Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Nachmanides Introduced the Notion that Targum Onkelos Contains Derash

Nachmanides Introduced the Notion that Targum Onkelos Contains Derash

By Israel Drazin



People today read Targum Onkelos and search it for derash, halakhah, and homiletical teachings. The following will show that the rabbis in the Talmuds and Midrashim and the Bible commentators who used the Targum before the thirteenth century recognized that the Aramaic translation only contains the Torah’s peshat, its plain meaning, and not sermonic material. It will survey how the pre-thirteenth century rabbis and scholars used Onkelos and how Nachmanides changed the way the Targum was understood. It was only after this Nachmanides change that other interpreters of Onkelos read derash into this Targum. The article also introduces the reader to Onkelos and explains why the Talmudic rabbis required that it be read and why many Jews failed to observe this rabbinic requirement.

The Law
The Babylonian Talmud and the later Jewish codes mandate that Jews read the Torah portion weekly, twice in the original Hebrew and once in Targum Onkelos.[1] Moses Maimonides and Josef Karo, whose law codes are regarded in many circles as binding, felt that it is vital to understand the Bible text through the eyes of its rabbinically accepted translation Targum Onkelos, and many authorities agree that no other translation will do.[2] This raises some questions.

What is Targum Onkelos?
The word Targum means “translation,” thus Targum Onkelos means a translation by Onkelos. Targum Onkelos is a translation of the five books of Moses, from the Hebrew into Aramaic. The rabbis placed their imprimatur upon Targum Onkelos[3] and considered it the official translation. Although there are other Aramaic translations[4] and ancient Greek ones,[5] and latter translations into other languages, Targum Onkelos is the most literal. Yet despite being extremely literal, it contains over 10,000 differences from the original Hebrew text.[6]

The Significance of Onkelos
Onkelos was extolled by all the Bible commentaries. Rashi states that the Onkelos translation was revealed at Mt. Sinai.[7] Tosaphot[8] made a similar statement and contends that there are places in the Torah that simply cannot be understood without the Onkelos translation.

Some people consider these comments as hyperbolic or metaphoric - that the authors meant that Onkelos is so significant that it is as if it were a divine gift handed to Moses at Sinai. But whether literal or metaphoric, it is clear that these sages are expressing a reverence for Onkelos not accorded to any other book in Jewish history, a reverence approaching the respect they gave to the Torah itself. This veneration continued and is reflected in the fact that for many centuries every printed edition of the Pentateuch contained an Onkelos text that was generally given the preferential placement adjacent to the Torah.

Why did the rabbis require Jews to read Targum Onkelos?
It is significant that the Talmudic dictum was written when there were many important exegetical rabbinical collections, the Talmuds, Genesis Rabbah, Mekhilta, Sifra, and Sifrei, among others. Remarkably, the rabbis did not require Jews to read these books, filled with interesting derash, explanations written by the rabbis themselves. They only mandated the reading of Onkelos when reviewing the weekly Torah portion.

Furthermore, by the time the Shulchan Arukh was composed in the sixteenth century and the Talmudic law was stated in it, most of the classical medieval biblical commentaries, which included derash, were already in circulation. While Joseph Karo, its author, suggests that one could study Rashi on a weekly basis in place of the Targum, he quickly adds that those who have “reverence for God” will study both Rashi and Onkelos. The explanation offered by TAZ, a commentary on the Shulchan Arukh, is that while Rashi enables the student to read the Bible and gain access to Talmudic and Oral Law insights, Onkelos is still indispensable for understanding the text itself.

Thus, the rabbis, who composed books containing midrashic interpretations, felt that it was so important for Jews to know the plain meaning of the Torah that they mandated that Jews read Targum Onkelos every week.[9] When did people stop seeing that Onkelos contains the Torah’s plain meaning and read derash into the wording of the Targum?

The Earliest Understanding of Targum Onkelos
There was no problem understanding the intent of Targum Onkelos until the thirteenth century, close to a millennium after it was composed. At that time, Nachmanides was the first commentator to introduce the concept that people should read Onkelos to find deeper meaning, meaning that went beyond the plain sense of the text. These included mystical lessons, what Nachmanides called derekh haemet, the true way.

The conclusion that Onkelos contains only the simple meaning of the Torah is supported by an examination of how the ancients, living before the thirteenth century, consistently and without exception, used Onkelos only for its peshat. Although many of these Bible commentators were interested in and devoted to the derash that could be derived from biblical verses, and although they were constantly using Onkelos for its peshat, they never employed the Targum to find derash or to support their conclusion that the verse they were discussing contained derash. This situation changed when for the first time Nachmanides mined the Targum to uncover derash.[10] Nachmanides used Onkelos to support his interpretation of the Torah.

