Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“For every psychological term in English, there are 4 in Greek & 40 in Sanskrit”
-A.K. Coomaraswamy
“in progress”
I would think we could claim “40 Hebrew terms” as well, but we have a different relationship to Hebrew compared to those of the Indian Subcontinent who spoke/speak out Sanskrit. The much-celebrated Hebrew grammarians in Spain, in defending Hebrew, worked from the assumption that you really had to “mine” Tanach (and its non-textual spoken offspring – itself an issue) for such subtle linguistic dimensions – corollaries of which were abundant in the host culture’s Arabic! (JEWOC, esp. p73-4) There were knowledgeable, religious Jews, educated in written Hebrew and Aramaic, but significantly spoken/written/thought Arabic - who were lost to Islam in good part because of the substance of the claim for “poetic nature” of Arabic, particularly the Koran – in an Islamic culture steeped in aesthetic, technical, philosophical and theological linguistic precision. A living language that could grasp reality and communicate itself thoroughly in the present realities – as opposed to the vastly textual, “closed canon” of Gemara and Tanach and codes.

Instead of conceding that dimensions are inherently lost to any given perspective of Torah held in Exile, where imprecision and teumah abounds (Klal Israel is un-Redeemed, Klal Israel does not merit the Temple or sovereignty, etc), it seems assumed by not a few, that in fact - it is all accessible, all exhaustively (exclusively?), contained, somehow, within the given measuring parameters of their Dalet Amot/Amois of Torah. Hints are made, even in Yeshivishe circles, that certain “enlightened ones” or some kind of hidden Gedolim (their Gedolim) can access everything seemingly lost to the passage of time (which is to say lost by Yad Hashem), from Nevuah to high states of purity and spiritual imperviousness. But when you pressure for examples, concrete, comparably rich examples (our Jewish “40 terms”), it makes me think of Art-Time at the Global Worldview Playgroup – and there’s this Jewish kid with an 8-count box of Crayola’s®, while certain other kids have those 64-count boxes, and the Jewish kid responds to their capacity for (in this example), aesthetic/artistic precision with “well…look what I can do if I put yellow and green together! It almost looks like…um…Shamrock?” Pay attention the next times someone says “The Hebrew term for ___ has many subtleties”; they should be able to say that there so many nuanced TERMS with which to describe reality Jewishly, instead of arguing that the handful of terms that are in present/surviving Hebrew (hereafter PSH; this is to say almost exclusively Tanach – since little else has survived the wolves and torches of Galut - or our reactionary censoring responses to it) are exhaustive in capability. I know people who would respond that the Shoresh in Hebrew etymology has this whole “chemical equation” nature to it – whereby a shoresh can be the conduit to related terms – suggesting that this is of course, particular to Hebrew (and of course, it’s not; Semitic languages, as well as others have this). But that’s a matter of linguistic dimensions to a limited set of Hebrew terms – not to dimensions of terms used to grasp reality external to the terms! Merely because shoreshim can indicate a relationship between terms does not amount to “40 terms for one English term”; again, the Jewish kid with his 8 count box. To show the PSH has tremendous descriptive power - despite the meagerness of the language as we now have it!! - it would seem, from the Charedi perspective that you have to say that PSH, not only what has survived in Hebrew (the Jewish Canon), is “the root of all reality”, or at the very least trump all the other kids in the playgroup by proclaiming PSH to be the root of all languages. There is no other Hebrew that we have access to other than PSH!

Hebrew was the language of a nation (and for a brief moment, an empire). Amazing examples of tribal language and “reality relations” can be found in Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abrams, esp. ch. 5 (there is “Jewish” in the book, but he seems less aware of the Oral context of Written Torah/Legal Codes – something that causes him to mistakenly penalize Judaism as “textual”). Because Aramaic became the language Torah was packed up in and then written down in – and because the Canon of Hebrew Scripture was closed by the last Prophets – Hebrew as it was indeed lived and breathed by us, and its relationship to the reality with which it was so intimately bound is gone - umm...more later.


At 12/09/2007 11:04 AM, Blogger Pierre Sogol said...

Granted; if the 8 count has primary colors - one can theoretically compose the other multibox worth of colors. But a defining feature of Galut it would seem, is that we lack some primary colors -that we can't mix and match such that Galut is as if it didn't happen. p.s.


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