Monday, August 31, 2015

וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ; On Changing the Immutable by Marc B. Shapiro

וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ; On Changing the Immutable by Marc B. Shapiro
By Yitzchok Stroh

Professor Marc Shapiro’s latest work, Changing the Immutable, contains considerable interesting and pertinent information for the student of Jewish history. As stated on the cover, the author attempts to reveal how the (Jewish) orthodox 'establishment' silences both past and present dissenting voices through "Orthodox Judaism Rewriting Its History." I don't intend this to be a review of the entire work (that would take a lot more time and space), however I did want to share some of my frustration here, because I sense that the author's bias affected his objectivity, and I am afraid that many a reader will be left with an impression that in many ways does not reflect the reality of this complex topic. In this article, I would like to examine one passage of Shapiro’s work to illustrate this point. In chapter eight, entitled, “Is the truth really that important?” Shapiro writes:

Because my purpose in this chapter is to chart the outer limits of what has been viewed as acceptable when it comes to falsehood and deception. I will be focusing on the more ‘liberal’ positions. My aim is to show just how far some rabbinic decisors were willing to go in sanctioning deviations from the truth. One must bear in mind, however, that there are often views in opposition to the ones I shall be examining. Perhaps this knowledge can serve as a counterweight to the shock that many readers will experience upon learning of some of the positions I will mention.
One ‘liberal’ position was expressed by R. Moses Isserles, who went so far as to say that one can even slander someone for the sake of preserving the community. The particular case he was discussing concerned a terrible community dispute that had created the possibility that the Jewish population would be expelled from the city. In what many will find a problematic decision, Isserles offered the opinion, which was then put into action, that it was acceptable to provide false information about an individual whom the government suspected of wrongdoing, if this would alleviate the situation. Although the Talmud states, with regard to giving a man up for execution in response to a demand made by non-Jews, that this is not the way of the pious, Isserles defended his approach: “Even if we did not act in accord with the way of the pious, nevertheless, we acted in accord with the law. I have proven that it is permitted to speak leshon hara [slander] in order to preserve peace.”[1]
Here, Shapiro portrays the רמ"א, the primary codifier of halacha for Ashkenazic Jewry, to have ruled that for the sake of preserving the peace, it is acceptable to provide false information to non-Jewish authorities about a presumably innocent individual whom the government suspected of wrongdoing.
Shocking indeed.

Unfortunately, Shapiro fails to present the תשובה of the רמ"א thoroughly and accurately, and as a result, the reader is left with an erroneous understanding of the opinion of the רמ"א. Furthermore, Shapiro fails to present the relevant section of Talmud precisely, which may lead to further misunderstanding. I am not accusing Professor Shapiro of intentional distortion, but חז"ל do teach us הוי זהיר בתלמוד ששגגת תלמוד עולה זדון -- so, with this in mind, I would like to offer a more careful presentation of the Rema’s position as a counterweight for those who've read this (inaccurately presented) 'shocking' position of the רמ"א.

סימן י"א in  שו"ת הרמ"א is written in complicated rabbinic style, and does not provide a full account of what transpired -- but, as the רמ"א writes in the introduction to the תשובה, we should be able to extract sufficient background information as necessary for our purposes[2]:  

The תשובה is a כתב התנצלות[3] (a “writ of justification”) defending actions taken by the בית דין of the רמ"א in response to a local crisis, and as the  רמ"א makes it quite clear in his description of the events, the ensuing bitter results were unexpected and troubling:

 ... הנה בכל אלה לשלום נתכוונו בעצם וראשונה, אף כי במקרה מרה היתה באחרונה, ואף מקצת עזי פנים היו בקרבנו ועכשיו מהפכים דברינו לתוהו ובהו. מיהו אנו לשם שמים נתכוונו, והכל נמשך אחר המחשבה והכוונה. אף כי אחריתו ראש ולענה. "Behold in this entire incident our intention was peace, first and foremost, even though by happenstance the end was bitter. There were also a few brazen individuals amongst us, who are now turning things into utter chaos. However, our intent was for the sake of Heaven, and 'everything follows one’s thoughts and intentions', even though the end was gall and wormwood."

While it is probably impossible to reconstruct a precise account of the incident, the following is obvious from the details presented in the תשובה: (1) The government did not suspect anyone of any type of wrongdoing[4]. (2) It was not an individual that was slandered; it was a group of about one hundred respectable community leaders or activists that were slandered. (3) False information was never provided to non-Jewish authorities, and those slandered were not slandered publicly -- they were slandered in a private ruling by the decision of a בית דין which was then recorded in a written document. (4) Furthermore, the document was fashioned in a manner which made it evident that the ruling was an exaggeration and not an actual account, and (5) it was drafted only to be used as a means of forcing two opposing sides to reconcile a community quarrel. Unfortunately, (6) the document did become public knowledge and its intention was misconstrued by unscrupulous individuals.[5] And (7) there were dire consequences, probably due to involvement of the non-Jewish authorities, but we do not know what those consequences were.

The actual events that led up to this action are described at length and can be summed up as follows:
A group of pretentious rabbinic and lay leaders[6] convened to place a ban on a certain individual, causing him great harm[7]. (The reason for the ban is not clear.) This individual then sought to take revenge upon those who had placed the ban upon him[8] and was joined by others who sympathized with his cause,[9] ultimately splitting the entire community between his supporters and his enemies[10]. This caused a tremendous desecration of G-d’s name as the strife continued to escalate[11], which led to placing the entire community in danger of being expelled by the authorities[12].

The רמ"א and his colleagues attempted to intercede with the individual’s opponents, but were completely ignored[13], and the matter escalated to the point of death threats against the man upon whom the ban had been placed[14]. In an attempt to resolve matters, the רמ"א and his partners decided to write a fictitious halachic ruling[15], containing exaggerated and slanderous accusations against the individual's opponents, with the goal being that the individual in question would then use this document to extort the ruling written against him from his enemies, whereby both the documents would be exchanged and destroyed. 

Now, before you extrapolate from here that the רמ"א  had a flippant attitude towards honesty, please consider:

(1) The רמ"א and his colleagues were quite concerned about the possibility that this individual might use the document inappropriately (i.e. reveal its contents to the authorities), and to prevent this, they had him swear a strict oath that he would not show the document to anyone else, and that he would only use it to get his opponents to hand over their original חרם document to him[16]. Anyone familiar with the severity of an oath in Jewish law, and the general fear of swearing falsely at that time, will understand why the outcome was quite a surprise to the rabbis who signed this slanderous document. Furthermore, רמ"א had taken additional steps to insure that the document would be null and void if misused, and as the רמ"א concludes in his justification, "אבל לא נחתם להרע בו לשום אדם חלילה לנו מרשע" ( was not signed to inflict harm upon any person; G-d forbid that we should do evil).

(2) Regardless of the fact that the slanderous ruling and the resulting document were extremely limited in nature and not meant to be seen by the public (and certainly not the government), the רמ"א was clearly still troubled by the elements of dishonesty. He makes it quite obvious that he felt that he had no choice, and that it was entirely out of concern for the safety of the community that made speaking and writing falsely and negatively about fellow Jews necessary in this case. It is this decision that the רמ"א is attempting to justify in his כתב התנצלות - and as we will see, this was hardly taken lightly.