This is significant since many of these rabbinical commentators were far more interested in derash than in peshat. If they felt that Onkelos contained derash, they would have used this translation, which they extolled, as Nachmanides later did, to support their midrashic interpretations of the Torah. The following are the ancient sources.

Midrashim and Talmuds
The first references to a Targum are in the Midrashim and the Babylonian Talmud. A Targum is mentioned 17 times in the Midrashim[11] and 18 times in the Babylonian Talmud.[12] Each of the 35 quotes is an attempt to search the Targum for the meaning of a word. Although these sources were inclined to midrashic explanations, they never tried to draw midrashic interpretations from the Targum. Thus, the Midrashim and the Babylonian Talmud understood that the Targum is a translation and not a source for derash.

Die Masorah Zum Targum Onkelos
A volume of targumic traditions collected in Die Masorah Zum Targum Onkelos is said to have been composed in the third century but was most likely written a couple of centuries later,[13] after the Talmuds. It also has no suggestion that Onkelos contains derash. The book attempts to describe the Targum completely, but contains only translational traditions about Onkelos. If the author(s) believed that Onkelos has derash, he/they would have included traditions about it.

Saadiah Gaon
The works of Saadiah Gaon, born in 882 C.E., also contain no indication that Onkelos has derash. Saadiah composed a translation of the Bible into Arabic and used Targum Onkelos extensively to discover the plain meaning of words. He never even hinted that his predecessor’s work contains derash.[14] This is significant since Saadiah emphasized the Torah’s plain meaning and used Onkelos frequently in his Arabic translation.[15] He quotes Onkelos on every page without attribution. His uses Onkelos as a translation so extensively that if readers have difficulty understanding Onkelos, they can look at the Saadiah translation and be able to see what the targumist is saying.

Menachem ibn Saruq
Menachem ibn Saruq, a tenth century Spanish lexicographer, was explicit on the subject. He called Onkelos a ptr, a translation.[16]

Samuel ben Hofni Gaon
Samuel Ben Hofni Gaon headed the Babylonian Academy at Sura in Babylonia during the years 997-1013 and wrote a biblical commentary. He refers to Targum Onkelos on several occasions,[17] uses the Targum to understand the meaning of words, and always treats it as a literal translation without derash.

Rashi
No biblical commentator relied more on Onkelos than Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, better known as Rashi, born in 1040. He extols Onkelos, as stated above, mentions the targumist by name hundreds of times,[18] and incorporates the targumic interpretation without attribution in hundreds of other comments. He has a non-rigid blend of peshat and derash in his commentary,[19] and frequently quotes the Talmuds and Midrashim as the origin of his derash. He never uses Onkelos as a source for his derash or treats the Targum other than as a translation. It should be obvious that since Rashi relied on Onkelos, whom he considered holy, for peshat, if he saw derash in the Targum he would have said so.

Rashbam
Rashi’s grandson Samuel ben Meir (also known as Rashbam, about 1085 – 1174) wrote his Bible commentary in large measure to liberate people from derash and to show his disagreement with Rashi’s frequent use of derash.[20] He seldom mentions his sources, but draws from Onkelos with respect, usually by name. In Genesis, for example, where Rashi is only named in 37:2, Onkelos is quoted in 21:16, 25:28, 26:26, 28:2, 40:11, and 41:45. In Deuteronomy, to cite another example, Onkelos is mentioned in 4:28, 16:2, 16:9, 17:18, and 23:13. While he criticizes his grandfather with and without attribution for his use of derash,[21] and occasionally disagrees with Onkelos, he never rebukes the targumist for using derash.[22] Like his predecessors, he saw no derash in Targum Onkelos.

Abraham ibn Ezra
Abraham ibn Ezra (1089 -1164), like Rashbam, was determined to distance himself from derash and establish the literal meaning of the biblical text in his Bible commentaries, as he states in his two introductions. He uses Onkelos frequently as a translation, and only as a translation, to prove the meaning of words.

Ibn Ezra was the first to note some few isolated instances of derash in the Targum. This first observation of derash in Onkelos, I believe, is because derash did not exist in the original Targum text.[23] Various over-zealous well-meaning scribes embedded it at a later period, probably around the time that Ibn Ezra discovered it. Ibn Ezra recognizes that Onkelos’ purpose is to offer peshat because he states that the targumist is following his (ibn Ezra’s) own method, the “straight (or right) way” of peshat to interpret the Hebrew according to grammatical rules.[24]

Maimonides
Shortly thereafter, Maimonides, born in 1138, supported part of his rationalistic philosophy by using Onkelos. Maimonides recognized that the targumist deviated frequently from a literal rendering of the biblical text to remove anthropomorphism and anthropopathisms to avoid portraying God in a human fashion, for this is “a fundamental element in our faith, and the comprehension of which is not easy for the common people.”[25] Maimonides never uses Onkelos for derash. 

