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Notes from Newcastle Day Limmud 2009

Food, the Animals and Human Dignity: Jewish Perceptions in a Targumic Context

Robert Hayward

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]

Immediately after Adam is given authority over living things, the Torah says:

Genesis 1:29-1:30 בראשית א כט-א ל
God said, Behold, I have given you every plant bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת־כָּל־עֵשֶׂב זֹרֵעַ זֶרַע אֲשֶׁר עַל־פְּנֵי כָל־הָאָרֶץ וְאֶת־כָּל־הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ פְרִי־עֵץ זֹרֵעַ זָרַע לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה׃ וּלְכָל־חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ וּלְכָל־עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּלְכֹל רוֹמֵשׂ עַל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה אֶת־כָּל־יֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב לְאָכְלָה וַיְהִי־כֵן׃

Rashi notes that Scripture puts animals and humans on the same level as regards food, except that human beings are also given trees to eat the produce of. Gen. 1:30 is strikingly terse there compared to 3:17.

The reference to the tree comes into its own in the following chapter, in the story of the Garden of Eden. This Garden is manifestly a sacred space. G-d reveals Himself to Man here, and creates for him his wife.

It says [lacuna, presumably וַיִּקַּח ה׳ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן־עֵדֶן לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ "The Lord G-d took the human and set him in the garden of Eden, to work it and to keep it"], which is interpreted to mean Adam is to labour in the Torah and keep its commandments. At the same time the human being is granted permission to eat of every tree except that of the Tree of Good and Evil... and the results of that story are well known.

Following which a new commandment is given (3:14) as to what the serpent is to eat: dust.

Genesis Rabbah 20:5, which may be as old as the Second Temple period, gives the interpretation that the serpent has its feet chopped off as punishment.

Adam's punishment, like the serpent's, involves food:

Genesis 3:17-3:19 בראשית ג יז-ג יט
And to Adam He said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. וּלְאָדָם אָמַר כִּי־שָׁמַעְתָּ לְקוֹל אִשְׁתֶּךָ וַתֹּאכַל מִן־הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לֵאמֹר לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ בְּעִצָּבוֹן תֹּאכְלֶנָּה כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ׃ וְקוֹץ וְדַרְדַּר תַּצְמִיחַ לָךְ וְאָכַלְתָּ אֶת־עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה׃ בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם עַד שׁוּבְךָ אֶל־הָאֲדָמָה כִּי מִמֶּנָּה לֻקָּחְתָּ כִּי־עָפָר אַתָּה וְאֶל־עָפָר תָּשׁוּב׃

3:19 appears to contradict the previous verse. How can these be reconciled? It might be taken to mean that from now on Adam's food is to be exactly the same as that of the animals. Now there is no mention of trees. Eating bread, though, which is juxtaposed to this, is not characteristic of the animals. What might this signify?

Note: 3:18 requires Adam to eat plants of the ancient country. This might conjure up in the minds of ancient readers the story in Daniel 4 of Nebuchadrezzar's dream:

