May 30, 2024
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Kiddushin 41a: Teach Linguistics, Not Just Dikduk

When Adam was in Gan Eden, Hashem told him not to eat from the etz hadaat, “… for on the day you shall eat from it, you shall surely die.” Yet, Adam ate of the fruit and he didn’t die that day! He was merely exiled from the garden as punishment. What gives? Does Hashem not keep His word? Excellent answers about. For instance, it was one of Hashem’s days, equaling 1000 years. Or, he brought mortality upon himself and the world at that point. However, I have an even better peshat. Adam was exiled from the garden, and Hashem was applying the principle of שְׁלוּחוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם כְּמוֹתוֹ—“the sending out of Adam is like his death.”

The joke works because it’s a play on “shelucho,” “adam” and “kemoto.” Though a grammarian might scowl and say that the word should be שִׁלּוּחוֹ, with a chirik under the shin and a dagesh chazak in the lamed.

What does this have to do with Daf Yomi? Well, Kiddushin 41a-b works to derive the idea of agency for divorce and betrothal in particular, as well as effective agency in general. How do we know that, “a person’s agent is like himself?” There are pesukim and Tannaim interpret them. Understanding the mechanisms of these derashot are also Torah. Chazal—not only spoke Hebrew fluently but—were also incredibly sensitive to the nuances of language. If we don’t know dikduk, how can we understand the derasha mechanics?

 

Deducing Agents

The derashot on 41a include: How do we know agency (by divorce)? For they taught in a baraita: וְשִׁלַּח—this teaches that he may appoint an agent (shaliach); וְשִׁלְּחָהּ—this teaches that she may appoint an agent (shaliach); וְשִׁלַּח וְשִׁלְּחָהּ—this teaches that the agent (shaliach) may appoint an agent (shaliach).

Rishonim and Acharonim weigh in on the specific mechanisms by which this is deduced. For instance, Rashi highlights that the root “SH-L-Ḥ” is used, instead of “G-R-SH,” for divorce, for the first derasha. For the second, he points out that instead of reading the word with a mappik heh—indicating the woman as one being sent away—we read it as a typical feminine ending, so she is the actor. For the third, he points to ושלחה appearing twice in the biblical paragraph. Tosafot discuss how that other ושלחה is used to derive another law on Kiddushin 6a: וְשִׁלְּחָהּ״—וְלֹא שֶׁיְּשַׁלַּח אֶת עַצְמוֹ. Other authorities discuss which of the two instances is being interpreted for each derasha, or other means of interpreting each law.

I am omitting my own unique understanding of these derashot, since it’s beside the point of this article. I will observe, though, that Hebrew has both kal and piel, a simpler and a more intensive form. Usually, שלח in the kal form is “shalach,” with a kamatz and patach, which means to send—as one might send an agent or even a postman to deliver a divorce document. Meanwhile, שלח is the piel is shillach/shallach. Note the chirik or patach, and the dagesh chazak in the lamed, doubling it. In the piel, it means “to send away.” Compare Shemot 4:13, שְֽׁלַֽח־נָ֖א בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלָֽח, Moshe telling Hashem to send someone else as His agent, with Shemot 4:21, וְלֹ֥א יְשַׁלַּ֖ח אֶת־הָעָֽם, that Hashem will harden Pharaoh’s heart and he will not send out the nation. This derasha entails/results in reading the piel as the kal, via a revocalization.

 

Dikduk Disaster

I recently tutored Reuven—a rather bright high school student in the top shiur in his high school—a highly conceptual shiur on Kiddushin. We were reviewing for his impending test. They had studied Kiddushin 41, and how different Rishonim and Acharonim understood the derasha mechanics. To my dismay, the shiur notes from another student, Shimon, referred to “veshallach/veshalcha.” I pointed out that Shimon had consistently quoted the pesukim incorrectly. Reuven explained that this was how his entire class had been pronouncing the pesukim, including his rebbe!

