Parshegen, an amazing new work on Targum Onkelos
By Eliezer Brodt
רפאל בנימין פוזן, פרשגן, ביאורים ומקורות לתרגום אונקלוס, בראשית,963 עמודים.
הנ"ל, העקיבות התרגומית בתרגום אונקלוס, מגנס, ירושליםתשס"ד, 362 עמודים.
After many years of waiting, one volume of a highly anticipated work on Targum Onkelos, Parshegen, has finallyappeared. This volume by Rabbi Dr. Rafael Posen is an in-depth study of Targum Onkelos. Many have studied Targum Onkelos over the centuries, and continue to do so - especially when doing Shenayim Mikra Ve-echad Targum weekly, but few have penetrated the depths of this incredible work. To be sure, many others have treated the Targum before this work, most notably Rashi and the Ramban. Different works and articles by many authors have focused on different aspects of the Onkelos. But there are few that have done what Rabbi Posen sets out to do in this work.
Rabbi Posen has long demonstrated his great expertise in the Targum in numerous articles in various journals (both academic and rabbinic) over many years. A few years ago Rabbi Posen published a work on the Targum based on his doctorate called Ha-Iykivut Ha-targumit Be-Targum Onkelos (The Consistency of Targum Onkelos’ Translation). This work, printed by Magnes Press, outlines some of his themes in dealing with the Targum. I highly recommend it for someone who wishes to grow in his appreciation for Onkelos (henceforth TO). One of his themes in this book, which others have also dealt with, is to show the great consistency within TO and the significance of the exception. Many times TO uses a certain word to explain something consistently throughout the Chumash except for one or two places where he uses a different term. Posen successfully shows that there was a coherent system in how and when TO used which words in which places. He explains why he deviated in some places and that it was in no way random or sloppy. It is precisely these deviations, when understood, which can show what makes TO so special and that is not just a simple translation of the Torah.
In this work Posen uses manuscripts and the academic literature available on TO side by side with all the traditional seforim written on TO. He does not just gather information but he dissects and analyzes it all very carefully, sometimes reaching his own original conclusions. He also deals with other important aspects related to understanding why Onkelos translated as he did as it relates to Halacha, Aggadah and other theological issues, such as how TO deals with anthropomorphism, which is probably the most famous TO issue of all. He also deals with the relationship of Onkelos to Midrashei Halacha and Aggadah. In each case he gives a good overview of the prior literature and issues that have been raised on that particular topic.
However in this book he only gives samples of his commentarial work on TO, outlining his ideas, so although he deals with many different pieces in TO (as a quick look at the index will show) it’s not a running commentary of TO in any way.
In the introduction he mentions that he is in middle of writing a work on Targum Onkeles called Parshegen which will be a running commentary on the whole Targum. Parshegen volume one has just been released by Yefeh Nof, his nephew’s publishing house [which will perhaps explain why there is no mention that Rabbi Posen is a Dr. having written a PhD on TO].This new volume is just on Genesis and is 963 pages! The presentation of the material is beautiful, well organized, concise and to the point (and if it's 963 page and concise, you know it's good). It is therefore a veritable goldmine. Rabbi Posen’s focus is to give the reader a clear explanation of why TO says what it does. Under the assumption that TO always has a very good reason for specifically translating the words, Rabbi Posen demonstrates how exactly TO did this. As he does in his other work, he uses the necessary manuscripts, early prints of the Targum and the academic literature available alongside the seforim written on TO. He does not just gather information, but he dissects and analyzes it very carefully, checking if they are consistent with other places in the Targum. His competent use of manuscripts show how many times they can help one understand different Targumic issues. This path was not followed by many of the more recent Charedi works on TO. Posen also shows how having a good background in the Aramaic language helps a great deal. Another area he focuses on is the various statements of TO that play a role in Halacha and to underscore this, how at times it is even quoted in the Shu”t literature. He also focuses on the Targum’s usage of Midrash (both Halacha and Aggadah) which others have dealt with before. To better understand Onkelos he sometimes compares and contrasts it with the other Targumim.
