Tuesday, March 04, 2008

MO deligitimized, continued.

UPDATE: Hat Tip Failed Messiah

Williamsburg Hasidim Refuse to Count Elderly Modern Orthodox Jew for Minyan

Yochanan Lavie writes:

...Not only would they not eat at your table, but they might not count you in a minyan. I know an elderly MO gentleman who lives in W'burg. He has been frum all his life, and has been living there before it became a shtetl. He is MO, as I've said, and has no beard. The Chassidim won't count him in a minyan. Sometimes, he walks across the Willy B. bridge to the Lower East Side to daven on Shabbat!

Now, I wrote an undergraduate article once at college for my linguistics minor concerning the supposed "beard" commandment. For what it's worth, here it is:

About Lev. 19, first let's look at the context and the standard translation:

Lev 19:26 Ye shall not eat with the blood; neither shall ye practice divination nor soothsaying.
Lev 19:27 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
Lev 19:28 Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor imprint any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19:27 says, in Hebrew:

Lev 19:27 לא תקפו פאת ראשׁכם ולא תשׁחית את פאת זקנך׃

Lo takifu p'ah roshchem v'lo tash'chit eit p'ah z'kaneka.

(All definitions taken from "Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament" by Francis Brown, et al, and "Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic: Frequency lists with Definitions, Pronunciation Guide, and Index" by Larry A. Mitchell.)

Lo means "not" and v'lo can mean either "and not" or "but not" depending on the pointers of the vav. Since the original text had no pointers, you can only infer the vav-contrastive from the context.

takifu is a masculine plural reflexive form of n-k-f, which has the following translation: "make a (yearly) round" - that is, a circuit. Of course, in all gender languages, the masculine plural is also used for mixed-gender groups. In other words, there is no indication from the context or the grammar that only men are meant here.

Next there is a problem right off the bat. The masorites interpret p-a-t as p-a-h, even though it clearly says p-a-t right in their own text. They use p-a-h anyway.

p'ah is the feminine form and can mean:
1. "mouth" in a figurative sense, that is, direction, region, extremity (corner, end, quarter, or side). It is usually translated as side, rim, corner (of an area or land, as in the four corners of the earth), border and figuratively as luxury, or
2. cleave, split into pieces
3. to blow away, to scatter into corners.
4. A form of "po" with a vowel marker for long o.

But that's not what the text says. It says peh-aleph-tav, not peh-aleph-hey.

There's no English word in the lexicon for p-a-t, which is why they fudge. But, some Hebrew words come from older root forms. They have two-letter roots instead of three-letter roots, and cognates in related semitic languages. [D-M "dam" meaning "red" or "blood" is another good example.] So what can we learn from p-a?

The only viable option is peh-aleph as "po" (strongs 6311), meaning either:
1. "or" (the disjunction), or
2. this place - here or hence, hither, from peh-vav-aleph (strongs 375) meaning either "what place," "when" or "by what means" (we would say "how?").

p-a-t then may mean something like "your place" or as we used to say "from whence you came" or more likely just your place (in particular) - i.e. your "location."

roshchem is the masculine plural and means "your head." It can mean your literal head, but is also used to mean "leader" as in Rosh Yeshiva.

tash'chit is the reflexive form of sh-ch-t ("to decay") and literally means "corrupt." It has also been translated as ruin, batter, cast off (neglect), destroy, lose, mar, perish, spill, spoil, and waste.

eit has two possible translations:
1. a preposition meaning with or beside, or
2. an accusative particle; definite object marker - not translated in English generally. Think of it as THE instead of "the".

z'kaneka is z-k-n with a masculine single direct object suffix. There are three possible translations for the root:
1. old
2. beard, as age
3. elder, old man
Of these three, the last one occurs far and away more often in scripture as the proper translation.

So when you put this all together, you get:

Not make-a-yearly-circuit location-your head/leader-your and/but-not corrupt-spoil-cast.off-waste with/beside/THE location-your old-bearded-elder-your

The question is, what is the best English translation for this? The context puts this verse between practicing divination or consulting the dead and cutting marks on yourself for the dead. So the basic outline can be rendered:

Do not make a yearly circuit [to the] location [of] your leader and do not cast off THE place [of] your elder.

Let's put it all together:

Lev 19:26 Do not eat any [dead thing] with the blood; and do not practice divination nor soothsaying [by consulting the dead].
Lev 19:27 Do not make a yearly pilgrimage to the location of your [dead] leader, but do not neglect the location of your [dead] elder.
Lev 19:28 Do not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor imprint any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

This is a logical flow of comments from Elohim:

Don't eat the blood of a dead animal, don't consult with the dead [either animal spirits or human spirits] for divination, do not make yearly circuits to see your [famous?] dead leader's location, but don't cast off the location of your [humble? related to you?] dead elder. Do not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo yourselves [for the dead.]

The standard translation of hair and beards is fairly far-fetched when you consider the alternate translation within the context of the surrounding verses. So I have serious doubts that Elohim ever told anyone not to trim their beard or cut the corners of their hair.

Of course, I'm just a woman, and therefore to ignorant to have an opinion on anything. Take it or leave it.


Garnel Ironheart said...

As I posted on FailedMessiah, there's a big problem with this story because lots of people, myself included, who are clearly not Chareidi have davened, been counted for minyan, lained, led services and otherwise fully participated in various Chareidi shuls. I've even had Satmars daven in my home during a Sheva Berachos. I can't accept this story at face value because of my own experiences. The only explanation I might offer is that this is a particularly wingnut group of Satmars. Otherwise, it needs further checking.

Ahavah said...

Stupidity tends to spread out from an epicenter...what's happening in the US probably won't get to Canada for a while. Better yet, try and keep it out.