Volume 36 Number 69
                 Produced: Wed Jul 10 21:56:23 US/Eastern 2002

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Artscroll, Shir Ha Shirim, Translation
         [Klafter, Andrew (KLAFTEAB)]
Modesty by Avraham and Sara
         [Jonathan & Randy Chipman]
Pshat and Drash (Shir Hashirim)
         [Shalom Ozarowski]


From: Klafter, Andrew (KLAFTEAB) <KLAFTEAB@...>
Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2002 16:29:40 -0400
Subject: Artscroll, Shir Ha Shirim, Translation

I have enjoyed reading everyone's comments on the Shir HaShirim
"translation" in the Artscroll Siddur.  I share similar objections to
those that have been articulated, but I see the fundamental problem
somewhat differently.  (And while I agree that "Artscroll has done a
tremendous amount of good," this does not exempt Artscroll from
legitimate criticism.)

Take the following phrase: "The grass is always greener in someone
else's yard."  It is a metaphor.  The basic meaning is the metaphoric
meaning and not the literal meaning, and it has nothing to do with green
grass.  A conceptual translation of the metaphor might be, "Our own
problems might always seem worse than other people's problems, but this
is only because we aren't aware of what other peopele are going
through."  If we wanted to translate that phrase into another language,
the best and most common way to do is to translate the literal words of
the metaphor, and then put an explanation about the metaphor's
conceptual meaning in a footnote.  That way, the poetic beauty of the
metaphor is conveyed along with the conceptual meaning.

The Artscroll editors know that what I'm saying is true.  Look in the
Artscroll Chumash at the verse, Leviticus 19:14: "...and you should not
place a stumbling block before a blind person."  ("...v'lifnei iver, lo
titen mikhshol.")  Strictly speaking, this verse has nothing at all to
do with blind people.  This verse is about giving bad advice, or causing
another person to transgress the laws of the Torah.  Nevertheless,
Artscroll translates this metaphor literally, leaving the reader to
deduce the conceptual meaning indpendently.  Artscroll helps the reader
out by commenting on the metaphoric meaning in their footnotes.  Had
Artscroll wanted to, it could have translated the verse as follows:
"...and do not give bad advice or cause others to sin."  (Side note:
according to most authorities, actually placing a stumbling block before
a blind person may not even violate this prohibition, which is about bad
advice and not about physical harm.  See Minchat Chinuch Prohibition
#232, and See "Enabling a Jew to Sin" by Rabbis Broyde and Hertzberg, in
the Journal Of Halacha and Contemporary Society)

What is annoys me about the Artscrollized Shir HaShirim is that the
claim that it is "more precise to use the allegorical translation" is
totally disingenuous.  In most cases, like the one mentioned above,
Artscroll sees it perfectly fitting to translate the literal metaphor
and allow the reader to figure out the conceptual meaning.  Another
example of this is HaShem's "mighty hand and outstretched arm."
Artscroll does not worry that we are going to develop an anthropomorphic
and corporeal conception of HaShem, and they go ahead and translate
those passages literally--not conceptually.

So, why the special treatment of Shir HaShirim?  Apparently breasts and
deep kisses are just too hot for Artscroll to handle.  They feel that
we, the Jewish readership of their books, might develop sinful, lustful
fantasies if we read a literal translation.  My argument is that Shlomo
HaMelech wasn't concerned about this, so why do we need to be FRUMMER
than Shlomo Ha Melech.  It is an untenable position to claim that Jews
that know Hebrew are less succeptible to sinful fantasies than those who
don't know Hebrew.  I don't know who Artscroll thinks it is fooling.

I contend that it is a deep insult to the intelligence and maturity of
the Jewish People to translate Shir HaShirim--the "Holy of Holies" (see
Rashi on Shir HaShirim, and Shir HaShirim Rabba 1:1)--in this prudish,
Victorian, sterile manner.  Shlomo HaMelech is telling us that there is
such passionate love between the Jewish People and HaKadosh Baruch Hu,
that sexuality is the only appropriate metaphor.  There is nothing
shameful about this; to the contrary, it is a Kiddush HaShem.  Indeed,
it would be a Kiddush Ha Shem to produce a translation of Shir HaShirim
with all of its vivid and erotic imagery, and write a religiously
faithful commentary explaining the traditional understanding of the
conceptual meanings of these metaphors, and why such metaphors were
chosen.  (In fact, I had considered undertaking such a project about 9
years ago when I first became acquainted with the Artscroll Shir
HaShirim but I never follow through with it.  I may ask my chavrusa if
he wants to do this with me.  If someone else is engaging in such a
project, please let me know, as I don't want to re-invent or
simultaneously-invent the wheel.)

