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Gender in medieval and modern Jewish translation of Exodus 19:3 — House of Jacob and Children/Sons of Israel

May 29, 2012

Exodus 19:3 contains an interesting doubling:

וּמֹשֶׁה עָלָה, אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים; וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו יְהוָה, מִן-הָהָר לֵאמֹר, כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב, וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying: “Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:  (JPS 1917)

and Moses went up to God.  The LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel. (NJPS)

I want to focus on that doubling בֵית יַעֲקֹב (House of Jacob) and בני ישראל (Children/Sons of Israel) (although notice the verbs used to address these two groups are different as well).   This doubling posed (and poses) a major issue for medieval and for modern translators and commentators.  The problem of course is that Jacob and Israel refer to the same person in the Bible, so how should exegetes understand this doubling?  The responses have a great deal to say about perceptions of men and women in different cultural times and societies.

Probably the oldest classical source is Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael  (date uncertain – between 2nd century CE and 4th century CE) which writes:

תאמר לבית יעקב אלו הנשים ותגד לבני
ישראל אלו האנשים. דבר אחר כה תאמר לבית
יעקב בזכות יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל בזכות
ישראל. דבר אחר כה תאמר לבית יעקב אמור
בלשון רכה ראשי הדברים לנשים ותגד לבני
ישראל ותדקדק עמהם.

Shalt Thou Say to the House of Jacob. That is, the women. And Tell the Sons of Israel. That is, the men. Another Interpretation: Thus Shalt Thou Say to the House of Jacob—because of the merit of Jacob. And Tell the Sons of Israel—because of the merit of Israel. Another Interpretation: Thus Shalt Thou Say to the House of Jacob. Tell the women the main things in a mild tone. And Tell the Sons of Israel. And be strict with them.

Michael Carasik in his magisterial translation of the Rabbinic Bible gives a number of medieval commentators who interact with each other:

Rashi (1040-1105):  Thus.  In these words and in this order.  Say to the house of Jacob.  These are the women"* speak gently to them.  Declare to the children of Israel:  These are the men; explain the punishments and the details to them “declare” (taged) to them things that are as bitter as wormwood (gidin).

*Footnote by Carasik: Some rabbinic writings understand a man’s “house” or “household” as a euphemism for his wife

Ibn Ezra (1089-1164):  The house of Jacob … the children of Israel.  Some take these two phrases to refer to the women and the men, respectively.  But why would the women be mentioned first?  Anyone who thinks the word “house” refers to women cannot have read “O house of Aaron, bless the LORD” (Psalm 135:19) where “house” refers to males.

Abarbanel’s Questions  (1437-1508):  What is the point of saying “the house of Jacob” as well as “the children of Israel” and why is “the house of Jacob” never mentioned again?

Abarbanel’s Commentary (1437-1508):  The house of Jacob.  Since the Torah was to be given to all, “the house of Jacob” referred to the sneakier ones and the “children of Israel” to the more honest.  Or perhaps the “the house of Jacob” was the mass of Israelites and the “the children of Israel” the special individuals among them.

Here are how some modern Jewish translations deal with this portion of the verse (ranging roughly from egalitarian translation and commentary to strong gender-based translation and commentary):

Robert Alter:  Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and shall you tell to the Israelites:

Alter commentary:  The perfect poetic parallelism, both semantic and rhythmic, of this sentence signals the lofty, strongly cadenced language, akin to epic in its grandeur, of the entire episode.

Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig (“Die Schrift”):
So sprich zum Hause Jaakobs,
melde den Söhnen Jissraels:

Everett Fox: Say thus to the House of Yaakov,
(yes,) tell the Children of Israel:

David Stein (“Contemporary Torah [JPS]”): Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel

Aryeh Kaplan (“The Living Torah”):  This is what you must say to the family of Jacob* and tell the Israelites:

*Footote by Kaplan refers to note at Exodus 16:31:  Or, literally, “the house of Israel.”  Some say that this deisgnates the women (Hirsch; Targum Yonathan, Mekhilta, Rashi on 19:3).

