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Please Help Me:Hebrew Is My Favorite Language #30

The Torah [Five Books of Moses] is written in Hebrew. In this weeks parsha Lavan calls the monument "Yagar Sahadusa". ARAMAIC. Why does the Torah choose to write these words in Aramaic even though normally even if words were said in a different language the Torah tells us what happened in Hebrew?

Please help me.

Obviously this touches on the larger question of the relationship between Hebrew and other Semitic, and even Hashemite, (e.g., Ethiopian) languages. This will also relate to the retrojection about the existence of Proto-Semitic (פרוטושמי). There are clearly many loanwords in נ"ך from other languages, both cognates of Hebrew and not (e.g., words clearly taken from Greek and Persian). Obviously this becomes more "problematic" within the תורה itself because, as one side of the argument goes, the תורה defines Hebrew (to the exclusion of נ"ך where it's clear that changes in Hebrew itself occurred [e.g., grammar]). This becomes a somewhat difficult position to take when there are words like יגר שהדותא in the actual text, words which are clearly Aramaic. ONe would have to then really expand 'Hebrew' to mean anything in תנ"ך, and strip it from the ranks of a coherent, consistent language.
Once one says that the תורה does not necessarily define 'Hebrew' and יגר שהדותא is indeed Aramaic, the question then becomes how far to take it. For example, some say that the word ספר isn't actually Hebrew at all but comes from the Akkadian shippuru. People generally will tend to violently oppose this as it seems such a familiar Hebrew word to believe that it is actually not Hebrew. There exists a plethora of other better examples of more and less radical thoeretical loanwords in תנ"ך. In my mind one does not have to get riled up against any of this, it is all purely conjecture and theorization. While I think the field of Semitics has what to offer, most "proof" that they bring is somewhat tentative, which isn't their fault - Ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Northern and Southern Arabian, Akkadian, Numidian, Assyrian, Egyptian, etc. are all dead languages.

For an example of what i DO think Semitics has to offer, take, for one example, the interchange of letters between Hebrew and Aramaic. People love this, despite that they have no idea what it's all about. I am not saying that this is definitely the explanation, but it seems extremely reasonable and works quite well.
Take צ. A wonderful letter that works triple-overtime in Hebrew. In fact, it seems to represent 3 distinct sounds.
1. Itself. Take צלם. In Aramaic it is also צלם, albeit with a bit different vowelization.
2. ט. In Hebrew one would say עצה, but in Aramaic it is עטה. Or, in Hebrew it is קיץ and in Aramaic it is קיטא.
3. ע. Everyone knows this one. In Hebrew it is ארץ and in Aramaic it is ארעא.
Semitics fairly easily explains what is occurring (instead of saying it's some random thing). צ, which, unlike in the Ashkenazi הרכבה of 2 distinct sounds, is a throaty ס, stands in for 2 other sounds that have no adequate represenative letters and sounds in Hebrew and Aramaic. But it is not simply conjecture that these sounds existed because they STILL exist in certain cognates and existed back in the day in others (on Akkadian tablets, etc.). To cut this short because i am way off topic, take ארץ and ארעא. How did צ and ע get flipped? They do not sound that similar, even in the accurate pronunciation of צ. The answer is that they are both approximating a 3rd guttural sound, that of Arabic ض (a very throaty ד). Hebrew approximates it with a צ and Aramaic approximates it with an ע (it could be that it depends on how it came into the language, what they thought it was closest to). In Arabic, the word for 'land' is ارض, which in Hebrew would be ארד (with deep ד).

