Volume 39 Number 33
                 Produced: Sun May 18 17:50:51 US/Eastern 2003

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Allegory and Shir Hashirim
         [Akiva Miller]
Names of Tanaim and Amoraim (3)
         [Alex Heppenheimer, Sholom Parnes, Mike Gerver]
Sefirah Beard
         [Batya Medad]
Sfirah Beards
         [Dov Teichman]
Some examples in Song of Song Translation
         [Russell J Hendel]


From: <kennethgmiller@...> (Akiva Miller)
Date: Wed, 14 May 2003 10:54:26 -0400
Subject: Allegory and Shir Hashirim

Everyone else is writing their thoughts about translating Shir HaShirim,
so I figured I'd add mine as well.

The Artscroll Siddur opens the Shir Hashirim section with:

<<< As the entire gamut of Talmudic and Rabbinic literature relating to
Shir HaShirim makes clear, this highly emotional, seemingly sensuous song
is an allegory. As such, a literal translation would be misleading - even
false - because it would not convey the meaning intended by King Solomon,
the composer. >>>

The question, then, is "What *IS* the meaning intended by the composer?"

It seems to me that the question of how to translate Shir HaShirim is
very closely related to how to translate any of the anthropomorphisms
which are rampant throughout both Scripture and our liturgy.

When a sage or prophet (or HaShem Himself, in the case of the Torah!)
chooses to write about HaShem's "face" or His "hand", that too is an
allegory. He certainly does not have an actual face or hand, but that
word was chosen because we understand its meaning, and so it gives us a
way of relating to the true subject.

Take, for example, the Torah's introduction to Az Yashir, which
Artscroll translates as "Israel saw the great hand that Hashem inflicted
upon Egypt."

The Torah - and Artscroll - could have used a word other than "hand"
here, but deliberately chose that word in order to give a certain poetic
meaning and feeling. That poetic feeling would be lacking from the
translation if they chose to translate it as "the great punishment that
Hashem inflicted". By translating it as "hand", that poetic meaning is
preserved. (On the other hand, some people don't understand poetry as
easily as others, so there is probably an commentary on that verse who
points out that "Hashem doesn't really have a hand. This refers to the

Now, does anyone suggest that a literal translation -- "the great hand"
-- is misleading or false because does not convey the meaning intended
by G-d, the Author? No, I don't think so. On the contrary, translating
it as "punishment" would be the misleading one, because it loses the
poetic flavor intended by the Author, and it locks the reader into one
specific interpretation of what "hand" refers to.

There's another important point I must make about allegory and
anthropomorphism. In order for the author to achieve these poetic and
interpretive goals, the author needs to choose words which have meaning
to the reader. It would be disastrous for the Author to write "the great
elephant that Hashem inflicted" (because that conveys a meaning very
different than intended) or "the great sdfgasdfsa that Hashem inflicted"
(because it conveys no meaning at all) -- and this is true EVEN IF the
accompanying oral tradition clarifies that "this refers to the

Rather, the author must choose a word which does convey a meaning to the
reader. Even better, a word which is *rich* in meaning, and will add
richness and nuance to the text. The introduction to Az Yashir would
lose much meaning to a person who does not understand what a "hand" is,
and I daresay that Shir Hashirim would be lost to one who does not know
what a "gazelle" is, or what "breasts" are.

And therein lies what I perceive to be the main fault of Artscroll's
"Allegorical Translation". If the translation would clarify the *entire*
allegory, that would be wonderful. But I think that the true intention
is not to clarify, but to sanitize.

Take verse 4:5, for example.

Artscroll's *literal* translation (in the commentary section of their
Tanach) is: "Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle,
who feed among the roses."

Artcroll's actual commentary (in their Tanach) explains that "Moses and
Aaron are like the breasts that nurtured Israel. They are called "twins"
because they were of equal stature. Like shepherds, Moses and Aaron
guided their nation along tranquil paths."

Artcroll's "allegorical rendering" (in both their Siddur and Tanach) is:
"Moses and Aaron, your two sustainers, are like two fawns, twins of the
gazelle, who graze their sheep in roselike bounty."

My argument is that Artscroll seems to have been careful to preserve the
poetry of "fawns", "twins", "gazelle", and "roses", and seems to have
deliberately censored out the "breasts".

If their true intention had been to both clarify the allegory and also
preserve the poetry, they could have come up with something like "Moses
and Aaron, who sustain their flock like a mother's breasts, are like two
fawns of equal stature, twins of the gazelle, who graze their sheep in
roselike bounty." And if they wanted *only* to clarify the allegory,
*without* preserving the poetry, it would be something like "Moses and
Aaron, who nurtured Israel with equal stature, shepherded their nation
along tranquil paths."