Artscroll (“Stone Edition”): So shall you say to the House of Jacob and relate to the Children of Israel

Artscroll commentary: The word תֹאמַר, say, implies a mild form of speech. When Moses spoke to the House of Jacob, which refers to the women (Mekhilta), he was to express the commandments in a manner suited to their compassionate, maternal nature. Women set the tone of the home and they are the ones responsible to inculcate love of Torah in their children, a task to which their loving nature is best suited. Because of this role, a mother should pray when she kindles her Sabbath candles that in the merit of the Sabbath flames, her children should merit the illumination of Torah, which is also likened to flames. The word וְתַגֵּיד, and relate, implies firmness or even harshness for when Moses spoke to the Children of Israel, which refers to the men, he was to teach the commandments in a firm manner. The implication of firmness is derived because the Hebrew וְתַגֵּיד is spelled with a י which alludes to the word גֵּיד, a bitter tasting root (R’ Bachya).

Chaim Miller (“Gutnick Edition”):  You should say the following to the house of Ya’akov (i.e., the women) and tell (the same thing in a more explicit manner, stressing the punishments and fine details) to the sons of Israel (i.e., the men):

As a footnote to this post, I would like to recommend those interested in medieval Jewish exegesis to refer to a Rabbinic Bible.  My favorite Hebrew edition of a Rabbinic Bible is the one published by Mosad Rav Kook (it is very clearly printed and includes block print rather than Rashi script).  My favorite English translation of the Rabbinic Bible is by Michael Carasik (and published by the Jewish Publication Society); to date Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers have appeared.  There are other more detailed sources available, but these are great starting points.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    May 29, 2012 10:10 pm

    And for a fun rant on why one might not want to use Artscroll materials, here is a blog post –

  2. May 29, 2012 10:17 pm

    Ah, the Artscroll debate. I plan to write about Artscroll sometime soon — probably after I receive my copy of the first volume of the new (Koren) Steinsaltz Talmud.

    It seems that everybody has a love-hate relationship with Artscroll. They are truly a remarkable and highly innovative (and somewhat frustrating) publisher.

    In the meanwhile, I should mention that someone actually wrote a (somewhat tedious) book about Artscroll: Jeremy Stolow’s Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and the ArtScroll Revolution

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    May 29, 2012 11:48 pm

    I am not aware of having a “love hate” relationship with organizations that demonstrate bias against women. I can admit that such organizations may have some strengths, but as the author of the blog post expressed – they are simply innapropriate. That’s one reason I don’t want bible software. I just don’t want to be exposed to these views. However, it seems I can’t avoid these views altogether so the only other option is to express my reaction.

  4. May 30, 2012 12:16 am

    That’s a bit like saying you hate the publishing company Simon & Schuster because it published The Bell Curve.

    If you are going to boycott all individuals that expressed bias against women, you pretty much exclude most everything written before the twentieth century, including the writings of the Freud, Darwin, Newton, Augustine, Aristotle, Plato, Confucius, and, of course, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Of course, the problem becomes infinitely worse if one rejects all publishers that ever published an author who expressed bias against women. The question is: how far does guilt by association (with misogynists) go?

    Of course, one can pretend that such things simply do not exist — but I think it is better to engage them. Reading a book does not mean agreeing with a book.

    I don’t think Artscroll’s main line of business is producing books that demean women. I don’t think that particular book sold very well. I don’t know anyone who liked it. I don’t know of any organization that has adopted that book as an actual prayerbook. It was, I suspect, a flop. It did also have an author — it was written by a single individual, Dovid Wienberger, who is a teacher of at girl’s high school in Nassau County (not “Artscroll” as a corporate body). This might help explain the fact that the book seems to be aimed at the level of a ninth-grader.

    The more interesting cultural critique would be to look at Susie Fishbein’s runaway success: the “Kosher by Design” (Artscroll’s answer to Martha Stewart?)

    Or moving out of the realm of religious and respectable literature; what is one to make of the success of the misogynistic (but aimed at women) “Fifty Shades” series?

  5. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    May 30, 2012 1:57 am

    Its rather obvious that I didn’t say any of what you attribute to me and am well versed in some the authors you mention. The question is whether one wants to excuse those who uncritically publish books which contain bias against women written today.

    And I don’t know what to make of the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon! I haven’t read it but have at least heard of the controversy. But looking back on this year of reading blogs, some of the most unpleasant anti-woman posts have been written by women and for women.

    One memorable post was written by a woman with two sons who religiously and scripturally excoriated some poor teenage girl who had telephoned her son. It was in extremely poor taste. We were all teenagers once, but apparently not the blog writer! Another book written by a woman claimed that the sin of Eve was overeating, (the author was basically crowing about her own slim figure.) Nonsense is unlimited but we don’t have to condone it.