The רמ"א goes on to quote various sources to support his decision, and proceeds, in rabbinic style, to argue the point by analyzing a Talmudic ruling. Shapiro, when he discusses the Talmudic ruling tells only half the story. Shapiro writes, “The Talmud states, with regard to giving a man up for execution in response to a demand made by non-Jews, that this is not the way of the pious.” However, as we shall see, giving a man up for execution in response to a demand made by non-Jews has nothing to do with the pious -- indeed, it is strictly forbidden according to the Talmud. The Mishnah in תרומות rules that if non-Jews were to approach a group of Jewish women and demand that they hand over one of them be defiled or else they would defile all of them, that it is forbidden to hand over one of the women. The Talmud Yerushalmi adds that the same rule would apply in a situation where a non-Jew demands of a group of Jews that they hand over one Jew to be executed or else they would all be killed, that it is likewise forbidden to hand over one of them[17]

In this תשובה the רמ"א applies an analogy: Just as it is forbidden to save the lives or the innocence of all through giving over one individual to be defiled or killed, so too it would be forbidden to slander, ridicule, and deride one individual, or a group of individuals (even if no one ever became aware of the slander) in order to remove slander and ridicule from the entire community.

However, the רמ"א sees two distinctions between the cases: Firstly, the halachah that forbids giving someone over applies to a situation where it is done with an action, whereas if it is a matter of speech it would be permitted. Meaning that if the powers that be needed information with which they could kill one of the group, and they threatened that unless that information is provided they would kill them all, it would be permissible to give this information -- since by merely providing information they are not directly participating in the action of murder, and therefore they would not be considered accomplices to the execution. So too in our situation, since slander is a matter of speech, the Talmud's aforementioned rule would not apply. And secondly, the prohibition not to give someone over to the gentiles, is only in a case where they do not request a specific individual. However, were the non-Jews to demand a specific individual to defile or kill, and threaten that if he isn't turned over they would defile or kill the entire group, then it would be permitted to turn him over. The רמ"א compared the situation in his city to a situation where specific individuals are being targeted; therefore he permitted falsehood and לשון הרע to be spoken.

Regarding this second limitation, the רמ"א questions his ruling based on the following anecdote related in the Talmud Yerushalmi: An individual was sought by the royal government, and he escaped to לוד. When the government surrounded the מדינהר' יהושע בן לוי handed him over to them. Until this point in time it had been common for Eliyahu HaNavi to visit R. Yehoshua, but after this incident, אליהו הנביא ceased his visits. Subsequently, R. Yehoshua fasted many fasts, and Eliyahu appeared to him, and said, “Shall I reveal myself to a slanderer?” To which R’ Yehoshua responded, “But have I not acted according to the משנה?”  To this Eliyahu replied, “Can this be considered משנת חסידים?”

It is in response to this that the רמ"א states, "even if we did not act in accordance with 'the way of the pious', nevertheless, we acted in accordance with the law." It seems reasonable to assume that since the slander recorded in the document written by the רמ"א and his colleagues was never meant to be seen by anyone and would have alleviated the threat of expulsion, the רמ"א felt that it was not necessary to follow “the ways of the pious” and was satisfied with following the letter of the law[18]. Hence, Shapiro’s claim in the name of the רמ"א that it was acceptable to provide false information about an individual whom the government suspected of wrongdoing if this would alleviate the situation” is neither fair nor accurate.

In conclusion, I think it is fair to say that the position of the רמ"א in שו"ת הרמ"א סימן י"א does not represent a radical position which may shock many readers as being “on the outer limits of what has been viewed as acceptable when it comes to falsehood and deception”. Rather, there is no reason not to view this as the position of a responsible community leader of a high moral caliber, and it is unfortunate that he has been portrayed differently.


Although the following does not affect the above, I include it for whatever historical interest it may have: From the language of תשובה י"א in שו"ת הרמ"א (קהלתנו, עירנו, רחובותינו, = our community, our city, our streets) it seems almost certain that the case under discussion took place in the author’s city.  If the author was the רמ"א, that city would be Cracow, Poland where the רמ"א served as Rav from an extremely young age until his passing. However R. Asher Ziv, the Rema’s biographer and editor of his תשובות, suggests that the incident took place in the city of Prague in Bohemia[19]; a city plagued by strife and under the constant threat of expulsion. Since the five תשובות following סימן י"א in שו"ת הרמ"א were written by various rabbanim regarding problems in the city of Prague, it is not unlikely that תשובה י"א also concerns a dispute in Prague.

Based on the above, it would seem plausible to conclude that תשובה י"א was not even authored by the [20]רמ"א; rather it was sent to him by a colleague from Prague[21]. It is additionally possible that the תשובה was in no way connected to the רמ"א, however, since the תשובה was found among the other תשובות relating to Prague it was included accidently. This would not be all that surprising, since we do know that there are תשובות in שו"ת הרמ"א which were erroneously included in the collection[22].
Response by Marc B. Shapiro

Let me begin by thanking Rabbi Yitzchok Stroh and the many others who have read my book carefully, especially those who have sent comments. Some readers have pointed out errors or alternative ways to read passages and others have called attention to important new sources. I have already mentioned some of these in past posts and will continue to do so in future posts.

Stroh believes that my presentation of a responsum of R. Moses Isserles is inaccurate and suggests that it was my bias that led to my objectivity being affected. I am not sure what my bias would be in this case, presumably a desire to make use of an important source in support of my argument.

Stroh’s summary of the responsum is helpful, especially since as Stroh notes it is difficult to reconstruct exactly what happened. The beginning of the case was, as Stroh states:

A group of pretentious rabbinic and lay leaders convened to place a ban on a certain individual, causing him great harm. (The reason for the ban is not clear.)

In reading over the responsum, I think that the reason for the ban is explained on p. 56 in Siev’s edition. It states:
עליו נגזרה גזירה ונחתך עליו דין מסור הגמורה

I assume this means that they regarded him as a moser, and that is why he was placed under the ban. Earlier it states regarding this man ודמו להיות מותר which apparently alludes to the fact that a moser should be killed.

Stroh notes that I am mistaken in assuming that the government suspected one of the Jews of wrongdoing and that R. Isserles ruled that false information could be provided if this was the only way to save the community. He also states that contrary to my presentation, it was not one person who was to be slandered but numerous community leaders.

I have read over the responsum and I have to agree that the slander was not directed against one person but against a group, so I thank Stroh for this correction. In fact, I am not the only one to make this mistake, and am indeed in good company (not that this is in any way an excuse). Nachum Rakover also describes the case as being one of slander against an individual.[23]

מוציאי הדיבה קיוו, שאם "ישנו את טעמם", כלומר ישקרו אודות מישהו מהקהילה, יעלה בידם להחזיר את השלום על כנו.

Based on this, Rakover then has an entire section dealing with if it is OK to sacrifice an individual to save the many.

R. Aryeh Pomeranchik writes:[24]

בתשו' הרמ"א סי' י"א למד מזה, דמותר להוציא שם רע על אחד מן הצבור כדי להשקיט בזה המריבה שנפלה בין הצבור ולעשות שלום
R. Aharon David Goldberg writes:[25]

אמנם בתשובות הרמ"א סי' י"א מפורש דלא כדבריו, שדן בשאלה אם מותר להוציא שם רע על אחד מן הצבור כדי להשקיט מריבה

R. Yitzchak Zilberstein might also make this error (although it could be that he was simply not being exact in his description of the case, as his focus is on the underlying halakhah):[26]

ובתשובות הרמ"א (סימן יא) למד מזה, שמותר להוציא שם רע על אחד, כדי להשקיט בזה מריבה שנפלה בין הציבור ולעשות שלום.

