Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Jewish Animals

When the Jewish midwives justified to the Pharaoh their inability to murder the Jewish baby boys upon birth, they told the Egyptian monarch, "These Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women, for they are animals.[1]" The Talmud explains[2] that Shifrah and Puah did not intend to deride the Jewish women rather they were referring to comparisons between various Israelite tribes and certain animals. Judah was called a lion cub[3]; Dan was considered a snake[4]; Naphtali was referred to as a roe[5]; Issachar was branded a donkey[6]; Joseph, an ox[7]; Benjamin, a wolf[8]; and all other tribes were compared to lionesses[9]. Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555-1631) asks[10] why the Talmud did not mention that Gad was compared to a lioness[11]. Rabbi Eidels, in the first of three answers, explains that the Talmud did not mention this comparison because the Talmud was only discussing comparisons between the tribes and animals made by Jacob on his deathbed as part of the blessings to his sons. Those similarities declared by Moses, upon his deathbed, as part of the blessing to the various Israelite tribes were not discussed in this Talmudic passage. However, this answer is difficult to understand because, when sourcing the comparison between Joseph and oxen, the Talmud paraphrases a verse in Deuteronomy, as uttered by Moses, upon his deathbed. Furthermore, in the Midrashic parallel[12] to this Talmudic passage, the Deuteronomical verse comparing Dan to a lion cub[13] is quoted.

Rather, explains Rabbi Eidels, Talmud did not quote the verse likening Gad to a lioness because that verse merely likens Gad to a lioness—as a simile. However, all the other examples cited (except the Midrash concerning Dan) were metaphors, directly identifying each tribe with their associated animal, without the usage of "like" or "as." Alternatively, Rabbi Eidels answers that the Talmud already had a source comparing every tribe of the Nation of Israel to a lioness, and therefore did not feel it would gain anything by having quoted a verse specifically comparing the tribe of Gad to a lioness.

[1] Exodus 1:19
[2] Sotah 11b
[3] Genesis 49:9
[4] Genesis 49:17
[5] Genesis 49:21
[6] Genesis 49:14
[7] Deuteronomy 33:17
[8] Genesis 49:27
[9] Ezekiel 19:2
[10] Chidushei Maharsha to Sotah 11b
[11] Deuteronomy 33:20
[12] Yalkut Shimoni, Torah §164
[13] Deuteronomy 33:22

1 comment:

marc said...

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shalom

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