  6. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    May 30, 2012 2:02 am

    PS I am not suggesting that you condone any position expressed in an Artscroll publication – just because you cite it. I thought this was an excellent post, and it is important to know that “house/household” could have the interpretation of “women.” We need to know historic interpretation – it’s fascinating.

    It’s the commentary that goes along with it in the citation you provide that has caused some to find this kind of thing unacceptable. Its great to hear that some people are taking that position. So thank you for bringing attention to this. The history is interesting and important. The continuing bias against women is disturbing.

  7. May 30, 2012 4:53 am

    I don’t see that Artscroll has a ‘bias against’ women any more than it has a ‘bias against’ men. It does promulgate a rigid interpretation of halacha that, in my view, excessively restricts both men and women, but I don’t believe that this comes from any misogynistic feeling. On the contrary, Artscroll commentaries most frequently argue that women are actually superior to men, which if taken seriously would certainly constitute a strong bias against men. However, these commentaries are not in fact serious explications of the original text, and that is the main problem I have with the brand, despite the real benefits I often find in their publications. (And even the Women’s Siddur, which I own a copy of, has something to offer, though I practice and recommend an alertly critical attitude when making use of it.)
    As is typical of what I’ll call ‘popular chareidism,’ Artscroll writers consistently employ apologetic glosses to avoid engaging directly with elements in the primary texts which are likely to be problematic for contemporary readers. The trouble is that these elements are often meant to be problematic, to call forth questioning and engagement by Jews of all eras—as indeed we see occurring in the range of commentaries Theophrastus brings for Exodus 19:3. To me, this tendency is symptomatic of a much deeper theological stance that delegitimizes the creative role of humanity in perpetuating a living Torah. This is in particular contrast to the stance wherein Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism coincide, which in the siddur is most evident regarding the attitude toward modern Jewish history and the State of Israel.

  8. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    May 30, 2012 3:46 pm


    Your point is taken that the deeper problem is the more prescriptive interpretation, minimizing the liberty which we have come to expect in terms of questioning and engaging with the text. That point was also clearly made in the blog post which I linked to above. Here is an excerpt to put this in context,

    “It’s good to see a Jewish organization, particularly one that identifies as Orthodox, speaking out against ArtScroll’s tendency to present a single view as the only way to do things and the way things have always been done all the way back to Sinai. (Old joke: Why did the chicken cross the road? Because Artscroll told it to.) I get upset when I look around at egalitarian minyanim full of liberal Jews davening mostly from ArtScroll siddurim. I do understand that lots of people like ArtScroll because of its clear explanations and translations (which are more honest/literal in most cases than, say, Sim Shalom). But those clear explanations of practice are heavily biased toward certain viewpoints, and reductionist to the max. It drives me crazy to hear people telling each other what “the halachah” is based on what they’ve read in ArtScroll. (My upsetness is directed at ArtScroll, not the people using the siddur. The liberal world is in desperate need of a usable, well-translated, well-explained, well-footnoted, well-laid out siddur.)”

    So, yes, this reductionist approach may be the “deeper problem” that you identifiy. However, that does negate the fact that this type of commentary is often used to restrict women, as JOFA reviewer Jennifer Stern Breger (cited in that post) claims,

    “The accepted custom is for a woman never to lead zimmun even if only women are present.” In the text of Birkat Hagomel, the note says, “according to the prevalent custom, a woman does not say the Bircas Hagomel,” and in the background note, “The primary reason given for women not saying Bircas Hagomel is that it is immodest for women to take any part in a mitzvah that is typically performed in public.”… Regarding havdalah it states, “It is preferable for a woman to hear havdalah from a man rather than make her own havdalah.””

    This is a clear restriction for women that does not apply to men. I have been deeply touched by the teaching of Rabbi Robert Daum, one of my Jewish Studies profs here in Vancouver, regarding his mother’s experience in this regard and the huge significance for her of the full participation of women in religious observance. Another dear friend has a daughter who has grown of age in orthodox Judaism, struggling with and challenging these beliefs. These experiences in general are very close to my own in fundamentalist Christianity.

    No claim or statement of female “superiority” or “greater giftedness” in any way negates the serious effects that functional restrictions can have on a woman’s life.