It is certain, however, that R. Zilberstein is mistaken when he states[27] שלמעשה הרמ"א לא התיר, as the entire responsum is indeed a justification of the action which occurred, and R. Isserles states: “Even if we did not in accordance with ‘the way of the pious’, nevertheless, we acted in accordance with the law.”

What about the non-Jewish government? Again, I have to agree with Stroh that there is no evidence that the slander was ever directly reported to the government, although I still assume that R. Isserles would agree that to save the community, one would even be permitted to slander someone to the non-Jewish authorities, not merely to the Jewish community. As I see it, and please correct me if I am wrong, the entire logic of R. Isserles’ responsum leads to this result even if, in the case under discussion, the slander was intended to remain in the Jewish community. How else is one to understand his words (p. 53):

דמותר להוציא שם רע אם כוונתו לשמים ולתכלית טוב כדי לעשות שלום

I thank Rabbi Stroh for setting the record straight.

Regarding giving up a man for execution in response to a demand made by non-Jews, I thought I was clear that we were dealing with a demand for a specific person, the details of which Stroh properly explains. Yet I should have also mentioned that the case must be one where the entire community will itself be killed if they do not give up the man.[28]

In his conclusion, Stroh states that the position of R. Isserles should not be seen as radical. “Rather, there is no reason not to view this as the position of a responsible community leader.” Yet I still think that in the eyes of most people what R. Isserles agreed to will be seen as “on the outer limits of what has been viewed as acceptable.” In fact, R. Daniel Eidensohn, who translates some of R. Isserles’ responsum here, writes as follows: “As far as I know the ruling of the Rema was not accepted and is not cited with approval by anyone else. It is the thinking, however, of one our major poskim and illustrates how important community peace is.”

R. Israel Zev Minzberg finds the permission to slander another for the sake of peace incomprehensible, and states that one cannot rely on this ruling.[29]

דברי התשו' הנז' נפלאו ממני ולדעתי אין לסמוך ע"ז למעשה כלל וכלל.

R. Yitzhak Hutner also found the responsum unacceptable and stated that it was not written by R. Isserles.[30] In other words, contrary to Stroh, Rabbis Eidensohn, Minzberg and Hutner do find the conclusion of the responsum surprising, and indeed “on the outer limits”.

Finally, I must note that R. Zilberstein refers to the responsum of R. Isserles in another place where he discusses the following problem:[31] Reuven is a very good and God-fearing student. His brother Shimon is not, and causes Reuven all sorts of serious problems. The teacher of Reuven wants to stop Shimon from doing this, and the only way to do so is to tell Shimon’s father, Yaakov, that Shimon said that he was going to steal from Yaakov in order to hire some thugs who would attack Reuven. When Yaakov hears this, he will take steps against Shimon and this will stop Shimon’s harassment of Reuven. Is it permitted for the teacher to lie about Shimon in order to protect Reuven?[32]

R. Zilberstein concludes that it is permitted to tell Yaakov the falsehood about Shimon, since Shimon is a “ba’al mahaloket”. In addition to citing R. Isserles’ responsum, he also cites an opinion of the Hafetz Hayyim.[33] The Hafetz Hayyim states that if one sees that a certain individual will be a bad influence on his son or student, he should warn him to keep away from this individual. If, however, by telling the truth about this individual, it will not be enough to keep one’s son or student away, the Hafetz Hayyim states that “it is possible” that it is permitted to exaggerate the individual’s wrongdoing, on the condition that one does this le-shem shamayim and not because of any personal grudge.

ולענין הפרט שלא יגדל העולה יותר ממה שהיא אם יספר להם כאשר היא לא יתרחקו מאתו ויכול לבוא מזה ריעותא אפשר דמותר לגדל

Although the Hafetz Hayyim shows some hesitation as to whether this is permissible, R. Zilberstein has no such qualms and concludes that it is permitted to lie for the good purpose of helping Reuven.

This decision provides further proof for my point that there are many voices in the tradition that sanction departing from the truth when they deem it necessary.