To mention some other highlights of the work, in the beginning he includes a nice collection of sources about Onkelos and a very good overview of the Targum literature in general, and who likely wrote TO, and where. He included a very cool, lengthy poem about Onkelos, written in Aramaic, which he authored, as well as a running commentary explaining it. The work concludes with a nice appendix (over forty-five pages) dealing with perhaps the most famous issues that his many predecessors, beginning with the Rambam, have dealt with – TO’s approach to anthropomorphism. Parshegen includes a very nice haskamah from Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, who mentions that he went through this whole work as it was written over the years, adding many comments which Posen found useful and included in this work.
All in all if, one wants to learn TO on a high level and to appreciate how special the Targum is, I highly recommend it. I feel that Rabbi Posen successfully accomplishes the goals he set in the introduction of his book: to write a clear and concise commentary on the Targum Onkelos. If one uses it one will definitely be able to understand why TO enjoys pre-eminence of all the Targumic literature. I only hope that the remaining volumes will appear in the near future as planned.
Parshegen is distributed by Yefeh Nof and it should be available in all stores shortly. For now see Girsa in Jerusalem and Biegeleisen in NY. If one wants some samples pages please contact me at Eliezerbrodt@gmail.com.
I wanted to add one notation to this work. An area of halacha in which Targum Onkelos plays an important role isto differentiate between the names of Hashem in the Torah which are Kodesh and which are Chol. The reason why this is important is because the halacha is that every time a sofer writes a name of Hashem in a Sefer Torah he has to articulate that it’s “Leshem Kedushat Hashem.” Failing to do so, the Sefer Torah is pasul. Now Rabbi Posen is well aware of this and deals withTO as it relates to this issue. However, one important work which I did not see him quote from is the Meleches Hakodesh(Prague 1812) of Rabbi Eleazer Fleckeles, who gathered all these ambiguous name, the opinions of everyone who remarked upon them and reached conclusions about each one. In addition, he deals with Onkelos in many of the places.
Another work in relation to this topic, which Rabbi Posen does use, is called Biur Shemos Kodesh Vechol. This work was printed in 1923 by Haham Moses Gaster. For many years it was assumed to be from the Rambam, as per the attribution. Rabbi Kirshbaum wrote some interesting notes on this sefer (Tzion Le-menachem, siman 6). In 1985, Y. Levinger proved that it is a forgery and it is not from the Rambam. Rabbi Posen writes that Rabbis Kapach and Nebenzahl also do not agree that it is from the Rambam. R. Yitzchac Shilat told me that he too does not believe it to be authentic. Rabbi Posen points all this out in a footnote in the end of the book (pp. 922-923). However he should have mentioned this already in the beginning when he quotes the work a few times (see p. 77, 112). Other recent works used this sefer without even realizing that - at best - it is hardly clear that it is an authentic work of the Rambam, such as Miat Tzori (p. 6) and Nikadesh es Shimcha (all over the sefer).
There will be follow-up post about Rabbi Posen's footnote in Parshegen about Shadal's path-breaking Ohev Ger (Vienna 1830; rp. Cracow 1895) on Targum Onkelos and it's use. I will jump off from there and also discuss the use of Shadal and Rabbi Naftali Hirz Wessely in seforim in general.
 Reviewed in Hamayan 45:1 pp. 88-89.
 Although the author is not referred to asa Dr., the works of S. Leiberman (p. 66) Cassuto (p. 161) L. Ginzburg (p.4 3 ) L. Zunz (p. 42) are all referenced normally. In the volume printed by Magnes Press Posen thanks his teachers Dov Rafel and Nechama Leibowitz in the introduction, but probably for similar reasons he does not do so in this volume, although he does quote them both [for ex. see p. 142, 152]. This volume is surely intended as a "sefer."
 See R. M. Frieman, Pores Mapah, pp. 190-198.
 I. Twersky when he quotes this work inhis work on the Rambam does not comment. H. Davidson in his work on the Rambam, Moses Maimonides, (Oxford Press 2005), where he deals with works misattributed to the Rambam does not even mention such a work.