Friday, June 08, 2012

More than you wanted to know about Moshe's black and/or beautiful wife

Numbers 12:1 reads as follows:

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife (for he HAD married a Cushite.)

The following are Torah-true interpretations of this verse.  Please choose the one you think best captures the author of the verses's (ie God's) original intention:

"Cushite" in both biblical senses
1)Rashi: Cushite is code for gorgeous. When the verse says "Isha Cushite" it means the very beautiful Tziporah. Though the same author (ie: God) has previously used the word beautiful (or a synonym) to describe, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Joseph, here he elects to employ a euphemism instead. An explanation for this sudden and unnecessary use of a euphemism is not immediately obvious. [This brilliant little post on Onkelos's translation of the verse, offers a solid defense of Rashi's reading]
[And in this post, I discuss Ibn Caspi's extrmely sharp (but polite) rejection of Rashi's reading]

2) Ibn Ezra: Cushite is slang for ugly. The verse is speaking of Tsiporah, who was black, and therefore ugly (according to the sensibilities of Ibn Ezra, anyway) The Ibn Ezra does not tell us why the author (ie: God) chose to describe Tziporah this way, nor does he tell us why the author (ie: God) used a colloquialism here, instead of speaking plainly and directly.

3) Rashbam: The pshat (Rashbam's word, not mine) is that Moshe took an Ethiopian wife.

My vote: (3)

My reason: I prefer to think of God as a straightforward sort of guy. When He says Cushite, I assume he means Cushite. I don't expect Him to use slang, or to suddenly, this deep in the book, become cautious about using the word "beautiful" to describe a pretty girl.

Furthermore, Rashbam's reading is  supported by the legend retold by Josephus, and Sefer Hayashar. There's also a neat observation regarding Miriam's punishment.  We're told not only that she was stricken with leprosy, but also that she became "like snow." This extra detail makes the punishment a direct antithesis to her crime which was to speak against a black-skinned woman.

Please vote in the comments.

1 comment:

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