Tuesday, August 06, 2013

A real hatchet job

A guest post by Y. Bloch

Caution: this post talks about TMS, but doesn't talk about TMS. You've been warned.

So, folks, how are we translating egla arufa, the stirring conclusion (Deut. 21:1-9) of this week's Torah portion? I was shocked to learn that "cow" technically refers to those female cattle which have reproduced (in some regions, only after baby number two). That being the case, the para adumma of Num. 19 cannot be a red cow, as only one Mishnaic opinion allows for a knocked-up para adumma (Para 2:1), and we don't follow it. It indeed seems to be, much to my chagrin, a red heifer. So what about the egla arufa? Calling it "the younger heifer whose neck is to be broken with a hatchet" is a bit wordy. We can go with "calf," but then we lose the sexual distinction between it and egel. The Golden Calf and the Beheaded Calf?

Speaking of that, many translations render arifa as decapitation, but no heads are coming off. We may have to go back to decollation, which nowadays usually means undoing the sorting function of a copier, but it did originally mean "be-necking". So, "decollated calf"? That seems to be too close to sexualizing livestock.

I'm also wondering why the Torah is so eager in Leviticus 5:8 to tell us that the avian sin-offering is not to be decollated. In fact, it is one of the 613 commandments (Maimonides, Neg. 112; Hinnukh 124). What does this all have to with the decollation of an unredeemed firstborn donkey (Ex. 13:13, 34:6)? I am perplexed.

Anyway, sorry to bother you. We now resume our round table on excommunication and heresy.

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