Joseph Bechor Schor
Joseph Bechor Schor (born around 1140) adopted the literal methodology of Rashbam.[26] However, he is not as consistent as Rashbam. He inserts homiletical comments along with those that are literal. He mentions Rashbam only twice by name but quotes Onkelos dozens of times to support his own definition of a word when his interpretation is literal. Although he used Onkelos and derash, he never states or even suggests that Onkelos contains derash [27] and never uses Onkelos to support his homiletical remarks.

Radak
David Kimchi (known as Radak, about 1160 – 1235) wrote biblical commentaries using the text’s plain sense in contrast to the homiletical elaborations that were prevalent during his lifetime. He followed the methodology of ibn Ezra and stressed philological analysis. He refers to Onkelos frequently and always treats the Targum as a translation. He, like ibn Ezra, occasionally inserted homiletical interpretations into his commentary from midrashic legends to add zest and delight readers, but he never used Onkelos for this purpose.

Conclusion from Reading the Ancient Commentators

The consistent history of all the commentators using Onkelos only for the plain meaning of the Torah and never mentioning seeing derash in the Targum is quite persuasive that no derash was in the original Onkelos text. If any of the commentators who lived before the mid-thirteenth century believed that Targum Onkelos contained derash, especially those who delighted in or who were concerned with derash, they would have said so. None but ibn Ezra did, and he called attention to only a very small number of probably recent unauthorized insertions.

Where, then, did the derash that many people today think that they see in Targum Onkelos come from? First of all, I am convinced that most of the targumic readings that individuals read as derash were really intended by the targumist as peshat, the text’s simple meaning; people differ is what they see. Second, Ch. Heller has shown us many examples where most, if not all, of the presently found derash did not exist in the original Targum text.[28] His findings are supported by the previously mentioned history showing that ibn Ezra was the first to observe any derash at all in our Targum.

Nachmanides was the first Bible commentator to read derash into Onkelos
Nachmanides was influenced by kabala, Jewish mysticism. He equated kabala with truth[29] and felt[30] that since Torah is truth, it must contain kabala. He stated that no one can attain knowledge of the Torah, or truth, by his own reasoning. A person must listen to a kabalist who received the truth from another kabalist, generation after generation, back to Moses who heard the kabalistic teaching from God.[31] He decided to disseminate this truth, or at least hint of its existence, and was the first to introduce mystic teachings of the Torah into a biblical commentary.[32]

He extended his exegetical methodology into his interpretations of our Targum.[33] He felt this was appropriate. Onkelos, he erroneously believed, “lived in the age of the philosophers immediately after Aristotle,” and like the philosopher was so interested in esoteric teachings that, though born a high placed Roman non-Jew, he converted to Judaism to learn Torah and later teach its secret lessons through his biblical translation.[34]

Examples of Nachmanides’ problematical interpretations of Onkelos
In a detailed separate study, which is still in draft, I studied all the instances where Nachmanides interprets Onkelos. I found that Nachmanides mentions Targum Onkelos in his Commentary to the Pentateuch while analyzing 230 verses. Most of his attempts to see the targumist teaching homiletical lessons and mysticism seem forced. He reads more into the Aramaic than the words themselves state.
There are 129 puzzling interpretations of Onkelos in these 230 verses. This represents about 56 percent of the total 230. However, 55 of the 230 Nachmanidean comments are only references to the Targum without any analysis. When these 55 comments are subtracted from the total of 230, we are left with 175 times that Nachmanides analyzes the Targum. The 129 problematical interpretations represent about 75 percent of the 175 times that the sage discusses Onkelos and uses it to support his interpretation of the biblical verse. The following are seven examples.

1. Genesis 1:31 states: “And God saw everything that He made, and, behold, it was very good (Torah: tov meod - Onkelos: takin lachada).

This verse describes the results of the sixth day of creation as “very good.” The Onkelos translator, who prefers to clarify ambiguous biblical phrases with more specificity (good is which way), renders it “well established,” implying that the world was established firmly. He may have recalled Psalms 93:1, “the world also is established that it can not be moved” and Psalms 96:10, “the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved.”