This seemed problematic, for several reasons: Firstly, if we want to understand derashot and Chazal’s insights, we need to have greater grammatical sophistication than that. Secondly, derashot focuses on what’s exceptional about biblical phrasing, so we need to know the actual biblical phrasing. But they were too frum/advanced to use an Artscroll, Steinsaltz or Koren Gemara and stuck to the Vilna Shas. Finally, this mispronunciation would arise if you didn’t see the pesukim inside—in context—to understand what they meant on a literal level before any midrashic interpretations. I strongly support opening up a Chumash before trying to understand the Gemara.

And so, Reuven and I opened up the Chumash, to Devarim 24. I was then able to point out that the context was “machzir gerushato—the prohibition of remarrying one’s wife if she had remarried in between.” In this way, several things became clear, some very basic and some less so. These include: וְשִׁלְּחָ֖הּ מִבֵּיתֽוֹ is the full phrase, so he is sending her out—indicating divorce—and that the mappik heh indicates that he sends “her.” Further, that the intervening pasuk is, “… she goes out from his house—וְיָצְאָ֖ה מִבֵּית֑ו, she goes and becomes—וְהָלְכָ֖ה וְהָיְתָ֥ה, another man’s.” Thus, we know where this famous pasuk is placed, and that there is an ellipsis in the famous hekesh. Further, when the second husband divorces her, we get the second וְשִׁלְּחָ֖הּ מִבֵּית֑וֹ.

Otherwise, we have know clue what Rashi means. Why is there another instance of this phrase in the paragraph? Along the way, we also understand references to the repeated וְכָ֨תַב לָ֜הּ סֵ֤פֶר כְּרִיתֻת֙—because there were two divorces. Finally, we can notice a possible answer to ideas raised in Tosafot and elsewhere, regarding a lack of a word upon which to hang a שִׁלְּחָ֖הּ derasha. Namely, in the next pasuk (4), we are informed that “the former husband, who sent her away, אֲשֶֽׁר־שִׁ֠לְּחָ֠הּ, may not take her again to be his wife.”

 

Potential Solutions

While I’m not a professional high school rebbe, I have a few suggestions. Certainly, students should actually open up a Chumash when studying a sugya that interprets pesukim. They should often use a Hebrew Steinsaltz Gemara, to be exposed to the correct nikud. Also, knowledge of dikduk is critical. In a previous article (“Gittin 2a: Bəfanai Nechtav,” May 24, 2023) I wrote a defense of the Yeshivish mispronunciation, even though I, personally, pronounce the word “nichtav.” A reader wrote in to stress the importance of learning dikduk. Otherwise, you’ll have rabbis and yeshiva students misreading the Chatam Sofer’s use of גומא to mean גֹּמֶא—a hole in the ground, rather than גֻּמָּא—papyrus. An extra hour a week of Hebrew language is worth it, even if at the expense of another hour of learning Gemara. I somewhat agree, though I’m not sure that extra hour would solve that particular problem. I hope to discuss this in greater detail next week.

But more than that, grammatical ignorance isn’t restricted to Hebrew. Ask these students if they can provide an example of an English subjunctive. Can they distinguish between the English nominative and accusative pronouns, between a sibilant and a dental or between the active and the passive? People skip the dikduk Rashis—not just because they don’t know dikduk—but because they don’t know how grammar works and lack the vocabulary to discuss it. Sure, they can organically speak English—with a few errors—but they aren’t linguistically sophisticated. First, students should be taught phonology, morphology and syntax as it applies to English and e.g., Italian, to develop a sense of how language works, and to develop a vocabulary for discussing languages. Afterwards, I think that extra hour of Hebrew language instruction might help.


Rabbi Dr. Joshua Waxman teaches computer science at Stern College for Women, and his research includes programmatically finding scholars and scholastic relationships in the Babylonian Talmud.

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