I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it. I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven; He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches: Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth: Let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. וַאֲלוּ אִילָן בְּגוֹ אַרְעָא וְרוּמֵהּ שַׂגִּיא׃ רְבָה אִילָנָא וּתְקִף וְרוּמֵהּ יִמְטֵא לִשְׁמַיָּא וַחֲזוֹתֵהּ לְסוֹף כָּל־אַרְעָא׃ עָפְיֵהּ שַׁפִּיר וְאִנְבֵּהּ שַׂגִּיא וּמָזוֹן לְכֹלָּא־בֵהּ תְּחֹתוֹהִי תַּטְלֵל חֵיוַת בָּרָא וּבְעַנְפוֹהִי יְדוּרָן צִפְּרֵי שְׁמַיָּא וּמִנֵּהּ יִתְּזִין כָּל־בִּשְׂרָא׃ חָזֵה הֲוֵית בְּחֶזְוֵי רֵאשִׁי עַל־מִשְׁכְּבִי וַאֲלוּ עִיר וְקַדִּישׁ מִן־שְׁמַיָּא נָחִת׃ קָרֵא בְחַיִל וְכֵן אָמַר גֹּדּוּ אִילָנָא וְקַצִּצוּ עַנְפוֹהִי אַתַּרוּ עָפְיֵהּ וּבַדַּרוּ אִנְבֵּהּ תְּנֻד חֵיוְתָא מִן־תַּחְתּוֹהִי וְצִפְּרַיָּא מִן־עַנְפוֹהִי׃ בְּרַם עִקַּר שָׁרְשׁוֹהִי בְּאַרְעָא שְׁבֻקוּ וּבֶאֱסוּר דִּי־פַרְזֶל וּנְחָשׁ בְּדִתְאָא דִּי בָרָא וּבְטַל שְׁמַיָּא יִצְטַבַּע וְעִם־חֵיוְתָא חֲלָקֵהּ בַּעֲשַׂב אַרְעָא׃ לִבְבֵהּ מִן־אֲנָשָׁא יְשַׁנּוֹן וּלְבַב חֵיוָה יִתְיְהִב לֵהּ וְשִׁבְעָה עִדָּנִין יַחְלְפוּן עֲלוֹהִי׃

Daniel explains that the king is symbolised by the tree, and:

They shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. וְלָךְ טָרְדִין מִן־אֲנָשָׁא וְעִם־חֵיוַת בָּרָא לֶהֱוֵה מְדֹרָךְ וְעִשְׂבָּא כְתוֹרִין לָךְ יְטַעֲמוּן וּמִטַּל שְׁמַיָּא לָךְ מְצַבְּעִין וְשִׁבְעָה עִדָּנִין יַחְלְפוּן עֲלָךְ עַד דִּי־תִנְדַּע דִּי־שַׁלִּיט עִלָּאָה בְּמַלְכוּת אֲנָשָׁא וּלְמַן־דִּי יִצְבֵּא יִתְּנִנַּהּ׃

And this comes to pass: Nebuchadrezzar eats grass like cattle, his body is wet with dew; "his hair grew like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws." He loses מַנְדַּע—the power of reason, which is only restored when [G-d gives it back to him]

The parallel with Adam: He disregards G-d's command, and is transferred. But is he transferred into the animal realm? The Targumim address the tension between the two sections of the Divine decree directly.

There are four targumim of this which survive (apart from Targum Unkelos); each adds a little אַגָדָה to the basic story.

Targum Neofiti, Gen 3:18-19. [I wasn't able to get down a line-by-line translation of most of this; what you've got here is the result of my almost non-existent Aramaic; does anyone want to help correct and flesh out my translation, as it's pretty rubbish?]

You shall eat the grass of the field which is on the surface of the earth. Adam answered and said, "I beseech in the mercy which is before You, O Lord, let us not be reckoned like the cattle, so as to eat the grass which is on the surface of the earth. Let us stand up now and ?from my work and the work of my hands1, we shall eat מָזוֹן from the ?fruits of the earth כנין. This shall separate between humans and beasts. וכו[ב]ין ודתדתין תרבי לך ותיכל ית עשבא דבאפי ברא עני אדם ואמר בבעו ברחמין מן קדמך ייי לא נתחשב כבעירא למיכ[ל] עשבא דבאפי ברא נקום כען ומלעי ומן לעות ידי נאכל מזון מן פירי דארעה כנין כן יהוי מפרש בין בני אנשא לבין בעירא׃

The notion of a distinction between humans and animals is very much to the fore here; conveyed by פֵּרַשׁ which the targumim [use] to convey the distinction between what is pure and impure, consecrated [and secular, etc].