Nachmanides reads into the Onkelos words “well established” than the targumist is teaching that creation contains evil, “the order (of the world) was very properly arranged that evil is needed to preserve what is good.”[35] This interpretation is a good homily, but is not the plain meaning of the verse. It is problematical because “well established” does not suggest “containing evil,” nor does it imply that evil is necessary to preserve what is good.

2. After creating man, God, according to Genesis 2:7, “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” The bible uses nefesh for “breath” and “being.” In later Hebrew, nefesh came to mean “soul,” a meaning it did not have in the Pentateuch. Since the Hebrew “breath of life” does not indicate how humans excel other creations, Onkelos alters the text and clarifies that “man acquired the power of speech,” ruach memalela (literally, “speaking breath”). Thus humans transcend animals by their intelligence in general and their ability to speak, communicate, and reason in particular. This is the Aristotelian concept, accepted by Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), that the essence of a human is intelligence and people have a duty to develop that intelligence.[36]

Nachmanides, the mystic, disagreed with Maimonides, the rationalist, and interprets the biblical nefesh anachronistically as “soul.” The Hebrew verse, he declares, alludes to the superiority of the soul that is composed of three forces: growth, movement, and rationality.[37] Onkelos, he maintains, is reflecting this concept of the tri-partite soul and that the rational soul that God breathed into man’s nostrils became a speaking soul. How the two Aramaic words, literally meaning “speaking breath,” suggests this elaborate tri-partite theology is problematical. Again, Nachmanides seemingly desired to have Onkelos, which he admired, reflect his own idea even though what he reads into the Targum is not its plain meaning.

3. Genesis 4:1 states that when Eve gave birth to Cain, she exclaimed, “I have acquired a man with the Lord.” Since this statement has an anthropomorphic sound, suggesting physical help from God, our Targum adds qadam, “before (the Lord),” thereby supplanting, or at least softening this implication of physical aid by distancing God from the birth.

The term qadam was inserted in Onkelos in verse 4, and in seventy other instances in Genesis for the same reason as well as 585 additional times in the other volumes of Targum Onkelos to the Pentateuch.[38] Nachmanides ignores the targumist’s frequent use of qadam to avoid anthropomorphism[39] and its plain meaning. He states that the correct interpretation of the biblical Hebrew is that Eve said: “This son will be an acquisition from God for me, for when we die he will exist in our place to worship his creator.” Nachmanides assures us that this is Onkelos’ opinion as proven by the addition of the word qadam. Thus, Nachmanides drew a conclusion from the Targum’s single word, a word that is used over five hundred times for an entirely different purpose and which cannot, by itself, connote and support his interpretation. Furthermore, qadam does not have this meaning in the hundreds of other instances where it appears.

4. In Genesis 17:17, Onkelos changes a significant detail in the Aramaic translation. Abraham does not “laugh” (Hebrew, vayitzchak) when he hears he will have a child in his old age, but “rejoices” (Aramaic, vachadi). This alteration is not made in 18:12 where Sarah “laughed” when she heard the same news. Rashi explains that the couple reacted differently. Abraham trusted God and rejoiced at the good news, while Sarah lacked trust and sneered; therefore God chastised her in 18:13.

Nachmanides states that Onkelos’ rendering in 17:17 is correct because the word tzachak also means “rejoice,” and Abraham and Sarah’s reactions, he contends, were the same, proper “rejoicing.”

Actually, as defined by ibn Shoshan and others, tzachak is an outward expression, a “laugh,” and not an inner feeling of contentment. Bachya ben Asher mentions the Aramaic rendering, but he does not mention Nachmanides. He recognizes, contrary to Nachmanides, that tzachak does not mean “rejoice,” but “laugh.” He states that the targumist made the change to “rejoices” because in the context in which the word appears here it should be understood as an expression of joy. This example, while not expressing a theology, as in the first three instances, also shows Nachmanides insisting by a forced interpretation that the targumist is understanding the Torah as he does.

5. Onkelos replaces the Torah’s “Is anything too wondrous for the Lord,” in Genesis 18:14, with “Is anything hidden from before the Lord.” The Hebrew “wondrous” is somewhat vague and is seemingly not exactly on point with the tale of Sarah’s laughter. The Aramaic explains the text and relates that Sarah’s laughter, mentioned in the prior verse, although it was not done openly, was not “hidden” from God. This is also the interpretation of Saadiah, Rashi, Chazkunee, ibn Ezra, Radak, etc. Thus, in short, all that the targumist is doing is clarifying the text, a task he performs over a thousand times in his translation.