    My former pastor strongly asserted his belief in the superior intelligence of women at the same time as he oversaw a process whereby all women were removed from pulpit ministry and teaching, wives were instructed to submit, and the possibility of marital abuse was simply and categorically denied. His assertion that women were “smarter” than men did women no use whatsoever in offering them equality.

  9. May 30, 2012 7:31 pm

    (I wrote the following comment before reading Courtney and Suzanne’s last exchange)

    Suzanne — first, I definitely am sympathetic to the concerns you raise, which as usual, you bring up in your charismatic and keenly perceptive manner. Second, I’d like to apologize for any confusion — I intended my comment above to be the form of a reductio ad absurdum — saying that disliking Artscroll on the basis of one publication would be a bit unfair. I was not implying that you were not familar with (or had expressed unreasonable opinions) about those authors. Indeed, I know from experience that you are an open-minded, compassionate reader who can often find new twists and insights on material that most others (including me) miss.

    I also have to say that I have not read “The Women’s Siddur,” but if the comments expressed in the blog post you link to above are accurate, I don’t think that it is necessarily of Artscroll publications.


    So why do I say I have a “love-hate” relationship with Artscroll (which I think includes many of their readers)? It is because Artscroll uses an amazing pedagogy; one that I have not found in other English publications before Artscroll. (Since Artscroll started publishing, other publishers have begun to use their approach, but Artscroll was really a pioneer.)

    I hope to bring out my thinking on this point in a later post, but for now, I will simply state my impressions in conclusory form, without trying to give support. If you disagree, you’ll have to wait for the later post!

    For me the representative publication for Artscroll is its edition of the Babylonian Talmud, published in 73 large (8.75 x 12 inches) — most of them about 400-500 pages long. This publication is the closest thing I can think of to a yeshiva (advanced Jewish religous school) shiur (teaching lecture) on the Talmud. It turns out that Talmud study is amazing time consuming and difficult — first the language (Aramaic) is difficult; the material (detailed religous law and highly allusive “aggadic” material(homiletic religious tales) is difficult; the history (the many characters and events mentioned in the Talmud) is difficult; the reception history is difficult; the writing (a highly stylized and abbreviated and unpunctuated text) is difficult; and the commentary is difficult. But somehow, Artscroll presents the material, in a highly integrated Hebrew-Aramaic-English exposition, in a way that is relatively clear (without hiding the complexity) but also that mimics as closely as I’ve ever seen the “yeshiva experience.”

    Now, if one just picks up a volume and glances at it, one might not realize just how special its presentation is, and simply consider it as an annotated text. But (and I’ll have to delay explainging this point until later), it really goes beyond that, and presents a fully integrated teaching-approach to the text. Artscroll is doing something that other heavily annotated religious texts (and I am thinking here of Study Bibles, such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible) really are not doing. I realize that this point must seem a bit vague, but to explain what I mean, I’d need to go through a detailed example, and this overly-long comment is not really the right way to do that.

    Artscroll rewrote the rules for Jewish books intended for an English-speaking audience — developing its own typsetting software; creating its own printer; etc. Currently, Koren, an Israeli publisher, is making a concerted attempt to take on Artscroll in English (just as Artscroll is taking on Koren in Hebrew), but Artscroll really rewrote the rules for Jewish book publishing. (The quality of Artscroll is such that the RCA [the main rabbinical council representing “Modern Orthodoxy” in the US, and an ideological opponent to the Haredi philosophy of Artscroll] ended up using a very slightly modified version of the Artscroll prayerbook as its own prayerbook.)

    Artscroll ended up blowing everyone else out of the water with its Talmud volumes. There versions are vastly superior to previously available volumes intended for English readers.

    Now something very interesting is happening — an Israeli publisher, Koren, is taking on the English market. Koren is an Israeli publisher with a much more liberal approach (more focused on Modern Orthodoxy than the Haredi market) and is well known for its publication of Adin Steinsaltz’s translation and annotation of the Talmud from Aramaic to Hebrew (which, I understand, had a major impact on Daf Yomi study in Israel.) Now, Koren is producing volumes for the (largely US) English market, and Artscroll is producing volumes for the (largely Israeli) Hebrew market. Interesting times.

