Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why does Onkolus Sometimes Translate City Names and Sometimes Leaves them Unaltered?

In Matos, when the members of shevet Gad and Reuven approach Moshe with their request to inherit the area that had already been conquered (Ever Hayarden), they start off by listing the conquered cities (Bamidbar 32:3).

Usually, Onkolus leaves city names unaltered in his translation, but here, he translates them according to their meaning or significance. For instance, he translates "El'eila" as the Aramaic equivalent of "Argumentative People. And he translates "Nevo," as "Burial Place of Moshe."

This is very different from what he usually does, even though the city names often have discernible meanings elsewhere as well. In addition, many of these city names are used again later in the parsha and he goes back to his usual modus operandi there of not translating/explaining city names.

Does any have any insight into why he does this davka in this pasuk?

Incidentally, this is such a parsha of ahavas ha'aretz, along with the story of the daughters of Tzlafchad last week. Kol tuv!


Dan G said...

See Tosfot Brachot 8: d"h VaAfilu Atarot VeDivon.
Comes out from the Tosfot that the altered names aren't from Onkolus, but actually from Targum Yerushalmi.
The early printers of the Chumash probably put in the Yerushalmi instead of Onkolus in accordance with Tosfot's recommendation that when reading Shnayim Mikra VeEchad Targum, wherever Onkolus just copies the Hebrew, one should read the Yerushalmi instead.
(I once read or heard this explanation, I don't remember where)

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Thank you! But that only answers for this one pasuk. What about the vast majority of other instances where Onkolus just keeps the city/proper names as-is? Why would someone only make that replacement in that one pasuk?

Dan G said...

Sometimes such phenomena are explained by saying that the early printers weren't Talmidei Chachamim and acted according to their own (mis)understanding of the Talmud & Poskim. Maybe that would apply here (though I may very well be wrong, and I don't want to be caught slandering righteous people), as the Tosfot could be understood to be talking only about this pasuk. Though it's quite clear that they are making a general rule and using this pasuk as an example.
Anyway, whether I am wrong about that and it was done intentionally according to Daat Tora, or I'm right and this was brought about only by intention of Divine Hashgacha - the Targum on this specific pasuk stands out as a tremendous Limud Zchut on Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven:
It exposes their ulterior motive in wanting to remain in Ever Hayerden - they loved Moshe Rabeinu so much that they wanted to stay with him even after his burial, even though that meant giving up living in Eretz Yisrael.

Shmuel said...

It could very well be that Onkelos is in fact alluding to the true motive of B'nei Gad for choosing to stay there; somehow they intuited that Moshe would be buried there in Nebo. This is bolstered by the verse in V'zot Habracha concerning Gad: "Ki sham chelkat mechokek safon" (Deut. 31:29 see Rashi). ONkelos specifically renders Nebo here as the burial place of Moshe to signify that although the p'shat appears to be that they chose the land for its superior pastures, the true reason was because of what it would one day become...

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Dan and Shmuel: Could be. But why then does he translate/expalin all of the city names in the pasuk, and not just the one relating to Moshe?

Dan G said...

Like I said, the Targum on this pasuk is apparently from Yerushalmi, not Onkelos, and the question should be: why did the printers of the Chumash choose this specifc pasuk to replace Onkelos with Yerushalmi. But replacing only a part of a pasuk definitely wasn't an option.

Menachem said...

@ Dan G --

Your point on the Targum being milamed zechus on shevet gad and reuven is in fact how the sfas emes quoting reb simcha bunim interprets the pasuk of "mikneh rav" - not that they had "a lot of cattle" but that they had a "kinyan on their Rav (Moshe Rabeinu)" And that is why they wanted to stay on the Ever HaYarden.

Yet Dixie's question still stands...

Dan G said...

Yet Dixie's question still stands...

I thought we already had it cleared up?
I'll try summing it up again, but in a slightly different manner:

Onkelos never alters any names.
Yerushalmi alters names in several psukim.
For some reason, in all printed editions of the Chumash, for the pasuk Atarot v'Divon, the Onkelos was replaced with the Yerushalmi.
We have two reasons why this was done, one according to Pshat and one according to Drash:

1) The Tosfot in Brachot 8: say that for any pasuk where Onkelos is identical to the Hebrew, one should read the Yerushalmi instead.
They bring the above pasuk as an example.
The halacha isn't like Tosfot, but in their honor, since they mention this pasuk spefically, here we act according to them.

2) The Yerushalmi on this pasuk reveals the true motive of Bnei Gad and Reuven (and even though this wouldn't require reading the Yerushalmi on the entire pasuk, only on the word Nevo, we don't have the authority to mix different Targumim in one pasuk).

I hope that's ok now.

Anonymous said...

From Dan G: (I once read or heard this explanation, I don't remember where)

July 19, 2012 4:10 PM

The Mishneh Berurah cites it as halachah in the siman on Shnayim Mikrah. I can't remember the exact reference right now but it's fairly near the beginning.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Thank you!