However, Nachmanides states that Onkelos uses “hidden” in the translation to teach a mystical lesson. Nachmanides, as generally happens, does not explain the lesson, but the explanation is in Bachya ben Asher and Recanati. Bachya writes that God added the letter hay to Abram’s name, turning it into Abraham, and “the letter hay alludes to God’s transcendental powers”; thus God gave Abraham the power to have a son. Abraham, he continues, exemplified the divine attribute of mercy and Isaac the divine attribute of justice, and now both attributes would exist on earth. It is difficult if not impossible to read this Nachmanidean mystical interpretation of Onkelos into the word “hidden.”[40]

6. Genesis 21:7 quotes Sarah’s excited exclamation of joy:[41] “Who (meaning which person) would have said to Abraham” that I would give birth at the advanced age of ninety. The Targum renders her statement as a thankful praise of God:  “Faithful is He who said to Abraham,” and avoids the risk of the general population reading the translation and misunderstanding Sarah’s reaction as one of surprise, for she should not have been surprised. God had assured Abraham that he would have a son a year previously.[42] Thus, by making the change, the Targum shows that she is not only not surprised, but is thankful that God fulfilled His prior promise.

Nachmanides interprets the Torah’s “Who would have said to Abraham” to mean that everyone will join Abraham and Sarah and rejoice with them over Isaac’s birth because it is such a “surprise”; the possibility of the birth would never have occurred to anyone. He writes that Onkelos’ rendition is “close” to his interpretation of a community celebration. Actually as we stated, Onkelos’ “Faithful is He who said to Abraham” is quite the opposite. Rather than focusing on the people and the unexpected event, the targumist deviated from the Hebrew text to avoid depicting Sarah being surprised. His Aramaic version concentrates on God, not the community, and how the divine promise was fulfilled.
7. Genesis 22:2 recounts God commanding Abraham to take his son Isaac to “the land of Moriah” and offer him there as a sacrifice. Mount Moriah was traditionally understood to be the later place of the Jerusalem Temple[43] and the targumist therefore renders “Mount Moriah” as “the land of worship” to help identify the area for his readers. This is a typical targumic methodology; the Targum changes the name of places mentioned in the Bible and gives its later known name.[44]

Nachmanides contends that Onkelos is referring to a midrashic teaching that was recorded years after the targumist’s death in Pirkei d’R. Eliezer:[45] God pointed to the site and told Abraham that this is the place where Adam, Cain, Abel, and Noah sacrificed, and the site was named Moriah because Moriah is derived from the word mora, “fear,” for the people feared God there and worshipped Him.
There are several problems with Nachmanides’ analysis. First, as we already pointed out, our targumist frequently updates the name of a site to help his readers identify its location[46] and this is a reasonable consistent explanation of the targumic rendering. Second, the words “land of worship” do not suggest the elaborate midrashic story that is not recorded until long after the death of the targumist. Third, the story is a legend; there is nothing in any text to indicate that God had such a conversation with Abraham or that the ancestors sacrificed in this area; and it is contrary to the targumist’s style to incorporate legends into his translation.

Summary
Thus, if the Bible commentators before Nachmanides saw derash in Onkelos we would have expected them to say so, but none did until Abraham ibn Ezra and he was probably referring either to recent scribal additions to the original Targum or he was expressing his opinion that his view of peshat on certain verses differed with those of the targumist. Nachmanides was the first to read derash and mysticism into the Targum just as he was the first to read mysticism into the Torah itself. We offered some examples that show the difficulties of his methodology.

Nachmanides’ introduction of the notion that Onkelos contains mysticism may be the reason why rabbis,[47] who respected Nachmanides’ teachings, began for the first time to search the Targum for derash.

Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of thirty-three books, including twelve on Targum Onkelos. His website is www.booksnthoughts.com. This article appeared previously on www.oqimta.org.il.