But they did not merely add commentary, nor merely expurgate the poetry.
They picked and chose, and in the view of many readers, their basis for
this picking and choosing seems to be based purely on removing what some
might call pornographic references. And THAT's what is bothering most of

Akiva Miller


From: Alex Heppenheimer <aheppenh@...>
Date: Wed, 14 May 2003 11:13:19 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Names of Tanaim and Amoraim

In MJ 39:27, <ENGINEERED@...> wrote:
> Still certain important names standout as missing.  Can anybody 
> suggest why the following names do not appear from the time of the 
> Bible until the Geonim:
> Avraham, Moshe, David, Yeshaya(hu).

Actually, the Gemara (Bava Basra 174b) mentions a person named Moshe,
whose son Rav Huna (not to be confused with the well-known Amora of that
name) was a young talmid chacham. Still, it does seem that this name was
used only rarely.

My personal theory is that the first three names were generally seen as
being "too special" to be used by anyone except their original bearers:
for parents to use them when naming their sons would have amounted to
saying that this child is going to be the next Avraham or Moshe or
David, and if they didn't live up to that, it might bring the name
itself into disrepute. (Why that wouldn't apply to other Biblical
personalities, such as Avraham and Yitzchak, though, I don't know.)

Continuing this train of thought, it's possible that once Islam came
along and its adherents began using the Arabic forms of these names,
there was a feeling that we should reclaim them as Jewish names. [Then,
too, it was quite common in Gaonic times, and much later, for Jews to
bear Arabic bynames in addition to their Hebrew ones - for example, R'
Saadiah Gaon was also known as Said (al-Fayyumi) - so it could be that
these names were first reintroduced to Jewish use in their Arabic forms,
and then later came back into use as Hebrew names.]

As for Yeshayahu - since he died an unnatural death (see Yevamos 49b),
it's possible that people may not have wanted to name their sons after
him for fear of it being an evil omen. (Indeed, I've seen a statement -
I don't recall the source, though - that for this reason we use only the
shorter form of the name: Yeshayah, not Yeshayahu.) Although this would
fail to explain why the name Yoshiyah was used, despite the fact that
the Biblical bearer of that name was killed in battle.

Kol tuv,

From: Sholom Parnes <merbe@...>
Date: Wed, 14 May 2003 23:12:00 +0200
Subject: Names of Tanaim and Amoraim

Interesting question !

I looked in "Toldot Tanaim Ve'Amoraim" by Rav Aharon Hayman and found
one Rav Avram Chozeah (Gittin 50A), one Rav Moshe bar Atzra Hakohen
(Baba Batra 174B), one Rav David bar Nihilai of Nehardoa (Yevamot 115B)
and four different Yeshayas: 1) at the end of Niddah in the Yalkut
version - standard versions say Shmaya. 2) Yeshaya ben Tirah mentioned
in the Tosefta at the end of Baba Kama. 3) Yeshaya Habosem mentioned in
Shviet chapter 5 halacha 2. and 4) R' Yeshaya the student of R' Chanina
ben Dosa mentioned in the Yalkut on Bo remez 187.

All the names that Avraham Norin is looking for are used by a total of
just seven different tanaim/amoraim and they are mentioned in the
sources only one time each.

Compare this to names that are not used today like Acha (about 75
different t/a's) or Rava (about 60 different t/a's ).


Esther & Sholom Parnes
Sderot David Hamelech 65/3
Efrat, Israel 90435

From: <MJGerver@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Wed, 14 May 2003 16:49:21 EDT
Subject: Names of Tanaim and Amoraim

I don't know why these names weren't used at the time of the Tanaim and
Amoraim, but I have heard that the name Avraham, at least, first began
to be used again by Jews in Muslim countries, because Muslims used the
name Ibrahim, and the practice later spread to Ashkenazim. If you look
at lists of famous rabbis, this seems to be true-- the earliest use of
Avraham is in Spain and North Africa, e.g. Avraham Ibn Ezra. I would
guess that the same thing might well be true of David, since I know that
Daoud is a popular name among Muslims to this day. I'm not sure about
Moshe and Yeshaya.

In 1986, a friend at work came raving to me about a book he had recently
read, "The Book of Abraham" by Marek Halter, and said I just had to read
it.  I borrowed it from him. It was one of those family sagas, which
spans almost two thousand years of Jewish history, up to the
present. The character of the title was a Jew named Avraham who lived
through the destruction of the Second Temple. A key part of the plot
hinged on there being a new moon on the night the Second Temple burned,
so our hero could escape from the city at night without being
seen. After a few more things like this, I put the book down, and
returned it to my friend. I just couldn't enjoy it.