[1] Shapiro, Changing the Immutable, p. 255.
[2] All excerpts from שו"ת הרמ"א are from R’ Asher Ziv’s 1970 edition. "יבינו הקורא מעצמו מתוך דברי ענין ההתנצלות בעצמו". (שו"ת הרמ"א נ"ב ע"ב.)
[3] "כתב התנצלות בענין מעשה שנעשה בשנות טעמים מפני רדיפת שלום" (שם).
[4] כנראה שטעותו של שפירא נובע מב' קטעים בתשובת הרמ"א, הא' - ממה שכותב הרמ"א שם עמ' נ"ד "ובנדון דידן ייחד לנו אחם מהם, שאומר האויב כי נפשותיהם של אלו היה מבקש כמו שנתבאר", וכנראה ששפירא הבין שהמדובר הוא באויב אינו יהודי מאישי הממשלה, אבל ברור שה"אויב" הוא אותו היהודי שהיה מוחרם מתחלה כפי שמבואר בפירוש בהמשך התשובה שהוא היה האויב של קבוצת הקצינים שהחרימו אותו. עי' בהמשך דברינו בפנים. 
הב' - ממה שכותב הרמ"א "ולא היה לנו למסור נפש אחת מישראל ..."  ושפירא הבין שהכוונה למסור נפש אחת מישראל לעכו"ם, אבל ברור הדבר כפי שכותב הרמ"א בהמשך דבריו שמדובר אודות מסירה ללעג ולקלס ולהוצאת שם רע כמו שכותב הרמ"א "ולא היה לנו למסור נפש אחת מישראל ללעג ולקלס ולהוציא עליו דברים אשר לא כן. כ"ש על חשובים כמאה מנהיגי המדיניה, כמו שעשו במעשה אשר אבאר למטה" וכפי מה שמבאר הרמ"א למטה לא היה מעולם מסירה לאינו יהודים.
וגם בהקטע שם נ"ה ע"א "דמצינו שפת יתר על קציני ארץ ליתן אותם לפני בני בליעל" כוונתו על המסירה לפני אויביהם היהודי הנ"ל וחביריו.
[5] שם עמ'  "... ומפרש בו (בהפסק דין) דברים זרים אשר לא עלו על לבנו מעולם, והתחברו אליו אנשים רקים ... מוציאי דבה..."
[6] שמכנף הארץ שמענו שנתחברו יחד כתרנגולים של בית בוקיא, ועי' ברש"י יבמות פ"ד ע"א שפי' בקיאים וחריפים ואין מניחים תרנגול נכרי ביניהם.
[7] שם נ"ה ע"א "וזה המעשה אשר אירע לא ראינו מעשה מעולם כזה לרוע, שמכנף הארץ שמענו שנתחברו יחד כתרנגולים של בית בוקיא כל רועי ישראל האזינו גדולי ארץ גודרי פרץ פרשו מצודתם בנציבותינו על אחד ונלכד בחרמם ובמצודתם וכדגי הים יאסוף במצותם, ודמו להיות מותר וכסהו בעפר."
[8] שם "הנ"ל רצה על אויביו שהמציאו עליו הדברים לנקום ובהם התעבר הצריח ואף התגבר."
[9] שם "ונתחברו אליו אנשים לעזרתו, אשר היה להם צר בצרתו."
[10] שם "ובסבת זה נחלקה הקהלה לשנים ..."
[11] Apparently the strife came to be judged before the authorities as the רמ"א writes: "כמו שהיה ידוע מקדמות דנא לכל באי שער עירנו, המעשים הרעים שהיו נגד פנינו, ואויבינו היו פלילים. וכאן כנראה כוונתו לאויבים אינו יהודים כמאמר רז"ל המובא ברש"י ריש פרשת משפטים.  
[12] שם. "ובזה נתמוטטו עמודי ארץ ויסודיה. והיה לחוש בן יפוק ח"ו חורבא מיניה מאת פני המלך והשרים לגרש כל העם הזה כולו כהניה ושריה."
[13] שם. "פתחנו לשלום ודברנו עם הצד שהיה מנגד להשלים אתו והיינו בעיניהם כמתעתע"
[14] שם. "[ואמרו] כי לא ישקטו עד אשר רצו להרוג אותו" (בדפוסים אחרים כתוב עד שרצו להרוג אותנו).
[15] שם עמ' נ"ז: "גם מתוך השטר ניכר כי לא דינא עבדנו רק ע"ד גיזום ... כי השטר מזויף מתוכו ... השטר בטל ומבוטל ... כי לא נתקן אלא מפני השלום ..."
[16] שם נ"ו: "כי נשבע לנו שבועה חמורה שלא רצה לגלות השטר החתום לעולם ובשמנו לא יהא נקרא. רק שיוכל להתפאר בו שגם לו חתומים כאלה, באולי יכול להוציא ע"י זה השטר החתום עליו (כלומר שטר החרם) ויבואו על ידי זה להשלים אתו, ויבערו שני הצדדים השטרות מן העולם. ואם ככה היה עשה לנו לא היה בדבר אלא קדוש השם יתברך ... אבל מעולם לא עשינו בכוונה אחרת כי אם להוציא את שלום. ואם לא קיבל עליו להחזיר לנו את חתימתנו."
[17] כמובן שכל זה  מיירי אף כשברור הדבר שביכולתם להרוג את כולם, ולדוגמא אם נמצאו כמה יהודים בבנין ויש ביכולת הנכרים להרוג כולם ע"י שיפוצצו כל הבנין, והנכרים מבקשים למסור להם אחד מהיהודים אסור מן הדין למוסרו להם. וביאור הדבר הוא כי אף באם לא ימסרו אחד מהיהודים להנכרים יהיה אותו יהודי נהרג עם האחרים אך אין לנו רשות לברר מי הוא זה שיצא להריגה. אך כאשר הנכרים מבקשים איש פרטי אזי מעיקרא דדינא מותר למסור אותו אמנם עפ"י דברי הירושלמי אינה ממידת חסידות כי למעשה אנו מוסרים אותו להריגה וטוב לנו להניח הדבר בידי שמים אף שעל פי דרך הטבע מן הסתם יהיו כולם נהרגים.
[18] If one were to be מדייק in the language used by the רמ"א in formulating his ruling, he will notice that the רמ"א permits one to be משנה (alter) for the sake of peace, but he never allows one to be משקר (lie) for the sake of peace. This רמ"א would be proof to the opinion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Ztz”l (שיחות קודש שבת פ' עקב תשמ"א אות כ"ז עי"ש) who explains that one may be משנה (alter) for the sake of peace, but not be משקר (lie) for the sake of peace.
[19] הר' זיו שם הערה 64, "אבל קרוב הדבר לומר שהכוונה פה לקהילת פראג העתיקה ..."
[20] ואולי זהו הכוונה במש"כ בתוכן הענינים שנדפס בדפוס ראשון של שו"ת הרמ"א, כתב התנצלות בענין רדיפות שלום לגדול אחד, היינו שהתשובה הוא לגדול אחד ולא יצא מידי הרמ"א.
הר' אשר זיו מילת אלו מתוכן הסימנים והעיר בשולי הגליון, בכל ההוצאות נוסף פה 'לגדול אחד'. ואולי הבין שהכוונה הוא שהתשוב נכתב אל גדול אחד.
[21] אולם הר' זיו לא הזכיר שתשובה זו אינו להרמ"א
[22] זיו בהמבוא לשו"ת הרמ"א עמ' 30
[23] Matarah ha-Mekadeshet et ha-Emtza’im (Jerusalem, 2000), p. 176 (emphasis added here and in subsequent quotations).
[24] Emek Berakhah, p. 41.
[25] Shirat David, Bereshit-Shemot, p. 132.
[26] Hashukei Hemed, Sukkah, pp. 443-444.
[27] Ibid., p. 444.
[28] JT Terumot 8:4.
[29] She’erit Yisrael, Orah Hayyim no. 13.
[30] Sefer ha-Zikaron le-Maran Ba’al “Pahad Yitzhak”, p. 334.
[31] Hashukei Hemed, Makot 11a.
[32] One should not assume that this question, or any of the other strange questions in R. Zilberstein’s works, are actual cases. I think it is obvious that he makes them up in order to have a springboard to discuss various halakhic issues.
[33] Hafetz Hayyim, Kelal 4, Be’er Mayim Hayyim, no. 43.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The History and Dating of Onkelos

The History and Dating of Onkelos

By Israel Drazin

The Babylonian Talmud has the earliest report of the authorship and date of Targum Onkelos. It states that an individual named Onkelos composed the translation in the first third of the second century CE. Since the nineteenth century, scholars have generally rejected this recollection and dated the Targum, or its final redaction, in the third century CE. I will show that the proper date is more likely the late fourth or early fifth century CE. This dating is supported by seeing the consistent use of the targumist of the final version of tannaitic Midrashim that were not edited until the late fourth century.

The Traditional View and its Problems    
The Babylonian talmudic scholars gave preference to the literal Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch, which they called targum didan (“our translation”), over other translations.[1] However, they had but a single unreliable memory of its author.

            A Palestinian Amora (in Megillah 3a) curiously states that Onkelos composed the authorized translation after it had been forgotten.

R. Jeremiah – or some say R. Hiyya b. Abba – also said: Onkelos the proselyte under the guidance of R. Eleazar and R. Joshua composed The Targum of the Pentateuch…. But did Onkelos the proselyte compose the targum to the Pentateuch? Has not R. Ika said in the name of R. Hananel who had it from Rab: What is meant by the text, “And they read in the book, in the law of God, with an interpretation, and they gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8)? “And they read in the book, in the law of God” this indicates the [Hebrew] text; “with an interpretation”: this indicates the Targum; “and they gave the sense” this indicates the verse stops; “and caused them to understand the reading” this indicates the accentuation; or, according to another version, the Masoretic notes? – These had been forgotten, and were not established again.[2] 
            The Babylonian Talmud states that Onkelos was the son of Kolonikos, who was the nephew of the Roman Emperor Titus. He converted to Judaism. Several miraculous stories are revealed about him.[3] These tales are virtually identical with those conveyed of the Greek translator Aquilas, and, as we shall see, were confusedly ascribed to Onkelos.[4] Thus, according to R. Jeremiah and the Babylonian Talmud, Targum Onkelos was composed about 130 CE.

            There are several serious problems with R. Jeremiah’s opinion. The Babylonian Talmud translates pentateuchal words eighteen times using the term u’m’targuminun, “and it is translated,” or “the Targum states.”[5] Despite R. Jeremiah’s view of authorship, in none of these instances is Onkelos mentioned by name. Midrashim use the same formula seventeen times and Onkelos is cited only once, in a late twelfth-century midrash (Numbers Rabbah 9).[6] An opinion is attributed to an individual called Onkelos only once in the Talmud. This opinion is in no way related to the Targum.[7]

            There is good authority confirming that Aquilas translated the Bible into Greek about 130 CE. There is, however, no corroboration for connecting the Aramaic translation currently called Targum Onkelos with a person named Onkelos other than the single statement in the tractate Megillah. The talmudic sages, R. Jeremiah or R. Hiyya, obviously confused the two translations.[8] It is hardly possible that R. Eleazar and R. Joshua had two students with virtually identical names, both of whom were born of the same noble lineage under highly unusual circumstances, and both of whom underwent remarkably similar miraculous events.

            It is more likely that the redactors of the Babylonian Talmud did not know who composed their “authorized” or “officially accepted” translation. They recalled that the Jerusalem Talmud of several generations earlier had stated that Aquilas composed the authorized Greek translation. They ascribed their Aramaic version to him as well.[9]

            The only essential difference between the names of Onkelos and Aquilas in Hebrew script is the addition of the letter nun, a characteristic insertion in Babylonian Aramaic. Onkelos is thus a Babylonian equivalent of the name Aquilas.[10]

            There are indicators that suggest, although admittedly they do not prove, that Targum Onkelos could not have been composed in the second century. If Onkelos existed, aside from the unbelievable circumstance that both he and Aquilas underwent the same curious life experiences, there must have been some differences. Why is no difference mentioned in the two stories? Moreover, why is there no allusion to Onkelos in the Talmud, where the Targum is extolled? If the Babylonian talmudic rabbis knew the author of the Targum, we would expect that Onkelos’ name should have been cited whenever the Targum is mentioned.[11] If Onkelos was a noted Palestinian scholar of the second century, he should have been included in the Jerusalem Talmud whose final redaction occurred at the end of the fourth century. Further, if the author of the Targum was known, there should have been no need for the tradition of R. Jeremiah, and the Talmud should never have questioned this tradition.

            Even more significantly, if Onkelos composed the Targum in the second century, why is his name not mentioned in the tannaitic midrashim that were edited in the late fourth century? Jewish tradition is meticulous about naming the source of every teaching.[12] Furthermore, the Mishnah in the Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 8b, edited after the traditionally held composition date of the Onkelos Targum, quotes R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, who lived during and after the traditional composition date of Targum Onkelos. He identified only the Greek translation as being holy. The Mishnah knows nothing of Targum Onkelos. The Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 9b, comments upon this Mishnah and states in the name of R. Abbahu (circa 300 CE), who made his statement in the name of R. Johanan (circa 250 CE, both living several generations after the supposed composition of Targum Onkelos), that the halakhah follows R. Simeon b. Gamaliel.

Modern Scholarship

The problems that refute the talmudic view of the dating of Targum Onkelos also confront and refute the views of modern scholarship. Some writers, such as M. H. Goshen-Gottstein and B. Grossfeld, accept the talmudic dating.[13] Grossfeld, for example, maintains that Onkelos and Aquila are the same person, argues that the parallels between the Targum and the midrashim point to a common tradition upon which both genres of scriptural interpretations rest, and concludes that where the school of R. Akiba and R. Ishmael differ, Onkelos upholds the views of R. Akiba’s school. Grossfeld knew only 153 cases in the Pentateuch where Targum Onkelos and the tannaitic midrashim parallel each other. He attributes Onkelos’ translation to the Akiban school because he notes that in 19 of these 153 instances the Targum’s deviation were like those of R. Akiba. Grossfeld did not know that Targum Onkelos parallels the tannaitic Midrashim in 698 instances, as we will show, in just four of the pentateuchal books, and he did not analyze the parallels or take note of the frequent times that the targumist differed with the Akiban school (e.g. Exodus 21:3, 19; 22:3).

            Most scholars reject the Talmud’s date and assign the date of composition to the first half of the third century CE. They rely on references to the Targum in a volume on targumic traditions collected in Die Masorah zum Targum Onkelos,[14] which is said to have been composed in the first half of the third century CE.[15] There is no evidence of the time of composition of this Masorah and no certainty that many elements were not added at later dates. A second proof for the third century dating is the existence of non-halakhic material in the Targum. The argument is that later rabbis could not have authorized divergences from halakhah. These scholars fail to note that rabbinic tradition has always tolerated dissident opinions as to the peshat, the literal sense of the text. Contra-halakhic biblical interpretations occur in the early midrashim and the Talmuds, as well as in the later commentaries of Rashi, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Nachmanides, and others. There is no rabbinic statement indicating that Targum Onkelos has halakhic authority. The rabbis only forbade teachings which encourage “behavior” that is contrary to halakhah.

Dating Onkelos by means of the Tannaitic Midrashim    

While studying, translating and commenting upon Targum Onkelos to the Pentateuch,[16] I noted the remarkable reliance of this Aramaic translation upon the present version of all of the tannaitic midrashim.[17] This has led us to date the Targum to a time following the final redaction of these midrashim.[18]

            I will illustrate this conclusion by focusing on the book of Numbers. A comparison of the words used in Targum Onkelos and Sifrei to Numbers shows the reliance of the author(s) of the Targum upon this late fourth-century midrash[19] and shows the many similarities between the two documents.[20] The findings are rather startling when one realizes that the two documents were not only written in different languages, but that their authors and editors, as will be seen, had totally different agendas. While space constraints restrict us from detailing the findings in the other pentateuchal books, we will also outline these findings briefly and show the consistency of the targumic borrowings.

            The method used in the following study of Numbers is relatively simple. Whenever the Onkelos translation replaces the biblical Hebrew word with a word that deviates from being an exact translation of the original, the tannaitic midrash is examined.

            We will see, for example, that there are five instances where our targumist relied on Sifrei to Numbers’ definitions. Sifrei defined words with what we may call a full definition formula: ein bakhal makom elah (‘there is no place that X means anything else but ‘Y’). Onkelos quotes Sifrei’s word definition each time this formula is used, except where the midrash differentiates dabeir, ‘speak’, from amar, ‘said’.[21]

            Similarly, Sifrei uses what we could call a short definition formula, ein (‘There is no… but’), thirteen times.[22] Again, Onkelos incorporates Sifrei’s exact word or uses a synonym of the midrashic term in each instance. Thus, repeatedly and consistently, Onkelos defines the biblical terms exactly like the midrash whenever the midrash states that it is giving a definition. In each instance, the targumist used Sifrei as a dictionary.

            Additionally, our targumist repeats – one might even say “quotes” – Sifrei’s exact word in 53 other verses and is similar to the midrash an additional 35 times in the book of Numbers. Thus, when Onkelos parallels the midrash, it is more likely to repeat the midrash’s exact word than to use a synonym. These numbers are extraordinary since the Targum is an Aramaic translation and the midrash is a Hebrew documentary, and there is extant midrash on only a third of the biblical text.

            In total, Targum Onkelos parallels Sifrei to Numbers in 106 instances, in over a third of the verses where Sifrei has commentary. This is not happenstance. The Targum uses the word because the targumist drew it from the midrash.[23]

            The Onkelos targumist not only drew his translation, indeed his very words, from Sifrei to Numbers but did so as well with the tannaitic midrash Sifrei Zutta to Numbers.

