Morsels of Hebrew Grammar  
This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parashat Re'eh 5762

lo tochal kol-to'eva (Deut. 14:3) ('Eat no disgusting thing!') The traditional translations use 'abomination'. Whichever translation is preferred, it is clear that the word to'eva adds opprobrium to the prohibition. The term to'eva is not used for all sins. It is used to refer to the sins of: idolatry, making an offering with a defect, bringing a sacrifice from immoral earnings, making magical predictions, prohibited relations, re-marrying a previous husband following a subsequent marriage, a male wearing female clothing or vice versa, cheating in measurement of goods for sale, and in this case eating forbidden food. What additional evil is there in these sins? It may be that if we remember that the Gemara describes the status of Esther as public (TB Sanhedrin, 74b), that all of these except perhaps eating can be seen as public. Furthermore some aspect of them can be found described as to'evat hashem ('disgusting to Hashem') (see for: idolatry Deut 7:25; defect 17:1; magic 18:9; clothes 22:5; measure 25:16; earnings 23:19). It may be that forbidden foods are just described as to'eva - that they are inherently disgusting.

* * * *

pen tinakesh (Deut. 12:30) second edition

Last week I jumped ahead and discussed Rashi's comments on this word.

R' Zvi Freund on the Internet asked: As you have reminded us so often, Rashi accepts two-letter shorashim. So why could he not accept that tinakesh and Mokesh have the same shoresh: Kuf-Shin?

Very important question! The question helps us clarify our understanding of Rashi's theory of shorashim. Rashi states, 'we have not found Nun in the expression mokesh even as part of the root which drops off'. It seems that Rashi is saying that although there are two-letter roots this cannot be one of them as we do not find the letter Nun dropping from the word Mokesh. That is, there must be a root Nun Kuf Shin, separate from whatever is the root of Mokesh. It may be that by writing this, Rashi is moving a little closer to the three-letter root theory.

* * * *

Sheva Merachef ('Hovering Sheva)

tahargenu (Deut. 13:10) ('you shall kill him') vena'avda (Deut. 13:14) ('we will serve') ne'esta (Deut. 13:15) ('was done') There is a rule which states that after a short vowel (here Patach or Segol) the Sheva is Nach ('silent'), and if the following letter is one of Bet, Gimmel, Dalet, Kuf, Peh, Tav (Begad Kefat) it receives a Dagesh Kal. Were this rule operative the Gimmel of tahargenu, the Dalet of vena'avda, and the Tav of ne'esta should all take a Dagesh. Why don't they? R' Zalman Hanau (Razah) in his grammar book Tzohar HaTevah (1st pub. Berlin 1733, my copy facsimile of Vilna 1873, Brooklyn NY 1995) divides the vowels into three groups - 'long' 'short' and 'light'. The first two are traditional categories, dating back to Radak, the third is an innovation of Razah. His definition of it follows:

Any short vowel, which is not inherent and original, but replaces a Sheva in order that two sounded Shevas do not follow each other, is shorter and lesser than other short vowels so that it is not completed by a Sheva Nach or Dagesh in the following letter [the following] Shevas are Na ('sounded') (Tzohar HaTevah p.31)
In a footnote, which reads as part of the original text, he explains:

The earlier grammarians did not recognize this distinction, and regarded the Sheva following it as a Sheva Nach. Then when they saw that the letters Begad Kefat without a Dagesh followed it, they said that these were exceptional. However we have found thousands of cases like this and one cannot regard as exceptional, cases that are more frequent than the rule itself. (Tzohar HaTevah p. 32, n.19)
This Sheva has come to be known as the Sheva Merachef or 'medium Sheva'. Many Siddurim indicate this Sheva to be sounded. This should not be, and for two reasons. 1) Dikdukei Shai (Jerusalem 1999, p129 n. 2) lists most of the authorities (including Ben Asher and the Vilna Gaon), both before and after Razah, as disagreeing with him.

2) Razah himself in Shaare Tefilla (published with Luach Eresh p. 217) maintains that there is no difference in pronunciation between Sheva Nach and Sheva Na!

Razah, 1687-1746, is a controversial personality. R' E. Landau, author of Noda Bi:huda, writes that one should not rely on the innovations of Razah - in his haskama to R' M . Dusseldorf's Hassagot, published with R' Yaakov Emden's Luach Eresh ed.R' D. Yitzchaki 2001, p.321. The Pri Megadim held him in high esteem, while the Gaon of Vilna and the Baal HaTanya used his works. Luach Eresh is an attack on his Siddur Shaare Tefilla.

I will be pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
Good Shabbos, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919
E-mail address:


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to

Jerusalem, Israel