Mike Gerver
Raanana, Israel


From: Batya Medad <ybmedad@...>
Date: Wed, 14 May 2003 17:24:23 +0200
Subject: Re: Sefirah Beard

      to say you look messy, it is permitted to shave (aiui) and perhaps

Whiskers in January are "messy," (except during the shloshim of
mourning, perhaps) but the same length whiskers in late April or May are
a sfira beard, once more men sprout them proudly.  Forty, fifty years
ago and more it was rare for a married woman to cover her hair.  Now
it's one of the things the girls look forward to as part of marriage.



From: <DTnLA@...> (Dov Teichman)
Date: Wed, 14 May 2003 12:59:06 -0400
Subject: Re: Sfirah Beards

27 L'Matmonim

<Brikspartzuf@...> (Tzvi Briks) writes:

> It is amazing that in my Shul in Scarsdale, I'm the only one 'sporting'
> a Sefirah Beard.  I, of course, wear it for Kabblastic reasons to
> reflect the pure 'light' of the Omer Naki.  This represents the level of
> the Keter that will eventually make its manifestation on Shavuot.

Kabbalistically, the beard is NEVER allowed to be shaved or trimmed,
every hair is holy. The Zohar and Arizal emphasize this. (There is even
a custom to leave beard hairs that fall out inside seforim.) The
Arizal/R. Chaim Vital wrote that hair is not cut during the entire
sefirah (including Lag Baomer or other occasions) not for reasons of
mourning, but rather Kabbalistic reasons as you mention. He was
obviously referring only to head hair.  (Just as an aside, the only
Kabbalist reported to have been clean shaven was the Italian Kabbalist
Rabbi Menachem Azariah of Pano (1548 - 1620), author of "Asara
Maamaros". However, many refute this as erroneous.)

Dov Teichman


From: Russell J Hendel <rjhendel@...>
Date: Tue, 13 May 2003 09:05:07 -0400
Subject: Some examples in Song of Song Translation

I am amazed, that despite the long discussion on the translation of the
Song of Songs over 20-40 issues, nevertheless NOT ONE EXAMPLE has been
cited. Wouldnt it help the discussion if we could illumine the two sides
with concrete and specific examples that illustrate the point.

So let me give one and offer some insights. Song of Songs 4:5 states
(literallY): Your two breasts resemble two swans -- twinned in color --
wading in lillies.

The Song of Songs Rabbah states: TWO BREASTS--this refers to Moses and
Aaron who nursed the Jewish people with the Torah (Which is compared to

I in fact one heard Rabbi Irving Greenberg, who spoke at MIT when I was
an undergraduate---he mentioned this midrash and the whole of Kresge
Auditorium broke out in laughter.

I however did not laugh...I was used to the Midrashic approach. I
wondered why everyone else laughed. I realize they laughed because of
the incongruity between the topics of BREASTS vs LEARNING.

The above example allows us to discuss approaches to translation.Let us
compare two approaches.

Suppose we cite the verse as is: Your 2 breasts resemble 2 swans...

Then we run the risk that people will not know that the verse refers to
Moses and Aaron. I think such a risk motivated Artscroll to translate
the way it did. Note: I am not justifying Artscroll--rather I am
pointing out in a specific way their goals and concerns.

The alternate point of view is to translate the verse into the allegory:
--Moses and Aaron are like two swans--twinned in prophecy--wading among
the Jewish people who are compared to Lillies and giving them the Torah
(that is compared to milk).

Such a translation does tell us what the Bible is talking about. However
as one poster pointed out (in the name of the Rav) it ONLY gives us one
interpretation. There might be other interpretations which we now have

Furthermore we lose the bounciness and punchiness of the verse. The
verse is not just informing us of content--it is also creating an
atmosphere: The image of two twinned swans wading in lillies--the image
of two breasts wading over a womens lilly-white body--these images set
an atmosphere.

The atmosphere influences perception. Moses and Aaron are no longer
people with long beards and halos on their head giving their life. They
are kind tender people nursing a helpless society.

So of course--we do lose something--we lose this imagery and bounciness.

Having said all this what is the conclusion: I think the conclusion of
Artscroll is that we should lose some imagery in order to at least tell
people what the Bible is taking about. We also lose other translations.
There is a give and take--a trade and balance.

Notice what I have added: I have shown, by using a specific example,
that Artscroll a) is aware that they are throwing something away and b)
they have a strong concern because their audience probably doesnt
understand the allegory. By bringing in the specific example we also can
possible discuss other solutions.

Russell Jay Hendel; http://www.RashiYomi.com/


End of Volume 39 Issue 33