Monday, December 19, 2011

Abraham, Sarah and Abimelech -- in Genesis 20

Question: A pastor from a small Florida town requested the Jewish explanation of the obscure term "kesut einayim" in Genesis 20:16. He also wanted an explanation of how 1,000 pieces of silver could clear Sarah's reputation, and what was its significance in the context of ancient Near Eastern law and custom.

: Although this term is often translated as "vindication", its literal meaning is "covering of the eyes."

Nahum Sarna's The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (1989) provides a succinct summary of the literal and figurative meanings of this phrase (p. 144). The ArtScroll Tanach Series commentary on Genesis by Zlotowitz provides a variety of explanations by a range of classical rabbinic commentators. For example:

According to Rashbam, the 1,000 pieces of silver refers to the dowry Abimelech gave Abraham (Sarah's supposed brother) demonstrating Abimelech's honorable intention to legally marry Sarah. Regarding "kesut einayim" Rashi says "The gifts I have given to you will serve to close the eyes of all those who would otherwise have regarded you contemptuously" (Artscroll p. 738)--again emphasizing Abimelech's honorable intentions, the restoration of Sarah's honor and the removal of any disgrace. R' Bachya and Rav Yehudah bar Ilia emphasize the literal meaning of "kesut": a garment. Sarah should wear a garment which will distract the public from noticing her beauty, or a veil which will actually hide Sarah from public view.

Sarna refers us to Moshe Weinfeld's article "Sarah and Abimelech (Genesis 20) Against the Background of an Assyrian Law and the Genesis Apocryphon" in Mélanges Bibliques et Orientaux en l’Honneur de M. Mathias Delcor (1985). Weinfeld demonstrates how a text of Genesis Apocryphon found at Qumran partially verifies Cassuto's 1944 hypothesis that that the transfer of money from Abimelech to Abraham was a standard legal practice in the Middle East in such situations. This Qumran text includes an additional detail in the Abraham/Sarah/Abimelech narrative, which is absent in the Biblical text. An oath is uttered by Abimelech.

Weinfeld quotes a translation of Middle Assyrian Laws: “a man who takes a married woman on a . . . journey with him, without knowing that she is married, must make an oath to that effect [that he did not know she was married] and give two talents of tin to the woman’s husband (Middle Assyrian Laws, I, sect. 22)” p. 431. Weinfeld's conclusion: “we can assume that we have here a practice widespread over the ancient Near East for a period of more than a thousand years.” p. 432

Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Interesting Image - Where Does It Come From?

The above image was sent to the JTS Library. The sender did not know the source of the image. He wanted to know more about it and where it came from. Here is the analysis of the image that I wrote in response:

The design contains two quotes in RaShi script. They read as follows:
Starting from the top left of the circle and heading left and downwards, the words read:

הענן לא היה יכול / לב[ו]א נסתלק ה / הענן נכנס ומדבר / עמו
the cloud he was not able / to enter when the cloud lifted he would enter and speak / with Him

The forward-slashes in my transcription represent spaces. The italicized letter represents the insertion of the first letter of the "word-following-the-space", at the end of the "group-of-words-coming-before-the-space", possibly to guide the reader as to which section to read next. The bracketed letter represents a letter that is found in the source text that I examined (i.e. RaSHI's commentary to the Humash)but is missing from the design.
These words of the design are a quote of some of RaShI’s commentary to Exodus 40:35. I have transcribed RaShi’s commentary from the Bar Ilan Responsa online database’s transcription of the Jerusalem 1959 edition of RaShi’s commentary (itself a reprint of the Vienna 1859 edition). RaShI’s comment here is based on Sifra (Beraita de-Rabi Yishmael, parshah 1, paragraph 8). RaShI’s comment reads as follows:

ולא יכול משה לבוא אל אהל מועד - וכתוב אחד אומר (במדבר ז פט) ובבא משה אל אהל מועד, בא הכתוב השלישי והכריע ביניהם, כי שכן עליו הענן, אמור מעתה כל זמן שהיה עליו הענן לא היה יכול לבוא, נסתלק הענן נכנס ומדבר עמו:
And Moshe was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting – But another verse states (Numbers 7:89) “and when Moshe entered the Tent of Meeting” [a seeming contradiction]? A third verse comes and resolves [the contradiction] between them “because the cloud rested on [the Tent of Meeting]”. We can now explain: as long as the cloud rested on [the Tent of Meeting], he [Moshe] was not able to enter. When the cloud lifted, he [Moshe] would enter and speak with Him:

The bolded words represent the portion of RaShI’s comment included in the design.

Starting from the bottom right of the circle and heading right and upwards and then into the Star of David, the words read:

לעיני כל בני / י' / ישר[א]ל בכל מסעי/הם בכל מסע ש? / שהיו נוסעים ה[י]ה הענן שוכן ב / במקום אשר יחנו שם מקום ח / חנייתם אף הוא קרוי מסע וכן / וילך למס/עיו וכן / אלה מסעי לפי ש[מ]מ/קום הח/נייה חזרו / ונסעו ל / לפיכך / נקראו
Before the eyes of all the Children of Israel in all their journeys in every journey that they journeyed the cloud would rest in the place that they were to encamp the place that they encamped is also called a journey and so and he went according to his journeys and so these are the journeys because from the place of encampment they again journeyed therefore they were called

The meaning of the forward-slashes, small italicized letters, and brackets has been discussed above. The question mark signifies that the preceding letter is unclear and conjectured. The text in blue indicate words that deviate from the version found in the source text I examined.
This part of the design is a quote (with some minor differences) of most of RaShI’s commentary to Exodus 40:38:

לעיני כל בית ישראל בכל מסעיהם – בכל מסע שהיו נוסעים היה הענן שוכן במקום אשר יחנו שם. מקום חנייתן אף הוא קרוי מסע, וכן (בראשית יג ג) וילך למסעיו, וכן (במדבר לג א) אלה מסעי לפי שממקום החנייה חזרו ונסעו, לכך נקראו כולן מסעות:
Before the eyes of all the House of Israel in all their journeys - In every journey that they journeyed the cloud would rest in the place that they were to encamp. The place that they encamped is also called a “journey” and so [we find this expression used elsewhere, as in] “and he went according to his journeys” (Genesis 13:3) and so [as in] “these are the journeys” (Numbers 33:1). [The reason for the word journey being used to mean encampment is] because from the place of encampment they again journeyed, therefore [the places of encampment] were all called “journeys”:

Again, the bolded words represent the portion of RaShI’s commentary included in the design and the text in blue indicates differences from the wording or spelling found in the design.

Despite the identification of the text on which this design is based. We have not yet been able to find the source of the image or understand its significance. If anyone can assist us in doing so, please, let us know in the comments section. Thank you