[Avodah] Targumim from Sinai

Akiva Miller akivagmiller at gmail.com
Sun Jan 3 08:36:26 PST 2021

About 11 1/2 years ago, R' Simon Montagu started this thread, exploring how
authoritative the targumim are.

This morning, as I began learning Parshas Shemos, I noticed that the first
pesukim contain the word Ivri (Hebrew) several times in various forms, and
in every case, Onkelos translates it as some form of Yehudai (Jew). In my
opinion, this is a very reasonable translation if Onkelos was trying to
explain the Torah to his contemporaries, but it is highly unlikely that a
translation dating from Sinai would have used this word. So I decided to
post this as evidence that although the ideas and concepts which appear in
Onkelos' translation might date from Sinai, the exact words were probably
his own.

M'inyan l'inyan b'oso inyan...

I wondered why I didn't notice this translation in recent parshiyos. It
turns out that forms of the word Ivri appear six times in Sefer Bereshis
(14:13, 39:14, 29:17, 40:15, 41:12, 43:32) and Onkelos *always* translates
it as some Aramaic form of Ivri -- "Hebrew", not "Jew".

It's not until Sefer Shemos that Onkelos changes his style. Never again
does he leave Ivri as Ivri; we are (or are becoming) a nation, and it seems
that Onkelos wants his audience to be able to identify with that nation, by
unambiguously translating it as Yehudi. This is true in Shemos 1:15, 1:16,
1:19, 2:6, 2:7, 2:11, 2:13, 3:18, 5:3, 7:16, 9:1, 9:13, and 10:3.

(After Parshas Bo, the word Ivri does not appear again in the Torah, with
three exceptions: Shmos 21:2, and twice in Devarim 15:12. All three of
those are in the context of an Eved Ivri, and Onkelos translates "Ivri" as
"Bar Yisrael." I find this to be a very reasonable change: If Onkelos had
used either "Ivri" or "Yehudi", then the result would have been ambiguous,
possibly meaning an eved who is *owned* by a Jew. By translating as "Bar
Yisrael" in those cases, it clearly refers only to an eved who *is* a Jew.)

Akiva Miller
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