Hebrew Language/S R Hirsch


QUESTION: Dear Sir- I have recently purchased a copy of  the Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew based on S R Hirsch, and so I took the plunge and bought it. My....what an amazing piece of work this is. Since then I have managed to obtain a copy of Hirsch on the Chumash but there is a nagging problem in the back of my mind. The Dictionary describes the method which Hirsch used to examine and interpret the Hebrew language, the consonants in particular, but it seems to me that the article was more description than explanation, understandable in light of the function of an introductory, dictionary article.

I do hope you do not mind me writing for your help. I have read some articles on the background to Hirsch and his times but I would like help, and the following quotation summarises my query very helpfully :

...underlying the commentary is Rav Hirsch's unique approach to Lashon HaKrah: his profound analysis of the letters, root words, and structure of words found in Chumash

It is the use of "Lashon Hakrah", his analysis of the consonants. I can see how Hirsch does this from the Etymological Dictionary but what puzzles me is the legitimacy of this method. "Uniqueness" concerns me. It seems to work, but on what basis? What is the methodology behind it, please? His "unique" approach must have been reviewed and analyzed but I cannot find any literature. I think there is some in German but I cannot read that language.

If you have the opportunity to help me out I would much appreciate it, please. I regret any written material will need to be in English.

With grateful thanks in anticipation,
Yours, aye
John Dunn

ANSWER: John -

I assume you remember the enthusiasm in which "The Bible Code" was received when it was first published. The idea that it is possible to find hidden meanings in the Torah by using the power of the computer was in itself very attractive and, indeed, to this day you can find dozens of Bible code apps available for android and iPhone smartphones.

But generations before computers became available mystics were trying to do the same using various methods, and Lashon haKrah was just one of them. Rav Hirsch was not the only proponent of using it - just one of the better-known ones.

To me, Lashon haKrah is akin to poetry: there is no right or wrong here, only the result, which can be quite entertaining. Sure, you can disagree with the result, but to what purpose?

All the best,


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Gaddy - thank you for your swift reply, much appreciated. Might I follow up your comments, please?

As you suppose, I am familiar with the Bible Code and also with Gematria etc. I half suspected that this might be a possibility with Hirsch.

Now, I do not wish to appear obdurate but truth must be pursued down the labyrinth of the mind. It does seem to me that Hirsch might not fit so easily into such a mould. I appreciate the reference to the Bible Code / Gematria is an intended analogy and so comparisons will fall down at a number of points, but with Gematria and the Bible code they are capable of falsifiability. Hirsch might well fall into the Bible code / Gematria camp but his method actually embraces torah, stands upon its teaching and gives insights which accord with torah teaching, does it not? Now the Bible Code and Gematria fail at many fundamental points, they can be demonstrated not only to be false but at times quite bizarre. Can this be done with Hirsch? If he is to be criticised as teaching a false methodology, wherein lies the falseness of his approach? The notion of a poetic sense / kinship to his writings makes me feel rather uneasy.

I hope I do not appear to be churlish or contradictory, Iím not at all. This is really bugging me and I suppose I really want a thorough analysis of Hirschís methodology so that the wood and the trees might stand clear before me. If it is, indeed, all high-flown verbal trickery then so be it, best left alone, but at present Iím rather in the dark. Truth will be the lamp out of the darkness.

Assuring you of my sincere thanks,
John Dunn

John -

In one of his essays, Hirsch writes that you cannot understand the written Law (Torah) without consulting the Oral Law (Mishna/Talmud). Since the Talmud rabbis use poetic license in their interpretations of difficult passages in the Torah, he does the same. While this is quite popular - to this day - in Jewish Orthodox circles, it has not been embraced by modern scholars.

A bit of history which I know you're familiar with: The Torah is first mentioned in 2 Kings 22:8, where it was either discovered or compiled by King Josiah (late 7th century BC). The Oral Law dates back probably to the 3rd century BCE, was codified the the 2nd century CE, with the Talmud being completed in the 6th century CE. The Torah, then, predates the Oral Law by hundreds of years. Rabbi Hirsch and Orthodox Jews in general prefer to believe that both were given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, thus their view that you cannot understand one without knowing the other. As I wrote above, modern biblical scholarship does not buy it.

There are many ways of painting a bowl of apples on a table, with each painter using a different point of view. When you look at Picasso's version, you are not sure where the bowl - or the apples - are, yet for those who like his work, his painting is a clear depiction of the subject matter. Hirsch's form of exposition is different, but then it was not done as an academic exercise.


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What I don't do: NO NAME TRANSLATIONS. For that, try http://www.stars21.com/translator/english_to_hebrew.html

What I do: I'll help you understand Hebrew phrases or single words, as well as answer questions about Jewish customs and practices.

You may also try the Gooogle English-Hebrew translator, at http://www.google.com/dictionary?langpair=en%7Ciw&q=&hl=en&aq=f


I am a columnist for a Hebrew-language newspaper, and a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

D.Med MBA BA in the US, Grade school and high school in Israel

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