Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- aspect and law

When you have learned trop, you will learn how to punctuate Biblical Hebrew and the meaning of lots of verses will get clearer. Now I’m going to whip you back to aspect again and show you how the relationship between Torah and Mishnah, the basis of Talmud, gets clearer.

In Midrash Halakhah Sifre on Leviticus, the introduction gives 13 principles used in Jewish courts to help judges make decisions. They are attributed to Rabbi Yishmael who was martyred by Hadrian about 132 CE, but most of them were known to R. Hillel the Great over a century earlier.

One of them, qal va-chomer is called a fortiori in western legal systems. If somebody does X and gets punishment Y, then if somebody else does 2X the punishment ought to be 2Y.

Where aspect comes in is tort laws and rituals.

Most tort laws like Exodus 21:18 start with an imperfect aspect verb; this is an action which the law knows happens sometimes and has decided is worth paying attention to because it has had bad consequences enough times not to be accident or coincidence. In this case, it’s y’rivun which you also know is an uncertainty epistemic; we’re supposing that the fight is intense enough for the law to get involved.

Such an opener is usually followed by a perfect aspect verb, in this case hikah. As soon as hikah happens, the fighting men become subject to the law. When the hittee nafal (perfect aspect) onto his bed, the laws of damages for battery kick in.

In the 13 forensic principles, this is a k’lal u-prat, a generalization followed by details. There are also cases where the details come first and then the generalization. The details govern what happens, but the k’lal in imperfect aspect defines what area of torts we are talking about.

The same is true for sacrifices. Ki taqrivu using the imperfect is followed by things like zevach shlamim which distinguish the rules from those applying to a sin offering. Then follow perfect aspect verbs about what parts of this zevach belong to the owner or how long he has to consume them.

And finally, there is the k’lal u-prat u-k’lal, ein atah dan elah k’eyn ha-prat. This is in Deuteronomy 14:22 where a string of imperfect verbs in the k’lal identify that in general, the distance to the tabernacle might be so far that food would rot on the way. Verse 23 starts with a sequential natatah and then there are perfect verbs about what to do with the money. Verse 26 opens with another sequential natatah and includes a string of nouns detailing what to spend the money on and then there’s an imperfect aspect tishalkha, what your “soul” asks you for. That generalization seals off the list of permissible things. It is followed by a perfect aspect akhalta. In other words, this money has to be used for food and drink. If you use it for hotel bills, you’ve violated the law. You have to bring other money along for that.

When you can recognize the aspects, the aspectless, the agentless binyanim, the punctuation of trop, and the use of et, then you can see how these things play out in Mishnaic legal formulas. It shows that Jewish law, like other common law codes, is much less haphazard than you might think.

Jewish classical literature is comprehensible, but most people have to leave their comfort zone to understand it for what it is: the record of JEWISH ideas backed up by Torah and the rest of Tannakh, which are recorded in the ANCIENT Jewish language and not in something that westerners have mis-labeled and misdescribed for centuries.

Speaking of centuries...

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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