            Sifrei Zutta does not use the full definition formula contained in Sifrei, but it has the short formula ein in five verses (7:3, 10:31, 11:3, 11:18 and 15:38). In each of these instances, our targumist deviates from the biblical text and uses an Aramaic synonym for Sifrei Zutta’s word.
            In addition, Onkelos quotes Sifrei Zutta’s exact word 61 times and is similar to the midrash 38 times. In total, the Targum parallels this midrash in 104 places.[24]

Lack of Similarities

Turning now to the opposite perspective, the following answers the question: why did the targumist not copy everything in the midrash and why did he include material not in the midrash? This will help us understand that the targumist consistently drew his material from the midrash and only failed to do so because of good reasons.

            As mentioned earlier, the targumist and the midrash compilers had different agendas. The targumist quotes the midrash when their purposes are the same, when the midrash translates the text’s simple meaning. He deviates from the midrash when the midrash goes beyond this task. He adds material that is not in the midrash when the midrash did not attempt to clarify the text’s meaning and his rendering does so.

            The following list catalogues some of the kinds of deviations inserted by the targumist to clarify the text that are not in Sifrei. These changes, which are explained in chapter 3 and in the author’s Targum Onkelos to Numbers, either did not concern the halakhic and aggadic-minded commentators of the midrash, or they are insertions that the compilers of the midrash did not feel compelled to add to every verse when they had already commented upon it elsewhere (e.g. Shekhinah or adding a preposition).[25]

Explaining the text with an Aramaic idiom
Replacing el, which means “God,” with “idol”
Changing the harsh “take” to the softer “lead”
Grammatical and tense replacements
Explanation of metaphors
Using words to avoid anthropomorphisms, such as memra
Treating a name as verb
Updating and thereby identifying a place name
Being more explicit than the Bible
Avoiding an anthropomorphism and anthropopathism
Changes to preserve Israelite honor
Changes to protect God’s honor
Removing redundancies
Replacing the plural Elohim with the Tetragrammaton

            Thus, the targumic insertions that are of not in the midrash are absent from the midrash because they do not concern the midrashic authors. Conversely, the targumist only incorporates Sifrei material that interprets biblical verses according to their literal meaning. He avoids using derash, interpretations trying to disclose the text’s hidden meaning, or where the midrash has halakhah, theology, legends, and parables.

            Examples of midrashic derash that Onkelos refrains from using are: the Massoretic Text’s (MT’s) “uncover the woman’s head” (Numbers 5:18) teaches that Israelite women should keep their heads covered. MT’s “place in her hands” (5:18) is required to tire her out so that she will repent. MT’s “two turtledoves and two young pigeons” (6:10) implies that people may not substitute turtledoves for pigeons or pigeons for turtledoves.

            Halakhic elements are on virtually every Sifrei page. They appear only rarely in the Aramaic translation, which also has contra-halakhic matter, and then only when they help readers understand the text’s simple meaning. MT’s “command” (5:2) is said to apply immediately and for future generations. MT’s “his sin” clarifies that one does not confess his father’s sins. MT’s “eyes” (5:11) excludes a blind person.

            Aside from its avoidance of anthropomorphisms, theology and morality are also generally absent from Onkelos, but abound in the midrash. Sifrei derives the lesson that strength is granted to those who are strong, and encouragement to those who are stout of heart (5:2), Aaron was righteous because he did exactly what Moses told him to do (8:1), and the Israelites were virtuous because they did what Moses instructed (9:1). Merit flows to the meritorious and humiliation to those who are disgraceful (9:1).

            Various legends and parables do not appear in Onkelos. For example, each of the seven days of preparing the Tabernacle, Moses set it up and then dismantled it (7:1). Aaron’s sons did not literally die before the Lord; they fell outside so as not to render the Tabernacle unclean. In fact, an angel sustained them after they had been struck with fire, helped them outside, and allowed them to fall in the courtyard (7:1). The Israelite desert leaders were the same individuals who were assigned as their supervisors while they were slaves in Egypt (7:3).

            In summary, the Onkelos targumist consistently drew the explanations and definitions from the late fourth century midrashim that helped explain the text’s simple meaning, and frequently even quoted the midrash. He ignored material that did not further this agenda. Thus he could not have composed his translation before the end of the fourth century.

Consistency With Other Biblical Books

The significant and unswerving reliance by Targum Onkelos on the tannaitic midrashim to Numbers to clarify the simple meaning of the biblical text also occurred in the other books of the Pentateuch. The Onkelos deviations from the literal Hebrew translation consistently reflect the late fourth century tannaitic midrashim in about a third of the verses where midrashic commentary are present.


Although the tannaitic midrash Mekhilta d’R. Ishmael exists for only about fourteen Exodus chapters, Targum Onkelos deviates from rendering the biblical text literally 158 times. It consistently and remarkably uses midrashic words, including 95 instances where the targumist quotes the Mekhilta’s exact word, an average of eight times in each chapter. He parallels Mekhilta in more than thirty per cent of the verses where midrashic comments occur. This is startling since most of the midrash is derash, comments that are contrary to his purpose and which he avoids.

            The targumist never explains Exodus contrary to Mekhilta’s peshat, the text’s plain and explicit meaning. He uses all, or virtually all Mekhilta interpretations that are peshat and neglects only the Mekhilta’s derash, halakhah, theology, legends and parables, since the Targum, as we said, is a translation and not a commentary. The reverse is not true: He deviates to add clarifications that are not in Mekhilta since it was composed after this midrash.[26]     


The findings for Numbers and Exodus are repeated in Leviticus and Deuteronomy: The targumist relied on the late fourth century tannaitic midrashim for the translation of the biblical text. His deviations in Leviticus parallel the midrash Sifra’s interpretation in 129 instances, including 82 times that he uses Sifra’s word. Again, he never explains Leviticus contrary to Sifra’s peshat, he incorporates all, or virtually all, of Sifra’s interpretations that are peshat and neglects its derash, halakhah, theology, legends and parables, and he has deviations that clarify the text that are not in Sifra.[27]


In Deuteronomy as well, Onkelos’ deviations remarkably reflect the late fourth century tannaitic midrash Sifrei’s interpretation in about a third of the verses in the less than half of Deuteronomy where there is extant midrash. The Targum deviates 201 times using words reflecting interpretations in Sifrei. This represents about thirty percent of Sifrei’s interpretations.

            A few statistics will demonstrate how remarkable this is. There are, for example, 489 verses in the first 17 chapters, the first half of Deuteronomy. Only 186 of these sentences, about 38 percent, have comments by Sifrei. The targumist’s deviations from a literal rendering of Deuteronomy parallel Sifrei in 56 passages (in 60 instances) or about thirty per cent. The sentences where he does not reflect Sifrei are all instances, as we noted previously, where the midrash has derash. Thus, again, Onkelos contains all of virtually all of the non-aggadic Sifrei material, and there is no instance where the Targum differs with this midrash except where the latter has derash or there is a scribal error in the Targum.[28]


H. Albeck[29] noted that the author or authors of the fourth-century midrash Genesis Rabbah did not use Onkelos despite having difficulty in understanding verses that the targumist understood and translated. For example, Genesis Rabbah cites an incident where rabbis wanted to know the Aramaic equivalent of a biblical word and had to travel to a place where Aramaic was spoken, and they did not look at Onkelos where the word is explained in Aramaic. Albeck’s observations are supplemented in the author’s Targumic Studies.[30] We now know that the midrash’s authors could not have utilized Onkelos as a source because it did not exist when the midrash was composed.


