Monday, July 12, 2010

What's a Migrash? I can't tell you, ha ha ha...

Mar Yaakov haMizrachi, Esq, gave a fascinating talk at Seudah Shlishit this week in Silver Spring, on the Migrash (open space) around the Levite cities, and what that tells us about the Torah's view of cities.

I also gave a talk about migrash at Shaleshudis, but it was not so involved, mostly explaining Shadal's (Samuel David Luzzatto, mid-19th century) attempt to understand what the Migrash was, somewhat textualist.

I recently acquired a Mendelssohn Bamidbar, pub. Wien, 1846, which came with Shadal in the back. So I was looking through it and came across his comments on 35:4-5, the migrash around the Levite cities - is it 1000 or 2000 amot?

He starts out with a long harangue about anyone who thinks it's an example of scribal error for lower criticism has rocks in their head (reikei moach).

Shadal even quotes from a "de Rossi" in Latin to demonstrate that editors tend to smooth out inconsistencies, rather than introduce them, although the online version doesn't have the Latin passage. Ah, this must the Christian Hebraist Bernardo de Rossi from the intro to his "Variae lectionis." He also quotes a couple of other Christian commentators who attempt to reconcile the 1000 vs. 2000 apparent contradiction.

To summarize,
  • Rashi said that it was a Migrash of 2000 cubits = 1000 empty + 1000 for crops. Based on a braita in B. Eruvin 56b.
  • Ramban, attempting to work out a pshat directly from the text, says the city is 1000 square and the migrash fills out to the edges of a 2000x2000 square, so the migrash itself is only 500 cubits wide.
  • Rambam says 2000+1000=3000, based on an alternate version of the braita quoted in M. Sota 26b.
  • Shadal says that his opinion is most like Rashi, in that the migrash was 2000 amot wide, with 1000 inside the city wall, and 1000 more outside, but none of it was to be used for crops, only for grazing and storage, based on historic Roman parallels in city planning. E.g. Romulus laid out a "Pomerium" surrounding Rome, partly inside and partly outside the city walls. (Is Pomerium an orchard?)
Shadal proceeds to critique all the other opinions - if the migrash is supposed to be 1000 outside the "kir" of the city, Ramban's solution doesn't work, it's only 500 wide. And are the cities really limited to 1000 cubits square? Included among the cities are the capitals of Sihon and Og, surely they were more than 5 Flatbush short blocks on a side?

Also, "kir" never means "center", only "wall" - so another interpretation which posits a square 2000 on a side centered on the center of the city, such that the migrash extends 1000 from the center to the limit, doesn't work either.

Rashi's doesn't work because it doesn't agree with historical parallels. Rambam's doesn't work because it's based on a literal reading of what is clearly an abbreviation (in the mishnah in Sota) of the longer baraita in Eruvin.

So, apparently for Shadal, textual criticism is dangerous when applied to Torah (although he himself applied it to Neviim and Ketuvim), but not historical consideration of realia.

A PDF of Rashi's, Mendelssohn's and Shadal's comments is here.


micha said...

Sorry for focusing on the tangent, but...

How does Shadal justify accepting (lower) textual criticism when it comes to Nakh?

Mima nafshach:

If the questions that motivate criticism are compelling, then he has a faith issue when it comes to Chumash,


If he has a means of dismissing them WRT chumash, why does that not dismiss any reason to look for critical answers in Nakh?

The epistemology in both cases is the same -- either you find it compelling or not. No?


thanbo said...

Nary a clue. I was just going on the Jewish Encyclopedia article. Maybe we can drag in Josh Waxman, who is a big Shadal fan.

Complete speculation: how is it a mima nafshach? We're not Xtians, who don't distinguish between Torah and Nach, it's all OT to them. We know who the human authors of the Nach were, but the Torah was dictated by God, without which idea, Judaism is no longer Judaism (cf. the heterodox movements).

joshwaxman said...

i don't know, and haven't explored it. that is my real answer. maybe S. has explored this, or simply said "indeed, it is an inconsistency."

but it might *just* be that he is appalled not at the application to Torah as opposed to Nach, but to the carefree attitude and shoddy scholarship with which this approach was applied. see here, for example:

perhaps one could say that due to religious concerns about pasul sifrei Torah, scribes were more careful about preserving the integrity of the Biblical text.


S. said...

>How does Shadal justify accepting (lower) textual criticism when it comes to Nakh?

I have indeed explored it. It's not an inconsistency per se, because in fact it's very consistent: he believed that the Torah had been transmitted perfectly due to special measures and guarding, but not Nakh. Indeed, we write and read many more sifrei Torah than we do megillos of Nakh, and indeed the halachos of writing the latter are more relaxed than the former, and indeed if one accepts the interpretation of Keri and Ketiv as a kind of critical apparatus, one is struck by the fact that the Torah has much much less of them than the other parts of Nakh. So it's not inconsistent. It just may or may not be wrong.

But in fact the issue of conjectural emendations ended up being a thorn in his side, because he had [what he considered to be] very high standards for suggesting one, and he more or less felt that no one else met those standards and therefore were not entitled to suggest them. For example, one young protege from afar was Yahash (Osias Schorr) who made loads of emendations. For example, he suggested בראשית ברא אלקים את המים ואת הארץ, which if you think about it is really quite brilliant. . Shadal's reaction was dismay, telling him that he wasn't working hard enough (or at all) to try to work out a difficulty by understanding what all the meforshim say first, he wasn't spending days on a difficult word or letter, etc. all things which he did.

That can fairly be called arrogance, although in fact there can be little question that he did meet his own standards, had great hasmada, and also had a measure of stubborn, public and proud piety which was lacking in other critics who suggested emendations. He wasn't necessarily wrong that they were trying to tear down the Bible while he was trying to build it up . In any case, it seems that all nearly all of his suggested emendations were made when he was relatively young. Although he upheld some of them, as evidenced by printing them in his commentary on Isaiah in the 1850s, and other printings late in life, he stopped suggesting them, and indeed he redoubled his efforts at defending the Masoretic text in Nakh, and in refuting others' emendations. Although he did not say this explicitly, it seems that he painted himself into a corner where he held that his own emendations (which he stopped making) were correct, but no one else's and indeed he stopped suggesting them.

It should be noted though that he did make emendations in trop even in the Torah, and he was willing to explain "Esh das lamo" according to its keri, ashdos, and not its ksiv.

In terms of the original question, anyone who knows anything about literally transmission and books knows that there really is no way to say that "either you find it compelling" or not, for there are errors. The Gemara doesn't have hundreds or thousands of variants, as well as every other book, but Tanakh never had any. Indeed, we all acknowledge that even the Torah has some few variants. This goes to show you that a very greatly guarded book can reduce the errors to but a few, but it can't eliminate them all.

These words were written in haste; I'll think about it some more and try to give a better response.

Nancy said...

The post is enlightening. The interaction that follows is very interesting!!

I enjoy your blog!!

This is Nancy from Israeli Uncensored News