From the outset, Adam asks that the humans not be regarded—נִתְחַשַּׂב—as beasts or cattle. There is also a hint of wordplay. Adam asks not to be regarded as בְּעֵירָע wild beasts, [lacuna—does somebody want to point out what this wordplay is? I'm guessing between בְּעֵירָע and בְאַרְעָא "on the land", but I can't quite make sense of the context of the latter.]

Adam's request contains four parts. Firstly, "let us stand upright", נָקוּם. The contrast is not only with the quadrupeds, but also with the serpent, which has had its legs chopped off. Readers of the Targum will known standing upright is essential

  • For priests, who stand upright before the Lord,
  • for prophets [proof text, possibly involving Elijah??],
  • for prayer: one of the two central prayers of Judaism is the עֲמִידָה (Amida), which means the standing prayer,
  • And it's a sine qua non for any Jew to address G-d—a subject on which the Aramaic Targumim give a lot of advice.

In the heavenly realms, the creatures in the Book of Daniel stand before G-d. Standing is essential for [lacuna; presumably communicating with G-d].

His second request is that he may labour: לְעִי. This can involve manual work; but it also means to labour at the study of Torah. This is a key aspect of Jewish life; the Targumim encourage people to do this too.

His third request is to eat מָזוֹן, not עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֵה. The use of this word will cause readers to think of בִּרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן, which you need to utter. It requires bread... which G-d grants Adam in the next verse. מָזוֹן however means simply sustenance; there is ambiguity here. What is being suggested is that Adam is being cautious.

His final request is that G-d should recognise a distinction between animals and humans in what they eat. מָזוֹן can refer to food in general. It's used that way in Daniel 4 to mean the food G-d prepares for all creatures. What Adam really wants is a type of food which differentiates him from the animals; however what he actually mentions is simply מָזוֹן.

(Though of course in בִּרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן we have הוּא נוֹתֵן לֶחֶם לְכָל בָשָׂר, "[G-d] gives bread to all flesh"!)

G-d's reply to Adam:

Pseudo-Jonathan Gen 3:18-19 [and the same plea about the Aramaic, only this time I can't be bothered to translate it :-S]:

3:18 [Not translated here.]

3:19 By the labour of the palm of your hands, you shall eat מָזוֹן until you return to the dust from which you were created, because you are dust, and to the dust to which you shall in future ?return to stand up and to give an account of all you have done on the Great Day of Judgement.

3:18 וכובין ואטטין תצמח ותרבי בדילך ותיכול ית עיסבא דעל אפי ברא עני אדם ואמר בבעו ברחמין מן קדמך ה׳ דלא נתחשב קדמך ידיי וניכול מזון מן מזונא ובין בני בעירא כבעירא דניכול עיסבא דאפי ברא נקום כען ונעלי בליעות דארעה ובכן יתאפרש כען קדמך בין בני אינשא׃

3:19 בליעות כף ידך תיכול מזונא עד דתיהדור לעפרא דמינא איתבראת ארום עפרא אנת ולעפרא תתוב ומן עפרא אנת עתיד למיקום למיתן דינא וחושבנא על כל מה דעבדת ביום דינא רבא׃

The same passage in Targum Neofiti:

In ?her knowledge from before Your anger you will eat to grace [??—לחן] until you return to the land because מנה אתברית ?because you are dust and to dust you עדיד return, and from the dust you will in future return, and ?standing and give ??cause and an account of all you have done. בדעתה מן קדם אפיך תאכל לחן עד מחזרך לארעה ארום מנה אתברית ארום עפר את ולעפרא את עדיד חזר ומן עפרא את עתיד חזר וקאם ויהב דין וחושבן על כל מה דעבדה׃

What does G-d grant to Adam's request? There's no reference here to the distinction between humans and animals that he had asked for. There's no direct reference, but there is an implicit reference:

Adam is permitted to eat מָזוֹן, or even bread; which means that human beings can utter a blessing over food, which in turn means they will be standing upright, as they will be working with their hands, not walking on them.

