Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Does Arami Mean "Syrian"?

T'ruah held a demonstration outside of Trump Tower in New York this past Sunday to protest the US administration's immigrant policies.

Here are two photographs of the signs and I've circled one word:

That word, in the Hebrew, is Arami.  You may be familiar with it as it appears in the Haggada, quoted from Genesis 26:5.  It is also found in Deuteronomy 26:5.  It relates to Laban.

It is also translated as Aramean.  As to the exact meaning of the verse, see here.

But where was Aram?

Wikipedia informs:
Aram stretched from the Lebanon mountains eastward across the Euphrates, including parts of the Khabur River valley in northwestern Mesopotamia on the border of Assyria...Several of the Aramaean territories located within Aram are also referenced in the Hebrew Bible. These include Aram-Naharaim, Paddan-Aram, Aram-Damascus, Aram-Rehob, and Aram-Zobah.

So, Syria is connected geographically. Or not.

Genesis 28:10 says that Jacob fled to Haran, where he went to his mother's kindred, thus making Aram Naharaim a region beyond the Euphrates.  And 

the most important part of Aram, so far as the Hebrews were concerned, was Damascus. Amos (i. 5) and Isaiah (vii. 8) indicate this; the one by equating Aram with Damascus, the other by declaring that Damascus is the head of Aram...
In Rabbinical Literature:
"Aramean" was from the earliest times the equivalent of "heathen" in the Jewish vernacular, because the heathen neighbors of the Jews used the Aramean tongue. An old Targum, mentioned by the Mishnah (Meg. iv. 9), employs the word "Aramiyu-uta" in the sense of heathendom; as does also R. Ishmael in the first half of the second century (Yer. Meg. iv. 75c). In Palestine the word "Aramean" was so tabooed that the Jews preferred to use the Greek word "Syriac" to designate their mother-tongue, rather than call it "Aramean.

Did Syria as Syria exist at this time?  No. There is no Syria in the Bible. Some evangelicals, though, identify the current struggle in modern-day Syria as being the same as mentioned in Isaiah as regards Aram.

So these quite liberal Rabbis are basing their link between a Biblical verse relating to Jewish forefathers and the revolt in Syria just like evangelical Christians do.


But was an "Aramean father" a Jew?

This source indicates no:
In the Old Testament the Aramaeans are represented as being closely akin to the Hebrews and living in northern Syria around Harran from about the 16th century bc. The Aramaeans are also mentioned often in Assyrian records as freebooters.
An Aramean is a person who lived in that location and yet the Bible has Laban, son of Betuel, as identified as an Aramean. Genesis 10:22 has Aram as the son of Shem and Genesis 22:21 lists Aram as a son of Kemuel, son of Nahor, Abraham's grandnephew. 

But the verse in Deuteronomy reads
And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: 'A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.

Going back to the meaning of the verse, included in the Seder night ritual recitation, as based on Pesachim 10:4, it actually reads "My father was a wanderer", not, I would maintain, a refugee.  Was that father wandering due to strife or by his own decision?  Well,
According to Ibn Ezra, the verse refers to Jacob, who, when he was in Aram, was lost. Rashbam...argues that the verse more appropriately applies to Abraham, who can correctly be identified as an Aramean.
Abraham followed God's command to leave his home in contemporary Iraq and travel westward.  

In other words, the implicated message in the sign is not a true reading of the verse.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, modern Orthodox rabbi and leader of the Jewish community of Efrat in his The Passover Haggadah (KTAV, 1983) notes:
The Haggadah teaches us through Laban’s example that Jews ought to fear the enemy within as much or even more than the enemy without. While non-Jewish persecutors, such as Pharaoh, have taken their toll of Jewish lives throughout history, even more Jews have been lost through the blandishments of the Labans of the world. Those presumably close to us–our "family"–have caused more danger to the Jewish community through the scourge of assimilation. Their kiss has been the kiss of death.

What a blast of an interpretation that is.

That would seem to fit these T'ruah Rabbis.


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