    So, that’s the “love” part. What’s the “hate” part? Well, Artscroll shuns a great deal of scholarship; reflects a sometimes narrow world-view; perpetuates some mistaken ideas; and has been so successful that to a certain degree, it has “sucked the air out of the room.” For example, in the last 8 months or so, two major Jewish publishers have been sold or are on the market — the Jewish Publication Society and Feldheim. That loss of diversity of voices is major concern. Again, there is more to say here, but it will need to wait for another time.


    I do want to say something else, though: books like the “The Women’s Siddur” may follow in a certain tradition of Jewish literature; such as the צאנה וראינה Yiddish Women’s Bible. Now, the Yiddish Women’s Bible is a very interesting cultural document to read! (The Wikipedia page quotes Sol Liptzin as describing it as “a fascinating, didactic book which could win the approbation of the strict moral leaders of Eastern European Jewry, and at the same time accompany women as their favorite literary and devotional text from girlhood to old age. For generations there was hardly a Yiddish home that did not possess a copy.” Scholars such as Naomi Seidman (a favorite of Kurk’s) have extensively commented on it.

    I have only read parts of the Yiddish Women’s Bible (in Yiddish) and I’ll have to wait for another time to talk about it in detail. But just now, as I was about to post, I noticed just now that Artscroll publishes an English adaptation. (I have not seen it, so I can not comment on how closely Artscroll’s adaptation track’s the Yiddish original.)

  10. May 30, 2012 7:43 pm

    I do understand that lots of people like ArtScroll because of its clear explanations and translations (which are more honest/literal in most cases than, say, Sim Shalom).

    Unfortunately, there is a lot more to this statement than meets the eye. There are a bunch of things going on here including tension between Orthodox and Conservative and massive tensions and factional splits within the Conservative movement (which certainly has seen better days).

    But the main thing is that until recently, there really has been a dearth of reasonable Jewish prayerbooks addressed to English speakers. Sim Shalom, in particular, is something of a disaster. As I mentioned above, the RCA, which stands quite distinct (and in many ways opposed to) the Haredi ended up adopting (a very slightly modified) Artscroll prayerbook as its own.

    Even the author of the quote ends up admitting that Artscroll’s prayerbook is better in terms of accuracy and explanation than liberal alternatives. I think a more constructive response to Conservative concerns would be to produce a much higher quality liturgical book. (There does seem to be some movement in this direction — the new Conservative machzor [the prayerbook for the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement] is much better than the previous Sim Shalom siddur [ordinary prayerbook], although I still don’t think it is competitive with Artscroll’s edition.)

  11. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    May 30, 2012 8:53 pm

    First, I want to reiterate that I have no difficulty with the discussion in the post as to whether household means women or not. That’s is an interesting discussion. The difficulty I see, and is probably off topic, is that the Artscroll commentary contrasts women/love and men/firmness in ways that are similar to those strains of Christianity which bind a woman to obey her husband. In my view having a bride make a vow of obedience is a human rights infringement. I understand that this is a specifically Christian example, and the Jewish restrictions relate to who can perform prayers and read the Torah.

    But my difficulty is that organizations which promote, condone or tolerate, (turn a blind eye to) restrictions against women, and infringements of their rights, are often creative, innovative and ahead of the curve in terms of technology, design and pedagogy. So someone might admire an organization as a source of information, as a model, but the content may infringe on women’s rights as equal human beings. I just can’t overlook that.

    An exampe of this in Christians milieu would be the NET Bible. Who would want to use a resource which deliberately cites something out of context, and in a way that is unacceptable scholarship – just to demote Junia? There is no excuse, no actual evidence behind the NET Bible note, and the ESV material on several issues relating to women. They are fabricated. So if one or two notes are obviously fabricated, but the rest is excellent and oh so attractive – what’s to be done? Rhetorical questions.

    Back to household could refer to women – that’s an interesting possibility.

  12. May 30, 2012 9:07 pm

    I think the NET Bible is an interesting example. There are a lot of things wrong with it — not just the Junia remarks. On the other hand, there are a lot of things to admire about it — the scrappiness of its authors, its relatively free distribution, its detailed discussion about grammatical issues. I do think the NET Bible, in several ways, filled a need that otherwise unmet.

    Now all of this does not excuse the NET Bible’s errors. But I don’t see it as a binary evaluation — a book is good or not good. I think something like the NET Bible has quite a few good parts and quite a few bad parts.

