Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Guest blogger from Rashi expert

The translater and editor of the Artscroll Rashi Chumash sent the following for Parshat Miketz.  He will be visiting Omaha this summer for Shabbat.  Enjoy!

Shabbat Chanukah

Parashat Mikeitz

One of the themes of Chanukah is the confrontation between the culture of Torah and foreign cultures. Torah comes out the winner. It not only defeats the enemy, it takes the spoils of war. Throughout the ages Torah Jews have assimilated elements of the cultures of the peoples among whom they find themselves. A Rashi in this week’s parashah illustrates this phenomenon.

In the account of Pharaoh’s dream at the beginning of the parashah, we find the verse, “He fell asleep and dreamt a second time. Behold, there were seven ears of grain growing on a single stalk, healthy and good” (41:5).

The Hebrew word we have translated here as “healthy” is בריאות. Rashi’s comment on the word consists of a single word, the Old French word seines, spelled in Hebrew characters.

Avraham Meir Glanzer (he insists on not being called “Rabbi”), the world’s greatest expert on the French words in Rashi, raises a question here. The identical word appeared in the Torah three verses earlier“Behold, there came up from the river seven cows, nice looking and healthy, and they grazed in the swamp.” Why didn’t Rashi provide the French translation of the word there? Why did he wait until it appeared again three verses later?

Glanzer directs us to the comments of Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, the dean of commentators on Rashi, to the latter verse. Mizrachi (the title of Rav Mizrachi’s eponymous book) explains that Rashi is not merely translating the word because the reader may not be familiar with it. Rashi is dealing with a more specific problem. The primary meaning of the word בריאות in Hebrew is “healthy,” but it specifically denotes the health of animals. Its use in the context of describing ears of grain could strike the reader as problematic. Rashi cites the French word to solve this problem. The basic meaning of the word seines is “healthy” as applied to animals. But the word is borrowed to describe the health of plants and other things, as well. By the same token, Rashi implies, although in its strictest sense בריאות refers to the health of animals, by extension it can be applied to ears of grain.

Once we have established that this is what Rashi meant, Glanzer notes, it is clear that he had no need to comment on the earlier verse, in which בריאות describes animals
Glanzer uses this comment of the Mizrachi to introduce the reader to the main thesis of his wonderful book, Mayenei Agam, that Rashi often uses French for more than merely defining uncommon words


  1. Great post.The importance of a technical translation being accurate and efficient can indeed not be overstated. Especially in the ever faster moving world of globalized business, successful information and technology transfer within multinational businesses can make the difference between win or lose.

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