[1] Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 8a, b, Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 13:25, and Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim, The Laws of Shabbat 285, 1. The requirement is not in the Jerusalem Talmud because Targum Onkelos did not exist when this Talmud was composed. See I. Drazin, Journal of Jewish Studies, volume 50, 1999, pages 246-258, where I date Onkelos to the late fourth century, based on the targumist’s consistent use of late fourth century Midrashim.
[2] Although some authorities, such as the Shulchan Arukh, discussed below, say that a person can fulfill the rabbinic obligation by reading Rashi.
[3] Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 3a.
[4] The two other complete Jewish Aramaic translations are Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and Targum Neophyti.
[5] The Septuagint, composed about 250 BCE, and the translation by Aquila, composed about 130 CE.
[6] There are many reasons for the targumic changes, such as to clarify passages, to protect God’s honor, to show respect for Israelite ancestors, etc. These alterations were not made to teach derash, as will be shown below. The differences between peshat and derash is a complex subject. Simply stated, peshat is the plain or simple or obvious meaning of a text. Derash is the reading of a passage with either a conscious or unconscious intent to derive something from it, usually a teaching or ruling applicable to the needs or sensibilities of the later day, something the original writer may have never meant.
[7] S.v, m’charef, Babylonian Talmud,  Kiddushin 49a.
[8] S.v. shnayim, Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 8a, b.
[9] They may have also been implying that one cannot understand their derash unless they first understood the Torah’s peshat.
[10] Our view that Onkelos was written without derash is also supported by the following interpretation of the Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 3a. The Talmud recalls a tradition that the world shuttered when Targum Jonathan to the Prophets was written. Why, the Talmud asks, did this not occur when Targum Onkelos was composed? Because, it answers, Onkelos reveals nothing (that is, it contains no derash), whereas Targum Jonathan reveals secrets (by means of its derash).
[11] See M. M. Kasher, Torah Shelemah 24 (Jerusalem, 1974), pages 225-238, and J. Reifman, Sedeh Aram (Berlin, 1875), pages 12-14. The mention of a Targum in the Midrashim and Talmuds are not necessarily references to Onkelos; the wording in these sources and Onkelos frequently differ.
[12] See Kasher, supra pages 155-161 and Reifman, supra, pages 8-10.
[13] See edition by A. Berliner (Leipzig, 1877). See I. Drazin, JJS 50.2, supra, and note 15, for a summary of the scholarly comments on this volume.
[14] See my study of Saadiah Gaon and Onkelos in the introduction to Onkelos on the Torah: Leviticus, pages xvii-xxii.
[15] Perushei Rav Saadiah Gaon, in Torat Chaim, Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem, 1986, and Daf-Chen Press, Jerusalem, 1984. The uses of Onkelos are indexed in Genesis in the 1984 volume on page 471. See E. I. J. Rosenthal, “the Study of the Bible in medieval Judaism,” Studia Semitica, Cambridge, 1971, pages 244-271, especially pages 248 and 249 regarding Saadiah.
    Saadiah established Hebrew philology as a prerequisite for the study of the literal sense of the Bible and he used rabbinic interpretations in his translation only when it complied with reason. He stated at the end of his introduction to the Pentateuch that his work is a “simple, explanatory translation of the text of the Torah, written with the knowledge of reason and tradition.” He, along with ibn Ezra and Onkelos, as we will see, included another meaning only when the literal sense of the biblical text ran counter to reason or tradition. His failure to mention that Onkelos contains derash does not prove indisputably that he saw no derash in the commentary. However, since he copied Onkelos’ interpretations so very frequently in his Arabic translation, it is likely that if he saw derash in Onkelos he would have mentioned it.
[16] In his Sefer Machberet Menahem (H. Filipowski, editor), London and Edinburgh, 1854, pages 14a, 16b 17a, 17b, 20a, and others.
[17] Peirush Hatorah L’Rav Shmuel ben Hofni Gaon, Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem, 1978, index on page 111.
[18] See the listing in Perushei Rashi al Hatorah by Charles B. Chavel, Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem, 1982, pages 628 and 629. For Rashi’s struggle against derash, see, for example, his commentary to Genesis 3:8. While Rashi believed he interpreted Scriptures according to its peshat, ibn Ezra criticized him: “He expounded the Torah homiletically believing such to be the literal meaning, whereas his books do not contain it except once in a thousand (times),” Safah Berurah, editor G. Lippmann, Furth, 1839, page 5a. See also S. Kamin, Rashi’s Exegetical Categorization with Respect to the Distinction Between Peshat and Derash (Doctorial Theses), Jerusalem, 1978; M. Banitt, Rashi, Interpreter of the Biblical Letter, Tel Aviv University, 1985; and Y. Rachman, Igeret Rashi, Mizrachi, 1991.