    What I do wish is that some group would take the NET Bible’s distribution model and write a translation and commentary (without the NET Bible’s flaws) that was not locked up the way virtually every other translation/commentary is. It doesn’t seem that IBS/Biblica or Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft is very interested in learning from the NET Bible model, though.

  13. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    May 30, 2012 9:36 pm

    This is how I see the problem. It is logical and good – in terms of human rights – to treat a woman as an equal. It even appeals to the common sense of many. Those who at least adhere to the notion that women are to function as equals do not believe that they need additional support for their views.

    However, certain people do not wish women to be treated as equals. Those people resort to a text which they perceive as supporting the notion that women (or some other group) ought not to function as equals. These people invest immense effort and resources in producing text and commentary which are attractive and convincing and contain, embedded within them, proof texts to support the view that women are not to function as equals. I don’t know how else to explain it.

    I chose the NET Bible as an example because that website publishes wedding vows which I consider to be an infringement of women’s basic human rights. So I attempt to boycott the NET Bible altogether, but have on occasion referred to their text notes, cross-checking for accuracy.

  14. May 31, 2012 1:45 am

    Sorry to reopen the Artscroll topic again here—please do continue discussing the original post!—but I just want to clarify what the Artscroll Women’s Siddur is, for those who haven’t seen it. And thank you to Suzanne and Theophrastus for your thoughtful comments both on this and on the main topic.

    I did not compare them in depth, so I could be missing something, but it appears to me that the Artscroll Women’s Siddur is almost identical to the standard Complete Artscroll Siddur, and is not at all a “dumbed down” version of it, nor is it any sort of “alternative” prayer service for women. It is certainly not comparable to a Tzena Urena type of work. The text and textual commentary is basically the same as in the Complete siddur, with a slightly expanded discussion of topics directly concerned with women, and an elimination of only a handful of the more esoteric prayers recited by men outside of a minyan. The full basic public prayer service is included, whether or not women are declared obligated to recite it. There is also an additional section of prayers specific to women’s life cycle events (pregnancy, childbirth, etc.) and a section of prayers to be recited when visiting certain holy sites in the land of Israel (the tomb of Machpeleh, etc.).

    The halachic commentary, however, has a significantly different focus, pertaining to women’s requirements in meeting the halachic obligation of prayer. There is no notable discrepancy between the halachic interpretations in the two volumes, rather a different scope. In particular, the Women’s Siddur is concerned with delineating an order of priority of prayers for the benefit of mothers of infants who feel unable to pray the whole service. The commentary makes clear, however, that “the goal should be to recite as much of the standard service as time and circumstances allow.”

    Although I disagree with much of Artscroll’s interpretations, I find this particular flexibility quite praiseworthy. Actually, it is uncharacteristic of an Artscroll volume to do what is done here: to provide both a range of halachic interpretations and (relatively) extensive details of halacha for the explicit purpose of allowing an individual (here, a woman) to make up her own mind about what is appropriate for her circumstances. If only Artscroll did that for men! This is similar to appreciating a maternity leave benefit, while still wishing for paternity leave to be given also. Fulfilling the Jewish male requirements for prayer as instructed by Artscroll siddurim is not an easy task, and men without the benefit of a full Torah education from childhood on often find meeting those demands exceedingly burdensome if not impossible. I have shared the Women’s Siddur’s tables of relative priorities of different prayers with men who also could not complete the full three daily prayer services but wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of prayer to the best of their abilities.

    (This refers to the Ashkenazi editions of both siddurim.)

  15. May 31, 2012 2:03 am

    Courtney — interesting. Well, whatever I saw in a bookstore a while ago, it sounds like it was not the Artscroll Women’s Siddur — because your description is quite different from what I remember seeing.

    Now, I’m wondering which book I saw.

    Thanks for clearing up the record!

    (I think that the 2010 “expanded” version of the Artscroll siddur (“Wasserman edition”) also includes some of those features — at least it includes prayers for various locations in Israel.)

  16. May 31, 2012 2:05 pm

    The problem of course is that Jacob and Israel refer to the same person in the Bible, so how should exegetes understand this doubling?