A final point: Shir HaShirim, "Song of Songs" could also mean "Poem of
Poems" or "Song of Poems."  I.e., Shir HaShirim delcares itself to be
metaphoric and poetic.  Artscroll has turned the "Song of Songs" into
the "Song of Abstractions."

Nachum Klafter, MD
Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry
University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH USA


From: Jonathan & Randy Chipman <yonarand@...>
Date: Wed, 03 Jul 2002 17:06:16 +0300
Subject: re: Modesty by Avraham and Sara

In v36n50, Akiva Miller <kennethgmiller@...> wrote about the
aggadah that Rav Banah, who entered the tomb of Avraham and Sarah and
found them in an embrace, and a gloss saying that this was permitted
because thwere is no Yetzer Hara after death.

Chaim Mateh had asked <<< BTW, why is this Gemoro "bizarre"? >>>

As the "original poster," I found it "bizarre" because it seems to
imply, or assume, that the avot, in their original bodies, retained the
powers of movement even after death.  That seems the claer implication
of this aggadah as given.

Miller goes on to ask two questions:

1) What are the circumstances which led to their bodies embracing even
   after they died? (Remember, they did not die at the same time, so we
   can't say that they were simply buried in that position.)

JC:  That's precisely the point.  The assumption seems to be that they
still engaged in volitional action even then, after death.

2) How does this story demonstrate that there is no Yetzer Hara after
   death? Isn't the opposite true? Why would people be embracing if they
   are in a place where there are no physical pleasures?

JC: The idea seems to me that the embrace was an expression of affection
and feeling of togetherness, but without what we would call "carnal
lust."  The idea as I understand it is that after death they -- and any
person -- return to a child-like state, one like that of Adam and Eve
before "Het hakadmon," the sin in the Garden of Eden, when they sported
together and were naked without sexual desire (such is at least one
possible interpretation of Gen 2:25, "velo yitboshashu").

    This distinction between embrace of affection and embrace of desire
is an important one from another respect.  In terms of kiruv, one of the
hardest things to explain to non-Orthodox people is the rationale of
strict avoidace of contact between men and women; they say "we can hold
hands and even kiss without it going any further...".  The halakha is
premised upon Hazal's keen awareness and understanding of human nature,
that in this world, among living, breathing. warm-blooded people, this
is simply not so.  (I think that people who deny this are either
disingenuous, or very very innocent about life -- but that's another
matter.)  The line in our aggdah that there is no Yetzer in the other
world is simply making this distinction: that in death (whatever it may
mean, as I said, for daed people to embrace, or to engage in any
volitional act or movement; we must assume that Tzadikkim, or at least
the Avot, experience death differently than other people; that's why
thsi whole story is so weird), or by extension in some messianic or
pre-Edenic Goden Age, this may be the case.

    Rav Yehonatan Chipman, Jerusalem


From: <Shalomoz@...> (Shalom Ozarowski)
Date: Thu, 4 Jul 2002 01:23:01 EDT
Subject: Re: Pshat and Drash (Shir Hashirim)

Binyomin Segal wrote:
<< Even among the mefarshim who explicitly limit their commentaries to the
 pshat (rashi, rashbam), they do not always agree about what the pshat is...
 It seems that pshat is something like "the simplest understanding that is 

 As a result, it seems that an argument might be made (not that artscroll did
 this, in fact my recollection is that they are extremely up front in this
 case about what they did) that the metaphorical interpretation of shir
 hashirim IS the pshat! Not sure I want to make that argument personally, but
 I do think its worth thinking about.  >>

I'm not always one to defend artscroll, but i think the points mentioned
are important because they show that the shir hashirim 'pshat' issue is
not a new one.  Regarding pshat in general, there has been much
discussion over its definition by post-midrashic commentators.  The
origin of the term seems to be the Amoraic statement in shabbat 63a (&
yevamot 11b, 24a) of "ein mikra yotzei midei pshuto."  Rav saadia gaon
(intro. to his peirush haaroch al haTorah) defines it as the literal
meaning coupled with logical inference & "seichel" (this may be what
Binyomin had in mind too).  This broader approach to pshat seems to have
been generally adopted by later Spanish/Provencal mefarshim like Ibn
Ezra & Radak.

