Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An ArtScroll Cover Up? How violent was Amram toward his daughter Miriam?

On BT Sota 12 we find some lovely exegesis on the opening chapters of Exodus. Our ideas regarding the miracles that accompanied Moshe's birth, Daughter of Pharoah's magic arm, the death of her maid servants, and the strategies employed by her father to enslave the Israelites can all be traced to interpretations recorded on this page.

At the bottom of the page, Miriam's prophecy is discussed. We're told:
"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took etc." [Why is she called] the 'sister of Aaron' and not the sister of Moses! — R. Amram said in the name of Rab, and according to others it was R. Nahman who said in the name of Rab: It teaches that she prophesied while she yet was the sister of Aaron only [i.e. before Moshe was born. And what was that prophecy?]  'My mother will bear a son who will be the saviour of Israel'. When Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light; and [Amram]  her father arose and kissed her upon her head, saying 'My daughter, thy prophecy has been fulfilled'; but when they cast him into the river, her father arose and [Toficha] her upon her head, saying: 'Where, now, is thy prophecy!' That is what is written: "And his sister stood afar off to know what would happen..." — [meaning] what would happen to her prophecy.
The meaning of the word "toficha" is unclear. ArtScroll says it means "tapped" but Soncino translates it as "smacked."  A tap is gentle. A smack is not. So just how violent was he?

Not having a time machine at our disposal, we have to guess from the context, and based on the context "smacked" makes more sense, as its a better antitheses for the kiss Amram is said to have delivered first. Also, what is the significance of a tap? We kiss children when they please us, and slap them when they do not. Under what circumstances are they ever "tapped?"

Unless I'm missing something, I think ArtScroll's translation is faulty. Did an oversensitive editor insist on "tap"  to protect Amram's reputation? Was the word mistranslated to make Amram seem less abusive, and more in keeping with our 21st century notions of a respectable pater familias? I wonder.

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