    Great post, and sorry I’m so late to the conversation. Your statement about Jacob and Israel referring to the same person reminds me of something Elie Wiesel said:

    Jacob won his share of eternity, but he emerged a shaken, shattered man. Jacob or Israel? Both. True, God ordered him not to call himself Jacob anymore, yet one moment later the Bible calls him that. As though Israel did not succeed in severing his link to Jacob. . . . More than his father and his grandfather, Jacob was conscious of the pluralism that was to mark his descendants. . . . But, says the Midrash, at the moment he was about to translate his vision into words, his prophetic gifts were withdrawn. . . . He could but look. In silence. . . . In other words: the story he did not tell is more beautiful than the others–all the others–those told in his name and even those told by himself.

    — Translated from the French by Marion Wiesel, pages 133-34 of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winning book Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends

    The mysterious silence, says Wiesel, is telling, doesn’t he?

    And does LXX lose much of the curiosity here by rendering the Hebrew by this Hellene?

    τάδε ἐρεῖς τῷ οἴκῳ Ιακωβ καὶ ἀναγγελεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς Ισραηλ

    The verb ero here as well as the noun oikos are (in)famously associated with women in Greek literature. The former is a pun on the god Eros, Aphrodite’s son, the god of erotic love. The latter, of course, is the domain of women as in early “economics” or the rule of the household.

  17. May 31, 2012 3:18 pm

    An interesting point about the Greek; I’ll need to consider it. Are you aware of any early Christian or medieval Christian readings along these lines?

  18. May 31, 2012 5:31 pm

    The only early Christian reading I can think of is Augustine’s De doctrina christiana, in which he attempts to rescue rhetoric as something also Christian. But, James L. Kastely (in Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition) contends that “Augustine would attempt to displace eros by charity and recast rhetoric as an instrument to be deployed for the salvation of others…. In On Christian Doctrine he inverts Plato [i.e., the erotic rhetoric of the Phaedrus] by conceiving spiritual passion as an unmediated relationship between soul and God and then argues that the rhetorical relationship between rhetor and community is mediated rather than immediate.” (page 171). Of course, Augustine is not using the Greek word “rhetor” at all but the Latin equivalent, which loses what John Kirby has called “The ‘Great Triangle’ in Early Greek Rhetoric and Poetics” for rhetors / rhetoricians (using rhetoric): peitho (persuasion), eros (desire), and bia (force or strength).

    Generally, the problem is that early and medieval Christian “rhetoric” tends to be more Ciceronian and Quintilianesque. The translation or transposition of Greek rhetorics into Roman Latin versions loses much of the Greek playfulness (and certainly sacrifices the Greek puns. What does Cupid know of Eros? What does or should amare, especially Dei amor, have to do with rhetorica?) What I’m suggesting is that by the time the Christian fathers started theorizing Greek or Roman rhetoric, the pagan-divine love link was lost (or avoided and/ or despised).

  19. May 31, 2012 7:28 pm

    Very interesting stuff — but it sounds like Augustine was not thinking of Exodus 19:3 in that context. Also, I remember Augustine hating Greek (Confessions 1.13):

    Quid autem erat causae, cur graecas litteras oderam, quibus puerulus imbuebar, ne nunc quidem mihi satis exploratum est. adamaveram enim latinas, non quas primi magistri, sed quas docent qui grammatici vocantur. nam illas primas, ubi legere et scribere et numerare discitur, non minus onerosas poenalesque habebam quam omnes graecas

    Did he ever master the tongue? I thought not.

  20. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    June 1, 2012 10:26 am

    Hi Courtney,

    Thanks for your description of the Women’s Siddur. I have derailed the conversation enough.


    I like your suggestion of wordplay in the Greek, but I thought that ereis was the future of the verb lego ( to say) and that as such a common word, it would not likely be a pun. I don’t see eros used much in relation to the household of women.

    I’ve also been thinking of Genesis 24 where Rebekah speaks of her mother’s household, and then her brother Laban enters the narrative. Its not clear to me that household refered to women, although I can see that it might. But it seems much more polyvalent.

  21. June 1, 2012 11:32 am

    I’m not sure when the household-women association began, but by the time of the Mekhlita, it could be proposed seriously. If we assume a 2nd century date for the Mekhlita, the idea was certainly “in the air” fairly early in the post-Temple period, and maybe even during the Temple period.

  22. June 1, 2012 12:36 pm

    Funny quotation. It seems that lots of Latin writers wanted to suggest they knew Greek well. Since we mention the Roman language, how does Exodus 19:2 play in the Vulgate, in Pagnini?

