my life out here in California is driving around. Yes, I not only grew up living in an Ohio suburb where driving was the modus operandi, but also spent a fair amount of time driving in high school and some in my last semester of college, when I finally had a car on campus. Nevertheless, driving around is a big component of my new job.
After starting out driving a minivan for the first few months of work, I am now riding around in my company's car, a Hyundai Accent (pictured at left) (pretty much half the size of the minivan), which is so much easier to park and maneuver and much better at fuel mileage.
The interesting thing with driving around so much with my job is that it reminds me of when I was on regional board for BBYO in KIO. When I was the regional מזכיר and the regional סגן, I visited every chapter/city (Munster, IN, Indianapolis, IN, Louisville, KY, Cincinnati, OH, Dayton, OH, and, of course, Columbus) and some of them I visited more frequently than others (especially Dayton), which included a lot of driving. However, a big difference is that the cities were further spaced out than they are here in southern California. Anyways, I was reminded of all that driving with my current job - it was good highway driving experience :)

07 March 2010

Rabbi Zadok?

רבי צדוק אומר, לא תעשם עטרה להתגדל בהם, ולא קורדום לחפור בהם
Rabbi Zadok says, "You should not make them a crown to be embiggened with them, nor a spade to dig with them" (Avot 4.7)
The sage of the statement above, Rabbi Zadok, who lived in the first century CE is not a sage about whom I know much, which is why it was interesting, albeit random, when I came across an article about him recently.* From that article, I've excerpted two sections. The first is about his traditions (p. 139):
As was mentioned in our Introduction, Sadoq may be deemed a minor figure for precisely the same reason the minor prophets were so designated. There are extremely few extant traditions of Sadoq in the rabbinic literature. Neusner lists two hundred and nineteen legal traditions for the Houses, and two hundred and twenty-eight for Eliezer b. Hyrcanus. The legal corpus of Sadoq, on the other hand, totals only fourteen traditions. It is preposterous to imagine that the body of Sadoq’s traditions preserved in the literature represents the totally gamut of legal issues with which Sadoq concerned himself. We must have in our possession only a fraction of his legal rulings. Moreover, we can have no idea of what processes of selection (if any) were brought to bear in the preservation and transmission of those traditions of Sadoq which are extant. There is no reason to assume that the distribution of fourteen sources over various areas of concern in fact represents the relative concern of Sadoq about different issues. For example, that of the fourteen traditions none deal with tithes, heave-offering, pe’ah or the like, is hardly firm evidence that Sadoq was unconcerned with these issues or that he never expounded any legal opinions regarding them. In short, the connection between the extant legal agendum and the man is tenuous indeed.
The second is the conclusion about who he was (pp. 142-143):
The study of Sadoq’s traditions has revealed very little of the man himself. Most sources which purport to be of biographical significance appear to be quite late, and cannot be traced to earlier sources. Hence, they are virtually of no value in reconstructing the events of Sadoq’s life, his attitudes and personality. The legal traditions, which, relatively speaking, are earlier, still cannot be shown with certainty to date much before the beginning of the third century. They are, nevertheless, the “best” data available to us. But even here the extreme paucity of the tradition makes it impossible to formulate any detailed picture of the man supposedly behind the tradition. Any statements concerning trends in policy and thought extrapolated from some dozen or so sources could have little claim to reliability. The claims which have been made are that Sadoq was a Pharisee at Yavneah, a contemporary of Joshua and Gamliel II, and seemingly a figure of considerable worth to the patriarchate of the latter.
In our study, we have pointed out where the often repeated notions of Sadoq’s priestly descent and Shammaite leanings find their basis. The first appears to underly an Amoraic periscope in b. Bek. 36a, and is explicitly mentioned in ARNa 16, a relatively late compilation. The second notion, that Sadoq was a Shammaite, solely relies upon possible implications of Tos. Suk. 2:3. No better evidence for these claims can be adduced; they deserve, therefore, to be forwarded only with severe qualifications.
Oddly enough, however, what is a hindrance in uncovering “the man” is of significance in other areas of concern, namely the formulation and transmission of Sadoq’s traditions. Since, as has been proven by Porton, the tradition channels through the ‘Aqivan redactional circle, the paucity of Sadoq’s traditions indicates that, at least for the ‘Aqivans, Sadoq was an unimportant and peripheral {143} figure. Our study of the forms assumed by the traditions of Sadoq serves to support this claim. The sources show a general tendency to forms utilizing indirect discourse such as testimonies, and particularly to narratives. The lemma and its use in dispute form, the “hallmark” if the ‘Aqivan redactional circle, is much less common in the corpus of Sadoq’s traditions. Hence, on formal grounds alone, we were able to claim that Sadoq’s traditions are peripheral to the ‘Aqivan tradents.
Since the traditions of Gamaliel II exhibit the same penchant for narratives as opposed to lemmas and disputes, and since several sources represent Sadoq as having strong ties with the patriarchate of Gamaliel II, we have suggested the circle of patriarchal redactors as an origin for the body of Sadoq’s traditions. This was further confirmed by a correlation of the narrative mode of expression with pro-Gamaliel substance.
If any traditions may have originated from a circle with closer ties to Sadoq (such as a circle of his disciples), we have suggested the testimonies. We have also adduced some evidence for a claim that at least these traditions entered the redactional mainstream through the circle of Joshua’s disciples. It is particularly with these traditions that we find the concerted effort to demonstrate Sadoq’s alignment with the opinions of the sages. Such an effort is quite consistent with our notion that some strong relationship existed between Sadoq and Gamaliel II. Moreover, it would lead one to suspect that the relationship was historical as well as redactional.


* - Jack Nathan Lightstone, “Sadok the Yavnean,” in Persons and Institutions in Early Rabbinic Judaism, ed. William Scott Green (Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1977), 49-147.

03 March 2010

Starting to Read the NT

After arriving to the great sunny land of California, my benefactor handed me a bunch of literature with information about what proselytizing Christians might say, including many quotations from the NT. After reading some of it, I realized that all the scriptural verses were not in their context. Moreover, how could I discuss, with any knowledge, what the NT or Christianity believed about various matters? So, I set aside that literature and began to read the NT, itself. So far, it's been good - I'm progressing. Although there's a lot in there that, for lack of better phrasing, I just don't believe, nonetheless, I've found reading it interesting on three accounts:
1) Seeing how it/Jesus uses Biblical verses (that is, from the Hebrew Bible) that aren't necessarily the way that we Jews read them. On the other hand, it is also interesting to see how the NT is describing certain Biblical laws being followed in that time.
2) Getting a better sense of the origins of certain ideas that have trickled down to our day in contemporary America, but more interestingly, phrases, as well.
3) Reading about certain social circumstances as well as outlooks that would also be reflected upon rabbinic literature as well as similar statements (or dissimilar, for that matter).
This last one is something that may not appeal to a lot of people, but is the most intellectually fascinating aspect to me. Although I may be reading it on account of needing to know this stuff for professional reasons (whether that would be confronting missionaries, contrasting NT statements to Jewish positions, or even just to discuss with Christian clergy), it's this third reason that really keeps me going, as someone who enjoys reading and studying rabbinic literature.