Friday, September 05, 2014

Rashi and the Persian loan word in Dueteronomy

Maculation alert! Here's Rashi in this week's parsha:
"You shall not keep her as a servant: Heb. לֹא-תִתְעַמֵּר בָּהּ. [This means:]“You must not use her [as a slave]” (Sifrei 21:16). In the Persian language, the term for slavery and servitude is עִימְרָאָה [the term used here]. I learned this from the Yesod of Rabbi Moses the Darshan."
Is Rashi saying here that the Torah contains a Persian loan word? And if this is indeed what he's saying, how does he suppose it got there?

Here's my take: Rashi didn't recognize the word, so via his source he uses what he imagines to be a cognate from a related language to help us see what it means. What Rashi doesn't seem to realize is that Persian is an Indo European language, while Hebrew is a Semitic language. Languages from two different families don't have cognates with each other; therefore what Rashi observes is either a "false friend" (a coincidence) or evidence of a loan word. 

Now it may be true that the loan went from Hebrew to Persian rather than the other way which is is why we need to hear from a linguist

Things to do:
1) Check the word and see if the professional linguists agree that it entered Hebrew via Persian

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