    In Attic, it’s true that ἐρεῖς would be future tense for the present tense verb λέγω. But Koine (as in the LXX) struggled to reconcile that with how different the old, Homeric (Epic, Ionic) Greek was.

    Plato has Socrates noting these very wordplay issues over time and across the lects. Here’s a fairly apt quotation (appropriate to your specific grammar / lexical point but relevant to the wordplay/ gender discussion too). I’m giving it below in English translation by Harold N. Fowler, because he can’t seem to bring it all over into English and even then he needs a good clear footnote (which I also reproduce below). What I want to emphasize is how there seem to be puns (not all clear to either Plato’s Socrates, who’s making the suggestion or even to Fowler, who’s trying to give as much of the phonology – by retaining Greek words spelled – as he can). ἥρος, ἔρως. εἴρειν, λέγειν, but ἐρωτᾶν too all get at the trouble with words. The wordplay is borderline sophistry, and in the Cratylus here (398d), Plato is trying to straighten his readers out concerning language via the speaking, dialectical Socrates.

    Why, they were all born because a god fell in love with a mortal woman, or a mortal man with a goddess. Now if you consider the word “hero” also in the old Attic pronunciation,1 you will understand better; for that will show you that it has been only slightly altered from the name of love (Eros), the source from which the heroes spring, to make a name for them. And either this is the reason why they are called heroes, or it is because they were wise and clever orators and dialecticians, able to ask questions (ἐρωτᾶν), for εἴρειν is the same as λέγειν (speak). Therefore, when their name is spoken in the Attic dialect, which I was mentioning just now, the heroes turn out to be orators and askers of questions,

    1 The old Attic alphabet was officially given up in favour of the Ionic alphabet in 404 or 403 B.C. The Attic for of [sic] the word “hero” is ἥρος, that of “Eros” ἔρως. Plato seems to think there was a change in pronunciation, as well as in spelling, and indeed that is quite possible. Or Plato may simply be confusing pronunciation with spelling, as he seems to do in several passages of this dialogue (cf. especially 410).

    Plato’s Phaedrus gets to other similar discussions around erotic Eros and the slipperiness of language. And Plato’s Gorgias flat out lambastes Gorgias for using “rhEtoric.” In real life, Gorgias had written his overtly wordplayful perhaps-scandalous defense of the otherwise indefensible Helen, and this text has that peitho (persuasion), eros (desire), and bia (force or strength) rhetorical/sophistical “triangle” very clearly. When we read in the LXX, λέγων τάδε ἐρεῖς τῷ οἴκῳ Ιακωβ, I wonder what those living in Alexandria heard in this? I do think it’s curious that the LXX translators of Proverbs (30:16) would turn “barren womb” (םחר רצעו) into “woman of erotic-love” (ἔρως γυναικὸς). And why, with its explicit mention of “dirty” Egypt (where the translations were going on), was Proverbs 7 translated with the woman saying (εῖπεν), ἐλθὲ καὶ ἀπολαύσωμεν φιλίας ἕως ὄρθρου δεῦρο καὶ ἐγκυλισθῶμεν ἔρωτι (or “Come and let’s enjoy ‘affection’ until morning; get over here and let’s entwine ourselves ‘erotically'”)? If attention is not being given to ἐρεῖς in the Greek translation of Exodus 19:2, then at least the translators, back in Egypt, seem aware of the wordplay respectively in Hebrew and in Hellene.

  23. June 1, 2012 12:53 pm

    Presumably, Augustine would have used the Old Latin, not the Vulgate. I don’t have a copy of Pagnini to check, but Weber’s reconstruction of the Vulgate (5th revised edition) has “haec dices domui Iacob et adnuntiabis filiis Israhel.” The wording appears to have remained stable even right up to the Vatican’s 1986 Nova Vulgata 2nd edition.

  24. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    June 1, 2012 1:24 pm


    Thanks for that great explanation!


    Click to access 2008_NTS_54_Houghton.pdf

    Here is an article on Augustine’s use of the Vulgate. Also I don’t have Pagnini’s translation except for Genesis and Psalms.

  25. June 1, 2012 1:44 pm

    Interesting stuff — but I understood that the scholarly consensus was that Vulgate translation of the Old Testament was completed 405 (with Exodus likely being translated ca. 401), while the majority of De doctrina christiana mentioned by Kurk was published in 397.

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