Saturday, July 29, 2006

Uncle Louis's Pet Peeve

A few weeks ago, we read in parashat Balaq
(Bemidbar-Sinai/Numbers 22:9) —

ויבא ⊁׳ אל בלעם
ויאמר מי האנשים האלה עמך

And then God came to Bil‘am
and then said, "Who are these men with you?"

On this verse, Onqelos elucidates

וַאֲתָא מֵימַר מִן קֳדָם י׳ לְוָת בִּלְעָם
וַאֲמַר מַאן גֻּבְרַיָּא הָאִלֵּין דְּעִמָּךְ

And a word came from before God unto Bil‘am
And said, "Who are these men that are with you?"

Onqelos does this all the time. God never does anything. God never actually interacts with the world. It's all actions that happen "from before God". "Words" that come from before God. Unqelos hates anthropomorphism with a passion. Sort of like the opposite of An‘im Zemirot.

In NYC it may still be Shabbat, but Shabbos Yerushalayim has been over for hours already.


Blogger Lipman said...

Qodom y' is not an anthropomorphism?

(And that words walk around is one, too, of course, though not referring to God.)

7/30/2006 3:48 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

I'm sorry, using U+2281 for a k'tav ivri Alef DOES NOT SUCCEED. :-P Unicode 5.0 has been released, so you can use U+10900 𐤀, if you think anyone has a font for it installed.

It was great to meet you Erev Shabbat, I hope we can do it again before you leave.

7/30/2006 4:25 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Well, it is an anthropomophism, but it's a bit less. God isn't actually doing anything, whether active or passive. It's like God is just there.


Yes it does! I just did it, and therefore you are wrong! Hah! Unexpectedly, though, I had to pick the 'backwards'-looking one because the RtL paragraph direction kept on flipping the one that looked right in my character chart.
And if i want to, i can also use ƶ or Ƶ for a ketav ‘Ivri yud too! So there!
Thanks for the font, btw, ;-) , and for Friday Night; meeting up against definitely sounds good!

7/30/2006 4:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Steg! Sorry I missed you in EY- hope you are having a great time there and enjoying all that Israel has to offer even in stressful times. Balak was the parsha that I was studying when I was in Tsfat- and there is so much cool stuff in that portion-nice to see you thinking about it too-

Take care man!

7/30/2006 2:22 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


what were you doing in Tsfat?

7/30/2006 2:37 PM  
Blogger Irviner Chasid said...

Personally, I think unkulus is doing a good thing there. Its important that people don't think the anthroporphisms are literal, like many would like to argue.

7/30/2006 4:21 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I'm not disagreeing with you; i just find it interesting just how far he'll go, grammatically, to avoid any hint of God physically doing something.

7/30/2006 4:37 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

How about thinking of the anthromorphic aspects of God as what the brain of the person saw out of the corner of his eye and heard out of the corner of his ear?

The mind standardly reinterpretes stimuli in a way that makes sense.

Which is why a multitude of witness will each have a different version of an event.

The word that came was a refraction, there was no actual word. But interpretationally, the word was.

7/30/2006 6:27 PM  
Anonymous chuck said...

i find that onkelos is usuually more true to reality than the literal translation of the posuk

so all onkelos is sayin is that G-d is so radically different than us that he used an intermediary

no big deal

G-d almost always uses a go between yitzias mitzrayim was an exception
mattan torah was an exception and we all know the people couldn't handle it

8/01/2006 2:32 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Back & Chuck:

great points about the cognitive/sensory gap between us and God.

8/01/2006 3:17 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


What about the notions that Onkelos and others viewed the Memra as almost a intermediary between G-d and the world. Isn't the Memra also identified with Metatron, and isn't Metatron sometimes called 'YKVK haQaton'?

Or is this all Christian propaganda?

8/01/2006 5:34 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Probably :-) Anyway it there is a similarity to certain antique ideas.

My initial question was both about anthropomorphism regarding God ("from before God", though these prepositions are often local prepositions only from an etymological POV, and actually fulfil other functions) and about anthropomorphism regarding the memre - less ominous maybe, but only until some caned bloke claims at breishes, there was the memre, and the memre was hashem. Then again, who'd claim a thing like that?

8/02/2006 4:00 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

some caned bloke claims at breishes, there was the memre, and the memre was hashem.

He was a daas yachid (1 out of 4). Not even synoptic :)

However, he may have been standing on the shoulders of Philo Alexandrinus, with the whole Divine Logos concept...

8/02/2006 12:46 PM  

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