The Targumim declare Adam will stand upright, but after death, to return from the dust, to give an account of his deeds. Adam's prayer is answered, but not in the way he expected.

Adam prayed for humans not to be reckoned—נִתְחַשַּׂב—like the animals. G-d replies that humans are to give a reckoning—חֶשְׁבּונָא, from the same root—of what they have done. The animals won't. So again Adam's prayer is answered but not in the way he bargained for.

Although Adam and Eve's actions result in their expulsion from the Garden; their continuing relationship with the Divine remains a subject of concern for the Targumim. May they stand in prayer? May they [labour? May they eat מָזוֹן, and may they be distinguished from the animals?]

The answer of all these is yes, but over all of them hangs the shadow of the final reckoning.


Now contrast this rabbinic approach with another, pre-rabbinic approach, which gives a very different take: The pseudepigraphal Book of Jubilees, which was probably completed around 150 BCE. (The Targumim were written down in their current form 200 years later, but of course drew on much older sources.)

Jubilees rewrites Genesis, putting bits in, leaving things out, and moving bits around, for its own agenda. Here it goes out of its way to leave as much as its can out regarding food; also the serpent's punishment, and that the serpent should eat dust. Whilst for Adam it says [the rest of the curse], it leaves out the reference to עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה.

In stark contrast to the matter of food, Jubilees is mightily concerned about clothes; this is what the author of the book wanted to talk about.

What in the Bible is something that Adam and his wife did simultaneously is separated here into two separate actions, after each ate the fruit.

It talks about how G-d made garments of skin for after he sent them out.

The garden is a holy place. The Garden is the Holy of Holies, the most sacred spot [in the Temple]. Once they are outside the Garden, 3:27 says Adam offered a sweet-smelling offering of incense from the morning of the day when he covered his shame. This is referring to the תָּמִיד incense offering. In order to do that, he would have to be clothed; presumably these clothes would then be Priestly vestments.

What suggested this was the language of Gen 3:24, about the two cherubim.

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the Garden of Eden the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. וַיְגָרֶשׁ אֶת־הָאָדָם וַיַּשְׁכֵּן מִקֶּדֶם לְגַן־עֵדֶן אֶת־הַכְּרֻבִים וְאֵת לַהַט הַחֶרֶב הַמִּתְהַפֶּכֶת לִשְׁמֹר אֶת־דֶּרֶךְ עֵץ הַחַיִּים׃         
Cherubim are normally associated with the [Ark of the Covenant, located in the Holy of Holies in the Temple].

[The book of Jubilees also provides] further information not in the Bible. From this point onwards, it says, the animals stopped speaking. Beforehand they had all spoken the same language, which most commentators identify as Hebrew.

All the animals were also scattered, each according to their kinds, to the place which [lacuna, presumably: G-d had decreed] for them. But from all the beasts and all the cattle [lacuna?] G-d granted to Adam alone that he might cover his shame.

Thus, though [lacuna], it is clothing alone which distingushes [man from beast].

Jubilees 3:30-31 (trans. O.S. Wintermute):

But from all the beasts and all the cattle He granted to Adam alone that he might cover his shame. Therefore it is commanded in the heavenly tablets to all who will know the judgement of the Law that they should cover their shame and they should not be uncovered as the Gentiles are uncovered.

Here Jubilees reveals one aspect of its larger agenda: It's about Jews versus non-Jews. Jubilees was written immediately before the Hasmonean revolt, at the time of Hellenisation of the Jews. This element is definitely present in the Jubilean polemic.

What it's also doing by insisting on this business of clothing as a distinction is to relate it to [lacuna].

Where is this from? There is no prohibition on nudity in the Torah. The ones whom it is explicitly said must not reveal their nakedness is the priests! (Possibly—there may be other reasons as well.)

