17 April, 2009

Matzah without the crunch

Filed under: Food,Halakha by Joel @ 1:20 pm, 17 April 2009.

I want fresh, soft matzah served daily in Pesach! Why do the Yemenites get all the fun?

It is clear that biblical matzah isn’t in fact referring to our crisp (if sealed i the factory), indigestible, bubbly sheets:

29 January, 2008

On swearing and swearing: sociolinguistics and the third commandment

Filed under: Halakha,Hebrew,Language,Tanakh by Joel @ 12:30 am, 29 January 2008.

The Third Commandment treats the matter of mistreating God’s name quite bluntly:

Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not acquit one who takes His name in vain.

Rashi follows the translation of Onkelos in suggesting that the repeated “taking in vain” is once an injunction against those who swear by the Name falsely, and once against those who swear needlessly.
((*dibrot:”Commandment” might be a misnomer here, as the Hebrew term for commandments is clearly mitzvot (or huqqim, mishpatim, etc.) The Ten Commandments are only ever referred to in the bible as aseret hadevarim (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13), or in later writings as aseret hadibrot. Devarim would often mean “words” or “things” or “utterances” or “statements”; its root means “to speak”.*))

Judaism abounds in traditions of protecting the sanctity of Divine Names in writing, and avoiding them in speech except when necessary. In fact, (להבדיל) the Rabbinic manner of protecting the divine name has taken on characteristics commonly found in linguistic taboo associated with swearing (the other type), euphemism, or political correctness. (more…)

17 October, 2007

Getting away with murder

Filed under: Halakha,Society and culture,Tanakh by Joel @ 5:03 pm, 17 October 2007.

Apart from beautiful poetic structure of Genesis 9:6 (“שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם, בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ”, “the spiller of man’s blood, his blood by man will be spilled”), it seems to support quite radical capital punishment, or surely avengance at the hand of man. Most modern societies would not support such a simple policy; even early translations and interpretations do not take it literally; but Rabbinic Judaism tends to quite the opposite, possibly to a fault.

26 August, 2007

Scribal law and children as judges

Filed under: Halakha,Hebrew,Paleography by Joel @ 12:01 pm, 26 August 2007.

I’ve been reading the Laws of Tefillin in the Mishna Berura, particularly its descriptions of the laws for scribes. It gives incessant detail for what makes a particular letter valid and what doesn’t. And then it prescribes that in cases of doubt, one should ask a “תינוק שאינו לא חכם ולא טיפש” (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 32:16), a child that is neither clever nor stupid, to attempt to identify the letter.

In modern Hebrew, a תינוק is a baby (and etymologically is implied, deriving from ינק, to suckle). But in order to read, it obviously needs to be older than that. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (24:5) writes that such a child is one “שאין מבין את העניין, אבל יודע ומבין את האותיות”—he doesn’t understand the issue, but knows and understands the letters. Similarly, the Mishna Berura (32:49) explains that such a child-decisor is too clever if he understands the issues of when letters need to be fixed, but not too clever if he knows the letters well and can’t read the words. On the other hand, one too stupid cannot read the letters; all-in-all one who can read the letters, even if not proficient or expert in them, may judge in such a case (32:50).

Final Nun and Kaf in modern and scribal print So here comes the issue. Most children nowadays are not taught scribal letters first-off. Most would be taught the alphabets of modern printed Hebrews: either what we find in our siddurim, or in Modern Israeli printed texts. And these are all significantly different from the prescribed scribal art. Even I, for instance, might initially read a valid but thin scribal ך (final kaf) as a ן (final nun), because although the nun of the scribe is very different to their kaf, I am more familiar with a printed nun.

How is a child raised on one script meant to identify letters in another?

Is there a halakhic solution to this problem?

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