Sunday, August 08, 2010

A guest post by David A.

One premise that is very basic to the student of the Talmud and can be found on nearly every page of the Gemorrah is the concept that the Torah was written with great precision and that every single word, maybe every single letter, is expected to mean or convey something. And, therefore extraneous words are used to infer new laws or details within a law.

Many years back, on a Shabbat, I am sitting in shul during kri-at hatoreh. To be honest, I’m quite an impatient person and have trouble listening to the leining, so I usually spend the time quietly reading something on my own. But on this particular occasion I am actually listening to the parsha. It was Re-ay and the baal korei is intoning the section on forbidden animals (Devarim 14). Now, aside from a few differences in choice of verbiage and one major contradiction in law, superficially, this section seems a shortened repetition of the same laws as promulgated back in Parshat shimini.

As is well known that within the section, the Torah provides a listing of 21 birds that are forbidden to be eaten (Only 20 in Lev.). As the reader chants verse Dev 14:13 V’hara, v’et ha-eiya, v’ha’da-ya l’mina.

I flip back to Lev. (11:14) and read the corresponding verse as given there.

V’et ha’da-ya v’et ha-eiya, l’mina.

So, as can readily be seen, in the verse (Dev. 14:13) consisting of only 5 words there are 3 textual variations vis-à-vis Lev. Three in one tiny verse. Now, for a precision document, this just doesn’t make sense. What exactly is the meaning of these changes? Did Moishe forget what he wrote just 40 years ago? Did he not bother to check his copy of the earlier text?

So, I consulted the standard commentaries. It doesn’t/didn’t seem to bother anyone among the main ones. (or did I miss someone). Over the years, I’ve asked the question to many of our learned crowd and most just shrug their shoulders. It troubles no one. Some call upon the famous “fun a kashei shtarbt men nisht” (I.e. One doesn’t die from a question.), as if that provides a very insightful response. Obviously there is something wrong with me.

However, in my most humble opinion, the invocation of this famed sound bite should only be permitted when there is truly NO conceivable reasonable response.

I know, I know, the simple, quite obvious and very likely correct explanation cannot be invoked as it is considered to be “outside the pale”.

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