My studies of the Targum Onkelos Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible compared the words used in the Aramaic translation when the translator did not render the Bible literally with the language used in the late fourth century midrashim. The study showed that Onkelos consistently used the language in the midrashim.  There were a total of 698 similarities between Targum Onkelos to the four biblical books that we studied (excluding Genesis) to the text contained in the five midrashic volumes that we analyzed, most of which were exact quotes.[31] The Targum parallels these midrashim in a third of the verses where there are midrashic comments. Since the targumist drew material from these volumes, his Targum Onkelos had to have been composed after the end of the fourth century CE.

Since the editors of the Babylonian Talmud had Targum Onkelos in hand and were unable to recall its author, it stands to reason that the Targum must have been completed before the editing of this Talmud began in the fifth century. Thus a dating of 400 CE is probably very close to the exact date of our Targum’s composition.

An afterword

It is worthwhile repeating the following from Targum Onkelos to Deuteronomy.

As to which composition, Sifrei or Targum Onkelos, is earlier there are four
possibilities. First, Sifrei was composed after Targum Onkelos and follows an
interpretative tradition that originated with or was incorporated into the
Targum. This is possible, but in view of the subtle, concise, and often
ambiguous nature of Targum Onkelos’s deviations, it is doubtful that the editor
of Sifrei sat down, examined every deviation, found a reason for it, and then
wrote an expansion of it, proving his point by citing the opinion of tannaitic
sages who lived over a period of many generations. Furthermore, this would
fail to explain Sifrei’s derash, the material in Targum Onkelos not included in
Sifrei, the collection of divergent tannaitic views, and so forth. 

            The second possibility is that both Sifrei and Targum Onkelos were composed
during several generations, by a series of authors, with mutual borrowing,
both basing their interpretations on the same rabbinic tradition, which was
transmitted orally or which was in written form, but is no longer extant.

            Thirdly, it is similarly possible that both Sifrei and Targum Onkelos are based
on an earlier, more expansive Targum that is no longer extant. While both (2)
and (3) are possible, they are unlikely because of the remarkable and
consistent parallels between the two documents and for the other reasons
mentioned above. Furthermore, if Sifrei drew from a Targum, one would
expect some mention of a Targum among the many other sources that are
cited, but there is none in Sifrei.

            The fourth possibility is that Sifrei preceded Targum Onkelos and the
author(s) of the Targum translated with “one finger in the MT and another in
Sifrei.” This would explain the remarkable parallelism and the additional
material in Targum Onkelos.

            The author recognizes that his late fourth or early fifth century CE date for
Onkelos depends upon the generally accepted scholarly dating of the
tannaitic midrashim. A point can be made that versions of these midrashim
existed at an earlier time. The author would dismiss this idea because the
targumist follows the present midrashic text consistently and must have used
the final version. Another argument could insist upon the minority view of an
earlier redaction date for the midrashim. In any event, however one dates the
midrashim, the author’s contribution remains. The Onkelos targumist
borrowed from the tannaitic midrashim and must be dated after them.’

Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of thirty-three books, twelve of which are on Targum Onkelos. His website is

[1] The word “Targum” means “translation”, “interpretation”, or “version.” See Targum Onkelos to Genesis 42:23; Exodus 4:16, 7:1; Targum to II Chronicles 32:31; and Targum Sheni to Esther 3:8, 7:5. The words “Targum Onkelos,” as we shall see, denote “the Translation of Aquilas.”

   In the Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 49a, Rabbi Judah said: “If one translates a verse literally, he is a liar; if he adds thereto, he is a blasphemer and a libeler. Then what is a proper translation? Our translation.”

   The first mention of Targum Onkelos after the Babylonian Talmud does not occur until the seventh century. Sar Shalom in Sefer Shaarei Teshuvah, ed. F. Hirsch (Leipzig. 1858), 29c, and Seder Rab Amram (1865), 29.
[2] The translation is from The Babylonian Talmud, ed. I. Epstein, Soncino Press (London, 1938). This passage, it is important to note, is the only source for this legend. The verse itself is discussed again in the Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 37b. If Onkelos received guidance from R. Eleazer and R. Joshua, who lived around 130 C.E, this opinion would date the translation to the early part of the second century.
[3] In the Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 11a and Gittin 56a, b, and 57a. Cf. Tosefta Shabbat 7(8):18; Haggigah 3:2 and 3; and the midrashim Genesis Rabbah 70:5 and Tanchuma 41a, Mishpatim 3.
[4] The Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 1, 71c; Kiddushin 1, 59a; Haggigah 2:5, 77a. Although the contemporary English spelling is Aquila, the name is Aquilas in Greek and Hebrew. Those familiar with rabbinic studies will recall that errors in names frequently occur in the Talmud. While writing this note, the author was studying the Babylonian Talmud Bava Kamma and found the following errors in a few pages; R. Abba v. R. Abin in 112a; R. Ashi v. R. Assi in 112b, 113a, 114a; Rava v. Rabba in 114a, R. Huna v. R. Kahana in 114a, Rav v. Abbahu in 114b; and the Talmud itself was unsure of a name in 114b.
[5] See M. M. Kasher, Torah Shelemah 24 (Jerusalem, 1974), pages 155-161; and J. Reifman, Sedeh Aram (Berlin, 1875), pages 8-10.
[6] See Kasher, op. cit., pages 195-238, and Reifman, op. cit., pages 12-14. Numbers Rabbah is hardly older than the twelfth century. See The Jewish Encyclopedia, volume II, page 671, and Encyclopedia Judaica, volume 12, column 1261.
[7] Babylonian Talmud, Bava Bathra 99a: “Onkelos the proselyte said, the cherubim were of tza’atzu’im (image work) and their faces were turned sideways, as a student who is leaving his teacher.” The statement is somewhat obscure. It probably comments upon II Chronicles 3:10 (where the word is spelt with ayins) by referring to a similar word in Isaiah 22:24 (spelt with alephs). Targum Jonathan translates the latter word “son,” which suggests “student.” The reference to Onkelos is certainly incorrect. There is no Targum Onkelos to either the Writings or the Prophets, and Onkelos in the Pentateuch never translates “cherubim.” It always repeats the biblical Hebrew word. It is possible that the Talmud is referring to Jonathan ben Uzziel or Aquilas and not Onkelos.
[8] R. Jeremiah lived about 350 CE and his teacher R. Hiyya b. Abba, a generation earlier. It is likely that he did not make the statement that tradition attributes to him. First of all, the talmudic tradition is itself uncertain as to who made the statement. Secondly, since both R. Jeremiah and R. Hiyya b. Abba were scholars of Eretz Israel and not Babylon; the tradition, if correct, probably referred to the Eretz Israel Greek translation of Aquilas, and not the Babylonian Aramaic translation of “our translation.” Thirdly, in the Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 9b, R. Hiyya b. Abba is clearly speaking about the Greek Bible translation and seems to know nothing of the Aramaic version.
[9] H. Graetz, History of the Jews (Philadelphia, 1893), volume 2, pages 387, 581, 582, argues that the Aramaic translation “was made partly from that of Akylas (sic) on account of its simplicity, and was called Targum Onkelos.” See the author’s Targum Onkelos to Deuteronomy (Ktav, 1982), pages 2, 14, 15, and A. E. Silverstone, Aquila and Onkelos (Manchester University Press, 1970), and other volumes cited therein.
[10] Note, for example, that תגי and מדע in Palestinian Aramaic are תנגי and מנדע in Babylonian Aramaic.  Another difference is that Onkelos is spelt with an aleph and Aquilas with an ayin. Many Palestinian words with an ayin were transposed in Babylonia to an aleph because Babylonians had difficulty pronouncing laryngeals; for example, עד=אד.
[11] See notes 4 and 5, and related text.
[12] See for example Mishnah Aboth 6: 6; Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 97a; Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 2:1 (4b). Also, many talmudic discussions are based on the idea that Amoraim never dispute a subject that was previously disputed in a Mishnah without citing the earlier dispute. See for example Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 4a and 16b, middle of pages.
[13] M. H. Goshen-Gottstein, “The Language of Targum Onkelos and the model of Literary Diaglossia in Aramaic,” JNES 37 (1978), pages 169-179; B. Grossfield, “Onqelos, Halakhah and the Halakhic Midrashim,” in D. R. G. Beattie and M. McNamara (editors), The Aramaic bible (1994), pages 228-46.
[14] See edition by A. Berliner (Leipzig, 1877).
[15] See for example P. Kahle, The Cairo Geneiza (Oxford, 1959), pages191-228; H. Albeck, Jubilee Volume to B. M. Lewin (1940), pages 93-104; A. Diez Macho, Neophyti, I: Genesis (1968), page 98; Leopold Zunz, Die Gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden (Berlin, 1832). These views and others are discussed in I. Drazin, Targum Onkelos to Deuteronomy (Ktav, 1982), pages 2-6, and B. Grossfeld, Targum Onqelos to Genesis (Michael Glazier, 1988), pages 30-35. No critical evaluation was ever made of Berliner’s Masorah and every modern author refers to it without comment. The book and the conclusions drawn from it require extensive study. It should be noted that there was or were early Aramaic translations of parts of the Hebrew Bible, as confirmed by the fragments found in Qumran. See J. T. Milik, Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Volume 6: Qumran Grotte 4, II: Tefillin, Mezuzot, et Targums (4Q128-4Q157) Oxford, 1977. The comparison between these finds and Onkelos are discussed in I. Drazin’s Targum Onkelos to Leviticus (Ktav, 1994), pages 36, 146, 149, 151.
[16] With the participation of the Center for Judaic Studies of the University of Denver, the author published, through the Ktav Publishing House, Targum Onkelos to Deuteronomy in 1982, Targum Onkelos to Exodus in 1990, Targum Onkelos to Leviticus in 1993, and Targum Onkelos to Numbers in 1998. Targum Onkelos to Genesis was written by Moses Aberbach and Bernard Grossfeld, and was published in 1982. The latter authors ascribe a dating of Onkelos “towards the end of the third century CE” (page 9).
[17] A tannaitic document is one that transmits the views of the Jewish sages from the period of Hillel to the compilation of the Mishnah. This period began about 20 BCE and ended about 200 CE, although the documents may not have been committed to writing until a later time. The tannaitic midrashim were not redacted until the end of the fourth century.