In Rav Mordechai Breuer's article on pshuto shel mikra (mavo to sefer pirkei 
moadot), he identifies multiple (general) definitions of "pshat": 
1-original intent of the author (vs. drash= impression of the reader)
2-meaning of a pasuk based on its broader context (vs. drash= superliteral, 
'local' rendering)
3-a pasuk's meaning as intended historically- for the immediate
generation in which it addressed (vs. drash= message for later
generations).  [This characterized R. David Tzvi Hoffman's exegetical
approach.]  Rav Breuer concludes that we should understand 'pshat' as
the way the word of G-d is expressed in human terms (an application of
'dibrah Torah k'lashon b'nei adam').  This can often be the literal
translation of a phrase, as if a human being said it.

As far as Rashi goes, I would not say that his peirush is 'limited' to pshat. 
 His famous comment in Breishit 3:8 defines his explanations as twofold: 
1) pshat ("pshuto shel mikra")
2) midreshei chazal which best match the text ("agadah ham'yashevet et
divrei hamikra").  [Since he lived in a climate dominated by midrashic
exegesis, it's important to note that Rashi's attempts to incorporate
'pshat' and only selective midrash may have been viewed as
revolutionary.]  Thus, binyomin's examples of 'complex' pshat are in
fact a blend with- if not mainly- talmudic interpretation which still
fits the text (perhaps because of context etc.).  Please inform me of
any disagreement with this.

An understanding of rashi's general approach in biblical parshanut
should clarify things when viewing shir hashirim through his eyes, as
the artscroll version makes clear that it does.  The first half of
rashi's introduction to the sefer (which artscroll does not quote)
explains how he came to choose midrashim to incorporate in his peirush.
His language there matches closely with his description of 'agada
ham'yashevet et divrei hamikra,' meaning he chose sets of midrashim
which in his view fit the text/'pshat' (category #2).  This is,
l'shitato, how he interpreted the entire sefer as a flowing midrashic
allegory.  The fact that it's the only sefer in Tanach to which rashi
wrote an introduction (then common among Spanish mefarshim but not
elsewhere) highlights SH"S's uniqueness in this sense.  To rashi, a
qualitative difference definitely exists.

Artscroll quotes the 2nd part of Rashi's introduction, in which he
states his resulting opinion ("v'omer ani") that Shlomo Hamelech wrote
SH"S with ruach hakodesh of events of Jewish history.  If rashi is on
target, then the 'drash' with which he approaches the text could be
considered 'pshat' as the overall intent of the sefer (one of Rav
Breuer's initial definitions of the term).

With eitza from rav yaakov kaminetzky zt"l, this is the basis upon which
rabbi scroll did its SH"S rendition.  However, by elevating rashi's
approach to the level of 'translation,' artscroll necessarily- perhaps
overwhelmingly- bypasses the literal meaning of words (regardless of
literal phrases preceding commentary on the bottom).  In artscroll's
cheshbon, the service provided in presenting a coherent midrashic
('rashi-ic') rendition of the sefer outweighs the pitfalls of ignoring
the literal translation [though ironically the drasha in brachot 24a on
womens' hair which shayna brought up does appear in the artscroll
commentary].  I guess you can always consult ibn ezra and metzudot
etc. for linguistic issues :).  I wonder if Artscroll could have used
(adapted) the targum- itself intended as a form of midrashic
translation- as a basis for its english translation?

For a modern work on SH"S, the question then becomes: Is it better to
'suppress' the literal translation to prevent possible distortion of the
symbols, or to offer the literal rendition of the love songs to enhance
the ultimate nimshal?  While artscroll opts for the first approach,
r. amos chacham in daat mikra (hakdama to SH"S) chooses the latter.  The
precedent for this approach is made by the peirush on SH"S of r. yosef
ibn aknin, who notes that the 'outer meaning' of SH"S is important as it
was designed to fascinate readers and propel them to seek the underlying
significance of the shir (also see my post on literary elements in
tanach).  This may be analogous to use of anthropomorphisms throughout
Tanach, where rishonim debate whether to ignore the literal implication
entirely (rambam) or to use it as a vehicle of religious growth (chovot
halvavot and others).

Also, if anyone has Rav Yehuda Kopperman's (from Michlala) recent sefer
on p'shuto shel mikra, I recall that somewhere in the beginning of
volume 2 he has a humorous footnote in reference to the artscroll shir

I welcome further comments/critiques/sources.
shalom ozarowski


End of Volume 36 Issue 69