That is so; they were in use, but people did not know which form came in the middle of a word and which one at the end, and the Watchmen came and ordained that the open forms should be in the middle of a word and the closed forms at the end.
The Talmud resolves the difficulty by stating that all forms of the letters were original. The Watchmen resolved that the open forms should be used in the beginning and middle of words and that the closed forms should be used at the ends of words. This is how they are used to this day.
However, the problem still remains. How could the prophets change anything after the giving of the Torah?
The answer (found elsewhere in the Talmud as well) expresses a certain ideology concerning change. While it might seem that the prophets were innovating, in actuality what they were doing was restoring the initial revelation. The initial revelation was forgotten, and then the prophets came back and restored it.
Today’s section contains yet another unrelated statement by R. Jeremiah and some say R. Hiyya b. Abba. The topic today is the translation of the Torah into Aramaic. A very interesting sugya.
The Targum Onkelos is the most well-known Aramaic translation of the Torah and in Yemenite synagogues it is to this day read in the synagogue along with the Hebrew. It is referred to with great frequency by commentators, especially Rashi. However, we should note that the Targum Onkelos that we have today is probably not identical to the Targum they used in the Talmudic period. Rather, our Targum is according to most scholars a later creation. In any case it is interesting that according to tradition Onkelos (not a Jewish name, perhaps from Greek) the convert created this work, under the guidance of two very famous rabbis, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua.
The translation of the Prophets was done by Jonathan ben Uzziel under the guidance of the prophets who lived during the rebuilding of the Second Temple. There is a fascinating story appended here that the earth quaked at the translation of the Prophets. God, speaking through a Heavenly Voice, was greatly disturbed that the meanings of these books were revealed to the nations of the world. This is potentially a reference to Christianity and maybe other breakaway sects that read cryptic verses in the prophets as foreseeing the coming of the Messiah or in the case of Christianity, Jesus. The verses in books such as Ezekiel and Isaiah were the subject of great mystical speculation and therefore there is a trend in rabbinic literature to want to keep these verses out of the hands of competing groups. Nevertheless, we should note that Jonathan ben Uzziel did translate the Prophets. In the end, at least when it came to this case, his wish to share the Jewish treasures with the world.
God, however, says no when it comes to translating the Writings. The Book of Daniel is part of the Writings and in it there are apocryphal visions of the end of the days, the coming of the Messiah. [I should note that many of these visions are already in Aramaic, albeit a different dialect].
Traditional Tanakhim today contain Targum Yonatan for all of the Tanakh. However, only the Targum Yonatan on Prophets is actually Targum Yonatan. The other is ascribed to him.
The Talmud now asks whether Onkelos, living in the first century C.E. actually composed the Targum. According to an interpretation of a verse from Nehemiah, the Jews who returned from the first exile in Babylonian already had a Targum. So how could Onkelos have composed it?
The answer is the same we saw on the previous section—the Targum was originally composed by the time of the return from the Babylonian exile, it was forgotten, and then Onkelos went back and composed it again. As we can see, the Bavli likes to use this answer when it has conflicting traditions as to how founded a certain institution.
The interpretation of this verse also refers to the “stops”—the separation into verses, and the Masoretic notes. These are not just for how we sing the verses in the public reading of the Torah; they are essential for understanding how to read and understand the verses.
The Talmud asks the obvious question—why was God okay with translating the Torah but not okay with translating the Prophets? The answer is that the meaning of the Torah and its laws is usually quite apparent. People can understand it without a Targum. However, as anyone who has ever read anything from the Prophets knows, many of the verses are difficult to understand. It was the meaning of these verses that God did not want revealed to the rest of the world.
As an example of a cryptic verse the Talmud chooses Zechariah 12:11, which R. Joseph said could not be understood without the Targum. The verse refers to the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddon but without some interpretation we can’t know what that refers to. The Targum explains it as referring to two people who were killed in two separate events: Ahab son of Omri, whose death is told in I Kings 22 and Josiah son of Amnon whose death is told in II Kings 23. Note that the Targum splits the verse from Zechariah into two events—one involving Hadadrimmon and the other involving the plain of Megiddo.
The end of yesterday’s section alluded to the prohibition of translating the Writings because there are verses in the book of Daniel that reveal the end of time. Today’s section opens with a verse from Daniel. Furthermore, today’s section contains another statement by R. Jeremiah and some say R. Hiyya b. Abba, the same amoraim whose statements were at the focus of the previous sections.
In this verse, Daniel sees a vision (seems to be a vision of God, but I do recommend reading the verses) but the other men with him do not see the vision. R. Jeremiah identifies these other men as Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the prophets that operated at the end of the Babylonian exile and as the Jews returned to the land of Israel. They were superior to Daniel because they were prophets. But Daniel is not really a prophet, sent by God to deliver messages to Israel, as were the classic prophets. However, on this occasion, Daniel was superior for he saw the vision and they did not.
If the prophets didn’t see why were they afraid? The Talmud claims that while the prophets themselves did not see the vision, their “star (mazal)” did see. Rashi explains that each person has a “mazal” in the heavens who (I guess) represents him above. It seems that whatever the “mazal” experiences, the person also experiences.
Ravina uses the previous explanation of the verse in Daniel to conclude that if a sudden fright comes across a person it must be because his “star” saw something up above. The remedy for this fright is recite the Shema. Perhaps reciting a text so familiar will calm the person’s nerves. Alternatively, the holy text of the Shema will work as some sort of incantation, protecting him from the frightening sight witnessed by the “star.” It is forbidden to recite the Shema in a dirty place, so if he experiences such a frightful experience near a dirty place he should move away four cubits. Finally, if he’s really stuck in a foul place he should let the demon frightening his star know that there are fatter goats to pick on at the butcher’s.
While we did not encounter many such “demon”-oriented text while learning Sukkah, there are many such texts in the Babylonian Talmud. People in the ancient world, including many rabbis, believed in the existence of demons, and developed all sorts of means to protect themselves from them. While today most of us find such passages somewhat “distasteful” “pagan” or “primitive” they are a part of our Jewish/Talmud (and human) heritage.
At the end of last week’s daf we learned that the words “city and city, town and town” from Esther 9:28 are used in a derashah which teaches that areas close to a walled city read the Megillah on the fifteenth, as does the city itself. The verse continues with “family and family”—our Talmud asks what added meaning can we derive from these words?
The Talmud uses the word “family and family” to teach that even if priests, Levites or Israelites were in the middle of worshipping at the Temple and the time to hear the Megillah came, they should stop their worship service and go hear the Megillah. Clearly this is a value statement and less of an actual practical issue. One certainly would have thought that hearing the Megillah, a mitzvah that is only of “derabanan,” rabbinic status, would not supersede Temple worship, one of the main mitzvoth in the Torah. The Talmud, as it is wont to do, comes to teach the opposite. Hearing the Megillah it would seem supersedes all mitzvoth.
I think we could have anticipated this line coming next. In the rabbinic world, the study of Torah is one of the religious acts that replaces the Temple worship. So if the priests, Levites and Israelites stopped Temple service to hear the Megillah, all the more so should rabbis interrupt their studying in the Bet Midrash to come and hear the Megillah.
The Talmud will now use the above argument to discuss whether the Temple service is really greater than the study of Torah. The discussion begins with a verse from Joshua in which a mysterious man who turns out to be an angel of God approaches Joshua. But before we discuss the larger issue, the Talmud digresses to ask some questions about the verses themselves and Joshua’s behavior.
The issue of demonology returns. One shouldn’t greet an unknown person at night, lest he be greeting a demon, a dangerous act (indeed). The man told him that he was a messenger from God, but why should Joshua have believed him. The answer is that demons don’t take God’s name in vain. They may be demons, but they have their red lines as well!
Joshua had been laying siege the previous evening. According to the midrashic reading of the angel’s words, Joshua had not offered the evening sacrifice, reasoning that he was engaged in war. Rashi explains that although one is allowed to stop Temple worship during war, evening is not a time for battle. Therefore, Joshua should have offered the sacrifice. Furthermore, now that it is night he should be studying Torah, for the night is again not a time for battle. Joshua wants to know which of these two accusations really caused the angel to come. He answers: I have come now. Meaning that he came at night because Joshua was not studying Torah—the worse of the two omissions. Thus it seems that the study of Torah is greater than Temple worship.
The Talmud now follows with two more midrashim that are similar. In Joshua 8:9 Joshua spends the night in the “valley.” This occurs when he is setting siege to the city of Ai. But this time Joshua has learned his lesson. He spends the night “in the valley” which R. Yohanan interprets as “the depths of halakhah.” He does not desist from the study of Torah.
Finally, R. Shmuel b. Unia restates the earlier midrash—the angel comes “now” when Joshua desists from Torah study, for Torah study is even greater than the offering of the daily sacrifices.