In terms of Rebbe's question, במחכ"ת, I am not sure that one can ask why in most places everything takes place in Hebrew while in other places it does not. What I do think can be asked, however, is why it DOES do so here. In most of תנ"ך there seems to be little direct quotation of Aramaic (יגר שהדותא, one פסוק in ירמיהו, and Biblical ARamaic of דניאל and עזרא are notable exceptions), but in the past century people have identified what they think are Aramaisms. For example, the word הן used in בראשית ל:לד is normally taken to mean "yes". The problem is that nowhere does Biblical Hebrew ever have a word meaning "yes". To express the affirmative in Biblical Hebrew, the words are just repeated:
"Are you going to the store?"
"I am going to the store." Not, "yes".
But in Aramaic this word is used all the time to mean yes; therefore, these Semitists claim, it is an Aramaic loanword. (obviously this relates to the first part of what I wrote, i.e., if the תורה defines Biblical Hebrew)
That was a whole word. An example of what people call Aramaisms is the following:
בראשית לא:כח uses the word נטשתני (this week's סדרא!). Generally this word is understood in this context to mean "let": וְלֹא נְטַשְׁתַּנִי, לְנַשֵּׁק לְבָנַי וְלִבְנֹתָי - you didn't allow/let me to kiss my sons and daughters, לבן claims. The problem is that nowhere in תנ"ך (against the above issue) does נטש mean "let", it always means "forsake". However, the root שבק in Aramaic both means to forsake AND to let. Thus, the reason נטש would be used here is because לבן thinks in Aramaic and when he speaks in Hebrew he uses the Hebrew translation of שבק for both meanings. Which is why נטש here means to let.
I think this works beautifully and definitely adds a "time and place" to this episode that is unfolding between יעקב and לבן.
This is done all the time in languages. For example, Yiddish speakers (and now non-Yiddish-speaking yeshiva students) use the English word hold for things it does not generally mean. English speakers will not say "I am holding here" to mean that I am at this point, nor will they say "I hold of his opinion" to mean that I believe in his פסק. These are derived meanings from Yiddish.

A last example of an Aramaism is in בראשית כד:מג where the word עלמה is used. The only way we actually know what this means is from the תרגום, where עולימתא is the translation of נערה elsewhere.
תוספות השלם asks why it always says נערה and here it decides to say עלמה, answering that סיפר בלשון שלה. It seems as if these Aramaic loanwords (and ARamaisms too if they're real) are used to evoke the contexts in which the stories are occurring, especially when a member involved is an Aramean. The same should hold of יגר שהדותא.

I hope some of this was clear. Much of this is from Professor Richard Steiner, a wonderful, frum professor.

I hope i hit on some of the issues and partly answered your question along the way.

I apologize for this turning into a much longer post than was originally intended.

This is a great semitics treatise although I am not sure that is what Reb Ally was asking. I have always thought that the reason the torah tells us that esav called it Yegar Sahadusa and Yaakov then calls it Gal-ed is to emphasize the cultural clash and yaakov's break from the aramaic house of lavan. See the next pasuk.

Tyere Will

I am truly awed by your knowledge and understanding of semitic languages.

Indeed [as you said] very often the torah uses words that have their root in other languages. Even Rashi says that "totaphos" is a foreign word. [Usually I find out the root by reading the daas mikra]. Some claim that in all those instances the hebrew came first. I am completely unqualified to have an opinion on the matter.
Here though it is different [I think] because normally the word is "hebraicized" whereas yagar sahadusa is overtly aramaic and the Torah seems to go out of its way to show that while yaakov gave it a hebrew name Lavan chose the aramaic.
Maybe the explanation is as you suggested or maybe like my very dear friend R' Aharon Meshulam [Michael Eisenberg] offered. Or maybe both.

In any event thank you as always for broadening my knowledge and that of the tens of millions of Alleyways followers.

Also Tyere Will - I wanted to note that Heberw and Aramaic are not "dead languages". What you meant I guess is that we don't use them in our daily conversations but they are certainly alive and well in the beis medrash!!!!!!!

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I apologize for not making myself clear. Biblical Hebrew is not spoken as a language anywhere today, Aramaic still is (though it has developed somewhat). We do have modern Hebrew, but try putting כינויים at the end of a word and no-one understands you (someone asked me if i knew a woman in the apt. building and I said איני מכירה with a מפיק at the end - she had no idea what I was saying). Additionally, modern Hebrew elides many of the consonantal sounds.
And we don't know how either of them really sound when pronounced correctly, because they have been influenced by our unfotunately long stay in גלות.
But, of course, NEITHER of them are dead in our daily תורה learning.

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  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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