Originally posted by josephw
Ya, but there's a computer in the lobby.
When you have time could you send that material to my site message place? I'd like to see more.
Here’s an overview (shamelessly cut & pasted from an earlier post)—
Actually, the “problem” is that Hebrew has too much
meaning. It seems to be a “depth language”: each word has layers of meanings and possibilities, that are not translatable into a singular word in English. This is why Judaism is essentially a “hermeneutic religion,” in the words of a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary (actually, I think he was the head of the seminary). Hermeneutic means interpretive, and in the case of talmid torah
(Torah study), this means discovering and exploring all
the possible interpretations—and spinning new ones as well.
[Note: “Torah” in rabbinical Judaism refers to the “dual Torah,” both written (“biblical&rdquo
and the oral tradition, exemplified by the Talmuds. The most particular style
of Jewish exegesis is called “midrash.”]
Traditionally, there are four levels of interpretation to any Hebrew text. Altogether, they are called PaRDeS. Pardes means orchard or garden, and the word here is an acronym for:
: The surface, plain or “literalistic” meaning of the given verse or text.
: Hinted or allusive understandings, with the clues given in the text itself.
: A deeper meaning, which may not even be hinted at by the given text itself, but may be gleaned, for instance, by looking at other texts.
[/i]Sod[/i]: The mystical, hidden meaning of the text.
The idea is to read “down” into the texts. It might be similar to an Ignatian “lectio divina.”
There is a Talmudic story: Some rabbis are arguing over an interpretation of Torah. Rabbi Eleazer put forth an interpretation that all the other rabbis disagreed with. R. Eleazer therefore called forth a series of miracles to prove his point—“If I am correct, let this stream run backwards!” etc.—but the others were not impressed. Finally, R. Eleazer cried: “If my Torah is correct, let a voice (echo) from heaven descend and declare it so!” Whereupon a heavenly voice said: “Why are you arguing? The Torah has always meant what Rabbi Eleazer says it does.” At that point, Rabbi Joshua jumped up and shouted, “It is not in heaven!”
Meaning? Torah was given to men to interpret without any heavenly meddling. Later, one of the rabbis died and met Elijah in heaven. He asked Elijah what God’s response was when the rabbis declared, “It is not in heaven”? Elijah said, “The Blessed Holy One just laughed, saying ‘My children have bested me! My children have bested me!!’”
“Why are the words of Torah like fire? A fire is built of many logs and the words of Torah survive only through many minds.” (tractate Ta’anit)
“Whenever a man studies words of Torah, he is certain to find a meaning in them.” (tractate Eruvin)
Rav Hisda said: “To learn Torah…it is better to go to several teachers. The many different explanations will help to give you understanding.” (tractate Avodah Zarah)
“The words of Torah are fruitful and multiply!” (tractate Hagigah)
“He who toils in Torah and discovers in it new meanings that are true contributes new Torah which is treasured by the congregation of Israel.” (the Zohar)
“A place has been left for me to labor in it [the Torah].” (tractate Hullin)
--Talmudic quotes from The Talmudic Anthology, Louis I. Newman, ed.
A further note on Hebrew
“To avoid the trap of idolatry—the illusion of possessing the
meaning—Hebrew tradition has introduced the idea of levels of meaning.” (Marc-Alain Ouaknin, The Burnt Book: Reading the Talmud
) This is based on the language itself. As noted above, Hebrew is more of a “depth language” than a “precision” language. Words have layers of meanings, which deepen and expand in association with other words, phrases, etc.
Examples: (1) In original Biblical Hebrew, there are no vowels (although certain consonants can sometimes
substitute for vowels. The “Masoretic” system of vowel points was a later development (about the 8th century, CE). Even such a seeming vowel as aleph
can be pronounced as ah, oh, or eh, depending on how it is “pointed.” (2) Each Hebrew word is based on a consonantal root (usually, but not always, 3 letters). All words sharing the same root have associated meanings; they are “related.” Thus, “Shalom” (SH-L-M root; generally translated as “peace,” but also meaning wholeness, harmony and well-being) and “Shalem” (same root, generally translated as “wholeness,” but also meaning peace, harmony, well-being); each word gives a different emphasis on the same complex of underlying meanings.. (3) Each Hebrew letter is also a number, and the “number games” that can be played with words is called “gematria.”