    The tannaitic midrashim are Mekhilta deR. Ishmael and Mekhilta deR. Simeon b. Yochai to Exodus; Sifra to Leviticus; Sifrei and Sifrei Zutta to Numbers; and Sifrei and Midrash Tannaim to Deuteronomy. Each is individualistic in halakhic view, style, and character.

    Although the tannaitic midrashim appear, by their name, to have been composed during the tannaitic period, ending in the early third century, later scholars are mentioned therein. The tannaitic midrashim, in their present form, were unknown to the scholars in the two Talmuds and must have been composed in Eretz Israel no earlier than the end of the fourth century, after the completion of the Jerusalem Talmud. They were unknown in the Jerusalem Talmud because they were not yet composed. They were unknown in the Babylonian Talmud because of their composition in Eretz Israel. See Encyclopedia Judaica for sources regarding the dating of each midrash.

    J. Neusner, Midrash in Context (Fortress Press, 1983), dates the tannaitic midrashim in the fifth and sixth centuries. We will see in this study that (1) our targumist drew material from the midrashim, which must have pre-existed the Targum, and (2) the scholars of the Babylonian Talmud, composed and edited in the fifth and sixth century, mention our Targum but did not know the name of its author. Therefore, the Targum must have been composed before the Babylonian Talmud. Thus, a sixth-century date for the composition of the midrashim is incorrect.   
[18] This was done first in the Deuteronomy volume in pp. 8-10. This book showed the reliance of Onkelos upon the midrash Sifrei. The subsequent studies did the same with the other midrashim.
[19] The midrash Sifrei to Numbers comments on parts of nineteen of the thirty-six biblical chapters of Numbers (5-12; 15; 18-19; 25:1-13; 26:52-31:24; and 35:9-39), less than a third of the biblical text. It contains a considerable amount of aggadah and halakhah, items that Onkelos avoids, and has little narrative, areas where Targum Onkelos deviations abound.
[20] Onkelos has many Hebraisms because its audience’s language included many Hebrew words. They were used in the translation whenever the Hebrew was more familiar or understandable to the reader than the Aramaic equivalent. Similarly, although the midrash was composed in Hebrew, there are many Aramaic words in it.
[21] שקר twice, 5:6; כיור, 5:17; יפרש used in 6:2 to help define גזר; equals Sifrei’s pisqahs 7, 10, and 23, respectively.
    The exception of דבר in 12:1 (=pisqah 99) is understandable. Sifrei interprets דבר as “harsh speech.” This is derash, a homiletical exposition, and not a true definition; and Onkelos only translates according to the peshat, the simple meaning of the text. Yet, even in this instance, although the Targum does not quote the adjective “harsh,” it differentiates the two words, rendering מלל for “speak” and retaining אמר for the second.
[22] A chart of these instances is in I. Drazin, “Dating Targum Onkelos by means of the Tannaitic Midrashim,” Journal of Jewish Studies, Autumn 1999.
[23] The 106 instances are listed in the Journal of Jewish Studies article.
[24] Like Sifrei, Sifrei Zutta was composed at the end of the fourth century CE. But, unlike the former, the latter disappeared and only fragments were rediscovered in the Genizah, in Yalkut Shimoni, Midrash ha-Gadol, and other works. H. S. Horovitz compiled these findings and published them in Sifrei al Sefer be-Midbar VeSifrei Zutta (1917). Later, J. N. Epstein published an additional large fragment in Tarbiz 1/1 (1930). Sifrei Zutta contains many halakhot that are not mentioned elsewhere and many that differ with those in the Mishnah. Its style and terminology are unique.
[25] These deviations are identified and explained in the author’s Targum series. See Note 16. Targum Onkelos’s understanding and use of peshat will be addressed in the next chapter.
[26] See the author’s Targum Onkelos to Exodus (Ktav), pages 8-11, 32-33, for details.
[27] See the author’s Targum Onkelos to Leviticus (Ktav), pages 9-11, 26-28, for details.
[28] See the author’s Targum Onkelos to Deuteronomy (Ktav), pages 9-10, 43-44, for details.
[29] “Mekoroth Ha-Bereshit Rabbah,” Einleitung und Register zu Berechit Rabba volume 3 (Jerusalem 1965), pages 44-54. Albeck did not reach the author’s discovery that the Onkelos targumist took material from the tannaitic midrashim.
[30] See the author’s Targumic Studies, “Analysis of Targum Onkelos Deviations to Genesis” (University Microfilms International, 1981), pages 1-76.
[31] No study was made of Bereshit Rabbah, Mekhilta deR. Simeon b. Yochai and Midrash Tannaim. The author believes that more parallels will be found between Targum Onkelos and the other tannaitic midrashim when these books are studied.

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