Exodus 28:42-43 שמות כח מב-מג
You shall also make for them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; they shall extend from the loins to the thighs. They shall be worn by Aaron and his sons when they enter the Tent of Meeting, or when they approach the altar to officiate in the sanctuary, so that they do not incur punishment and die. It shall be a statute for all time for him and his offspring to come. וַעֲשֵׂה לָהֶם מִכְנְסֵי־בָד לְכַסּוֹת בְּשַׂר עֶרְוָה מִמָּתְנַיִם וְעַד־יְרֵכַיִם יִהְיוּ׃ וְהָיוּ עַל־אַהֲרֹן וְעַל־בָּנָיו בְּבֹאָם אֶל־אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד אוֹ בְגִשְׁתָּם אֶל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לְשָׁרֵת בַּקֹּדֶשׁ וְלֹא־יִשְׂאוּ עָו&zwj ֹן וָמֵתוּ חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לוֹ וּלְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו׃

Set alongside this, the targumim offer a much more nuanced account. The targumim use the word "distinction", which Jubilees does not. The Targumim are in the last resort much more reticent about the matter than Jubilees, which gives a hard and fast solution. Jubilees is a polemical work, and it comes across in it. The Targumim show much more reflection on issues such as these.

Jubilees also raises questions the targumim are not all that interested in.

If the animals are deprived of speech, surely this is something distinguishing animals from humans! So then why insist on clothing as a distinguishing factor as well? What about people who do not speak Hebrew? Jubilees leaves all these loose ends.

Not so the Targumim. What is the relationship of humans to the natural world once [lacuna, presumably: they are banished from the garden?]

The solemn service of the Temple is something which can be [carried out] only by priests who [lacuna]. By contrast, the Targumim [lacuna]. The priests stand to minister, the prophets stand to [prophecy], people stand to pray.

Yet the priestly office is limited to [the descendants of Aaron]. The prophets too [lacuna] standing in relationship to the realm of the status.

This brings together many of the concerns they have been considering in the whole chapter. [Drat; there's too much he was speaking too fast for me to get for me to reconstruct his thread.]

Where do humans being stand after the expulsion of Eden?

Targum Neofiti, Gen 3:24 (trans. CTRH):

And He drove out the man, and made the Glory of His Shekhina dwell from of old, from the east of the garden of Eden from between the two cherubim. Two thousand years before He created the world, He created the Torah. He established the garden of Eden for the righteous and Gehenna for the wicked. He established the garden of Eden for the righteous who will eat1 and provision themselves from the fruits of the tree, because they kept the commandments of the Torah in this world, and fulfilled their orders. He established Gehenna for the wicked, which is like a sharp sword consuming from both its sides. In its midst he established sparks of fire and burning coals for the wicked, to exact punishment of them in the world to come, because they did not keep the commandments of the Torah in this world. For the Torah is the Tree of Life to all who labour [לעי] in her; and the one who keeps her orders is going to live and endure like the Tree of Life for ever, for the world to come. The Torah is good for those who those who work/cultivate it [לפלחי] in this world, like the fruits of the tree of life.

1. They get back into the garden, and get to eat of the tree!

Here the Targumim give their final answer to Adam's concerns. Even here his original concern with food remains, but transformed into Torah food: Torah study. It's the Torah which provides the food distinguishing humans from the animals. Yes, Adam asks for מָזוֹן, but in the end what's provided for him is Torah. And it is this which enables humans to stand in judgement and be judged worthy to enter into the Garden, from which the first humans had been expelled.

So, the distinctive character of the Targum in its questions of animals and human dignity [...] integrate into coherent discussion [with] ideas drawn from the Bible and extra-Biblical sources [...] and not be removed from sight as they do in Jubilees.

Jewish learning notes index


Date: 2009-11-06 12:24 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Found the above in my file cabinet and, if you recall, had a few questions as to the orgin and purpose for this research.
Thank you,
Joel Jaman


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Lethargic Man (anag.)

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