The point is that traditional Jewish exegesis is radically
different from most Christian approaches, and has been for more than two millennia (although at least some of the early church “fathers,” such as St. Gregory of Nyssa, seemed to take a more midrashic approach; cf. Gregory’s The Life of Moses
; also, Talmudic scholar and rabbi Jacob Neusner considers the Gospel of Matthew to be a midrashic “type;” Jacob Neusner, What is Midrash?
). My purpose here is to give a “taste” of that different approach.
“The scroll of the Torah is written without vowels, so you can read it variously. Without vowels, the consonants bear many meanings and splinter into sparks.* That is why the Torah scroll must not be vowelized, for the meaning of each word accords with its vowels. Once vowelized, a word means just one thing. Without vowels, you can understand it in countless, wondrous ways.”
—Bahya ben Asher (13th-14th centuries), quoted in Daniel Matt, The Essential Kabbalah
Also: “The Torah scroll may not be vowelized—so that we can interpret every single word according to every possible reading.” (Jacob ben Sheshet, quoted by Matt in a footnote to the above quote.)
Of course, the Masoretes, by deciding on vowel-pointing, decided the standard
or conventional interpretation for the “plain reading” ( ha p’shat
). This vowel-pointing shows up in the printed texts, but the Torah scrolls remain unpointed.
There are lots of examples in Midrash and Talmud and Kabbalistic texts such as ha Zohar
that go something like: “Do not read [word with standard vowel-pointing]. Rather, read [alternative word with changed vowel-pointing].”
* Probable reference to the netzotzim ha’kodesh
, “sparks of holiness” or holy sparks—splinters of the Or ein sof
, light (or energy) of the divine-infinite, hidden in the husk(s) or shell(s) kellipot
of the physical world. Spiritual tikkun
(repair, healing) consists of “releasing the sparks.”
The following might provide a light example. It is resurrected from the “Elisha and the Bears” thread, where it was posted in response to bbarr’s insistent question: “Why 42, dammit?”
Elisha and the Bears
Second Kings: 23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, "Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!"
24 When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of YHVH. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.
In Hebrew, each letter also stands for a number (there are no numerals in Biblical Hebrew). Now, the word for bear is spelled dalet bet
(DB, pronounced dob
. Dalet is the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, bet is the second letter: 4 and 2.
The words used to identify the number of children in the story are arba’im v’sheni. arba’im
is the plural form of arba
, which means four-fold, quadruple, a four-count; hence, arba’im
was used for the word “forty.” v’sheni
means “and a double.”
A Jewish reader schooled in Hebrew would recognize the complex pun
on the word dob
, meaning bear, but also the numerals 4 and 2, and arba’im v’sheni
, forty-two. Traditional midrashic exegesis gets a lot of mileage out of such word-plays.
Since Hebrew is based on a consonantal root system (usually three, but in this case two), words with the same consonantal roots can be related, regardless of the order of the letters. Now, the word spelled bet-dalet (BD, the same letters as dob
, but reversed), also means idle talk or prattle. It does not seem beyond the bounds of midrashic exegesis to propose that this verse means, symbolically, that “idle chatter ate them up,” the idle chatter being their poking fun at Elisha.
Again, the Jewish tradition is not to look for “the one right meaning,” but all the possible meanings, looking for symbolism, metaphor, allegories, word-plays, even puns. This example may seem fanciful—and perhaps brings a “fairy-tale” like quality to the story—but….
You might also want to look at this thread, entitlked “A Playful Midrash for Shabbos” (with some insightful commentary from FreakyKBH and lucisfershammer: