Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Aishes Chayil and the Color Red

Mildly updated on 1/20

The post yesterday on how Jewish women should never wear red, produced interesting conversation here and on Twitter. Of special note, was a comment by Realist/Skeptic, (a comment to which I can not link thanks to JSKit and their awful Echo Commenting system):
Someone please explain why, on every Friday night, frummie men around the world sing "Eshet Chayil", in which it says that all the people in the household of said Eshet Chayil are wearing red clothing? The Rabbis should IMMEDIATELY ban the singing of this un-tzinusdik song!
He's referring of course to Proverbs 31: 21 לֹא־תִירָ֣א לְבֵיתָ֣הּ מִשָּׁ֑לֶג כִּ֥י כָל־בֵּ֝יתָ֗הּ לָבֻ֥שׁ שָׁנִֽים When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.  (New International Version).

This is a puzzling thing. How can red - or any color - protect you from the snow?

The answer, I discovered today, may have something to do with our old friend Mister Scribal Error Interpretation (Duh. Dumb lapse on my part. The issue is vocalization, not spelling) Two ancient texts - the LXX and the Vulgate - provide translations of what appears to be the word sh'nayim rather then shanim

I don't speak Greek (and the LXX Proverbs is, anyway, considered by many to be a translation of a different Hebrew vorlage). I don't really have any Latin either, but the Vulgate is often straightforward enough, so here's how Jerome translated our verse: lameth non timebit domui suae a frigoribus nivis omnes enim domestici eius vestiti duplicibus

Vestiti is clothing (think vestment, or our word "vest" which once meant clothing in general); duplicibis is "multiplication by two", ie duplicate. So, as Jerome had it, the verse means the household is safe from snow because the hyper-competent mother of the house has prepared extra articles of clothing for everyone, or as a translation of the presumed Hebrew would have it:  When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in two layers of clothing.

(Other plausible explanations discussed in comments)

Search for more information about scribal errors at 4torah.com.

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