Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Were Cham and Kena'an Not Actually Cursed With Avdus and Turning Shachor?

Apropos to Parshas Noach, This post by MaNishtana makes an interesting argument, going back to Gemara and Midrash, that Cham and Kena'an were not cursed with blackness, and therefore that Noach's curse of slavery pinned on them was not referring to the African race. I like his use of comparative psukim and Gemaras to ellucidate the meaning of uncommon and unusual words, though I simply don't have the time to do independent research into the issue right now.

While the author's (almost) use of curse words and his erroneous assumptions about Rashi and other Rishonim are offensive, he does have some very interesting arguments that I had not heard before.

Do any of my more knowledgable readers know if these arguments are legitimate? Shkoyach!

Picture courtesy of MaNishtana. Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to subscribe in Google Reader.


joshwaxman said...

an interesting post. i think he is ultimately off the mark, and that the gemara means exactly what rashi says it means. but that doesn't matter, because not every gemara, or midrash, do we agree to, or take literally. and this is a gemara in perek *chelek*! We should know not to take chelek midrashim literally!

but for example, Tanchuma draws on earlier material, and scholars seem to think predated the chasimas haTalmud as well as Bereishis Rabba. so while the gemara does cite a braysa, saying it is 6th century, rather than 5th, is questionable.

and the context of the impact on the dog and raven shows that this is not a personal punishment in the mind of the midrashist, but rather a punishment upon the "species."

and the "problems" are not problems within the worldview of the author of the midrash, only within our worldview, if that.

in sum, of course one should not view being black-skinned as being the curse of cham. but i don't think these are very strong questions on Rashi's interpretation, and i would guess that Rashi is pretty close to the midrash's intent.


DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

R' Waxman,

Thank you for your insights. Indeed midrashim are not necessarily to be taken literally. And I like your he'ora about the dog and the raven. Tzara'as is not a good interpretation because it certainly doesn't seem to mean that all decendants of Cham have tzara'as.

The only bone I would pick with what you wrote though is your statement that "We should know not to take chelek midrashim literally!" I don't think you can really make such a categorical statement. Maybe if you said we shouldn't "necessarily" take them literally or that they are "often" not to be taken literally or even "quite often," I might agree. But that *no* agados in perek Chelek are meant to be taken literally is quite a stretch.

joshwaxman said...

perhaps. i was channeling rambam in his intro to perek chelek who referred to the genre of midrashim in perek chelek and in gemara brachot, blasting those who take them literally.

i didn't have particular midrashim in mind, so perhaps one could point to one i would agree was intended literally. but at the very least the genre there is, according to rambam, often those of the type one should not take literally.

also, i think that if we were forced to take this one literally, we would subsequently be forced to label the literally-intended midrash as incorrect.


Unknown said...

i like your insights josh. they in fact answer one of my questions on how cham's curse jumps from him to his descendants [i.e., if the dog and raven's extended to the rest of their species, then by extension so did cham's.] i'm actually a little bit annoyed i didn't catch that myself. lol. and as for your statement that some midrashim shouldn't be taken literally--true, they SHOULDN'T, and everyone says that in a vaccuum. yet somehow that qualifying statement always seems to get lost during interactions with someone not of the "in" crowd [whether it be racial, social, ethnic, religious, etc].