[19] Rashi said that he was offering peshat. He meant that his commentary frequently contains derash that seemed to him to reflect the plain meaning of the Torah.
[20] M. I. Lockshin, Rabbi Samuel ben Meir’s Commentary on Genesis, Jewish Studies, The Edwin Mellen Press, 1989. See especially Rashbam to Genesis 37:2 and 49:16 where he criticizes his grandfather with strong language.
[21] Lockshin, supra, pages 391-399, notes that Rashi’s Torah Commentary is the primary focus of Rashbam’s own commentary. Of some 650 periscopes of interpretation in the latter’s commentary to Genesis, only about 33 percent concern issues not relevant to Rashi. Of the remaining two-thirds, in only about 18 percent does Rashbam feel Rashi is correct, and in just over 48 percent he is in disagreement with him, consistently criticizing him for substituting derash for peshat, exactly what Rashi declared he would not do. With this sensitivity to and opposition to derash, it is very telling that he did not sprinkle even one drop of his venom on the targumist.
[22] See Genesis 25:28, for example, where Rashbam issues the accolade: “the plain meaning of scripture is the one offered by the Targum.” It is significant to note that although Rashbam railed against the insertion of derash into a biblical commentary, his own commentary was frequently adulterated, as was Targum Onkelos, by the improper insertions of derash by later hands. See, for example, Deuteronomy 2:20, 3:23, 7:11, and 11:10 in A. I. Bromberg, Perush HaTorah leRashbam, Tel Aviv, 5725, page 201, note 25; page 202, note 111; page 206, 7, note 9; and page 210, note 3.
[23] Ch. Heller’s and D. Revel’s were also convinced that the original text of Onkelos did not have derash. However, they did not recognize that Nachmanides was the first commentator to argue the opposite. The first is in A Critical Essay on the Palestinian Targum to the Pentateuch, NY, 1921, pages 32-57. The second is in Targum Yonatan al Hatorah, New York, 5685, page 5. See also Bernard Grossfeld in “Targum Onkelos, Halakhah and the Halakhic Midrashim,” in D.R.G. Beattie and M. McNamara (editors), The Aramaic Bible , 1994,  pages 228-46.
[24] In his epigram preceding one of the recessions of his commentary on the Pentateuch, ibn Ezra writes that he intends to mention by name only those authors “whose opinion I consider correct.” He names Onkelos frequently. In his commentary to Numbers, for example, the Targum is cited in 11:5 where he gives another interpretation, but respectfully adds, “he is also correct,” and in 11:22 he comments, “it means exactly what the Aramaic targumist states.” See also 12:1; 21:14; 22:24; 23:3; 23:10; 24:23 and 25:4. Asher Weiser, Ibn Ezra, Perushei Hatorah, Mossad Harav Kook, 1977.
    While he treats Onkelos respectfully, ibn Ezra uses the strongly derogatory terms “deceivers” or “liars,” for the derash-filled Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Deuteronomy 24:6. See D. Revel, Targum Yonatan al Hatorah, New York, 5685, pages 1 and 2.   
[25] The “fundamental element” that Onkelos addresses is the avoidance of a literal translation of most anthropomorphic and anthropopathic phrases. See the listing in Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, translated and with an introduction by Shlomo Pines, The University of Chicago Press, 1963, volume 2, pages 656 and 658, and 1:28 for the quote.
    Maimonides based his interpretation of negative commands 128 and 163 in part upon our Targum. Maimonides, The Commandments, translated by Charles B. Chavel, The Soncino Press, 1967, pages 116, 117 and 155, 156. This was not because Onkelos deviated from the plain meaning to teach halakhah. Command 128 forbids an apostate Israelite to eat the Passover offering. Onkelos translates the biblical “no alien may eat thereof” as “no apostate Israelite” (Exodus 12:43). The targumist may have thought this was the necessary meaning because Exodus 12:45 and 48 state that a sojourner and an uncircumcised Israelite could not eat this sacrifice; thus the earlier verse must be referring to someone else. Command 163 prohibits a priest from entering the Sanctuary with disheveled, untrimmed hair.  Maimonides notes that Onkelos translates Leviticus 10:6’s “Let not the hair of your heads go loose” as “grow long.” Again, the targumist may have thought that this was the verse’s simple sense because it is the language used by the Torah itself in Numbers 6:5 and because when one loosens one’s hair it becomes longer. Indeed, Rashi states explicitly that the peshat of “loose” in this instance is “long.”
[26] He is believed to have been a student of Rashbam’s brother Rabbeinu Tam. See the source in the next note.
[27] J. Nebo, Perushei Rabbi Josef Bechor Schor al Hatorah, Mossad Harav Kook, 1994, page 11, Schor went beyond Targum Onkelos in his concern about biblical anthropomorphisms and his attempts to whitewash the patriarchs.
[28] See note 23.
[29] Genesis 6:13, 18; 31:42; 33:20; 35:13; and others.
[30] This could be seen as a kind of syllogism. Torah is truth. Kabala is truth. Thus, Torah “must” contain Kabala.
[31] Ramban, Writings and Discourses, translated and annotated by Charles B. Chavel, Shilo, 1978, page 174.
[32] Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, translated and annotated by Charles B. Chavel, Shilo Publishing House, Inc., 1971, volume 1, XII. Chavel points out that the extensive kabalistic influences on future generations can be traced to Nachmanides.
[33] This is my original idea. It is based on several facts. First, we know that he was the first to read Kabala in the Torah words and phrases. Second, we know that he had enormous respect for Onkelos; he referred to Onkelos about 230 times in his Bible commentary; although he criticized others, he treated Onkelos with great respect, even reverence. He considered Onkelos to be generally expressing the truth. Thus it is reasonable to assume that he applied the same syllogism to Onkelos that he applied to the Torah. Finally, we know of no one before him who read mysticism into the targumist’s words.
[34] Ramban, Writings and Discourses, supra, pages 75-76. Nachmanides’ error in dating Targum Onkelos “immediately after Aristotle” was not his only historical mistake. He believed that the Talmud’s implied dating of Jesus at about 100 years before the Common Era was correct. See Judaism on Trial, editor H. Maccoby, Associated University Presses, Inc., 1982, pages 28 and 29.       
[35] The Midrash Genesis Rabbah 9:5, which is the source of this teaching, mentions “death” and 9:9 “the evil inclination in man” as examples of seemingly bad things, which are good from a non-personal world-wide perspective. Bachya ben Asher, the student of Nachmanides’ student Rashba, who was also a mystic, mentions 9:9, but not the Targum. He did not see this idea in Onkelos.
[36] Guide of the Perplexed 1:1. The Greek term psyche had a similar developmental history as the Hebrew nefesh. T. Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, Doubleday, 2003, writes on page 231.
            Psyche was, to begin with, a Greek word for “life,” in the sense of individual human life, and occurs in Homer in such phrases as “to risk one’s life” and “to save one’s life.” Homer also uses it of the ghosts of the underworld – the weak, almost-not-there shades of those who once were men. In the works of the early scientist-philosophers, psyche can refer to the ultimate substance, the source of life and consciousness, the spirit of the universe. By the fifth century B.C., psyche had come to mean the “conscious self,” the “personality,” even the “emotional self,” and thence it quickly takes on, especially in Plato, the meaning of “immortal self” – the soul, in contrast to the body.
[37] Bachya ben Asher also mentions the parts of the soul, but not the Targum, again not seeing Nachmanides’ idea in Onkelos.
[38] See the five books by I. Drazin on Targum Onkelos published by Ktav Publishing House. Each contains a listing of the deviations by the targumist from the Hebrew original.
[39] In my discussion of Genesis 46:4, I show that Nachmanides was convinced that Onkelos never deviates to avoid anthropomorphisms.
[40] Bachya mentions neither Nachmanides nor Onkelos, again not seeing the Nachmanidean interpretation in the Targum.
[41] The “joy” is mentioned in the Targum to verse 6.
[42] Genesis 17:19.
[43] See II Chronicles 3:1.
[44] Rashi gives an additional reason why “Mount Moriah” is rendered “the land of worship.” He connected “Moriah” to “myrrh,” which was an ingredient of the sacrificial incense and an important part of the Temple worship. Rashi states that this is the targumic interpretation. Rashi may be explaining why the site was called Moriah, which would not be derash, but the plain sense of the word. Nachmanides interpretation goes far beyond a simple definition. See Genesis Rabbah 55:7, Exodus 30:23ff, and Babylonian Talmud, Keritut 6a.
[45] Chapter 31.
[46] This occurs twenty-three times in Genesis alone.
[47] There are many books that explain the derash that they see in Onkelos. The most widely known is Netina Lager by Nathan Adler (Wilna, 1886). Others include Biure Onkelos by S. B. Schefftel (Munich, 1888), and Chalifot Semalot  and Lechem Vesimla by B. Z. J. Berkowitz (Wilna, 1874 and 1843).  Modern writers using this method include Y. Maori, who generally focuses on the Peshitta Targum, Rafael Posen who writes a weekly column for a magazine distributed in Israeli synagogues. One can find listings in B. Grossfeld’s three volumes A Bibliography of Targum Literature, HUC Press, 1972.

1 comment:

Menachem Kellner said...

A footnote to Dr Drazin's very interesting post on Onkelos and Rambam: the debate between RambaM and RambaN on whether or not Onkelos sought to free the Torah of anthropomorphisms (Ramban, Bereshit 46:1) is reflected in modern scholarship as well. Details: M. Kellner, Maimonides' Confrontation with Mysticism, p. 177.
Furthermore, since, as Dr Drazin shows, pre-RambaNians, including Hazal, prized Onkelos' translation because of its faithfulness to Peshat, perhaps contemporary translators of the Torah (for synagogue use) should be more peshat and less derash oriented?
Menachem Kellner

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