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Targum

From Academic Kids

A targum (plural: targumim) is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) written or compiled in the Land of Israel or in Babylonia from the Second Temple period until the early Middle Ages (late first millennium).

As translations, the targumim largely reflect rabbinic (i.e. midrashic) interpretation of the Tanakh. This is true both for those targumim that are fairly literal, as well as for those which contain a great many midrashic expansions.

Aramaic was the lingua franca for hundreds of years in major Jewish communities in the Land of Israel and Babylonia. In order to facilitate the study of Tanakh and make its public reading understood, authoritative translations were required.

Contents

The Two "Official" Targumim

Missing image
Targum.jpg
11th century targum, perhaps from Tunisia, found in Kurdistan: part of the Sch°yen Collection.

The two most important targumim for liturgical purposes are:

These two targumim are mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud as targum didan ("our Targum"), giving them official status. In the synagogues of talmudic times, Targum Onkelos was read alternately with the Torah, verse by verse, and Targum Jonathan was read alternately with the selection from Nevi'im (i.e. the Haftarah). This custom continues to this day in Yemenite Jewish communities. Because of this, Yemenite Jewish communities are the only ones to preserve a living tradition of pronunciation for the Aramaic of the targumim (according to a Babylonian dialect).

Besides its public function in the synagogue, the Talmud also mentions targum in the context of a personal study requirement: "A person should always review his portions of scripture along with the community, reading the scripture twice and the targum once." This too refers to Targum Onkelos on the public Torah reading and to Targum Jonathan on the haftarot from Nevi'im.

Medieval biblical manuscripts of the Tiberian mesorah sometimes contain the Hebrew text interpolated, verse-by-verse, with the official targumim. This scribal practice has its roots both in the public reading of the Targum and in the private study requirement.

The two "official" targumim are considered eastern (Babylonian). Nevertheless, scholars believe they too originated in the Land of Israel because of a strong linguistic substratum of western Aramaic. Though these targumim were later "easternized," the substratum belying their origins still remains.

In post-talmudic times, when most Jewish communities had ceased speaking Aramaic, the public reading of Targum along with the Torah and Haftarah was abandoned in most communities. In Yemen, however, rather than abandoning the Aramaic targum during the public reading of the Torah, it was supplemented by a third version, namely the translation of the Torah into Arabic by Saadia Gaon (called the Tafsir). Thus, in Yemen each verse was read three times.

The private study requirement to review the Targum was never entirely relaxed, even when Jewish communities had largely ceased speaking Aramaic, and the Targum never ceased to be a major source for Jewish exegesis. For these reasons, the Targum is still almost always printed alongside the text in Jewish editions of the Bible with commentaries. Nevertheless, later halakhic authorities argued that the requirement to privately review targum (which means "translation") might also be met by reading a translation in the current vernacular in place of the official Targum, or else by studying an important commentary containing midrashic interpretation (especially that of Rashi).

Targum Ketuvim

The Talmud explicitly states that no official targumim were composed besides these two on Torah and Nevi'im alone, and that there is no official targum to Ketuvim ("The Writings"). An official targum was in fact unnecessary for Ketuvim because its books played no fixed liturgical role. Nevertheless, most books of Ketuvim have targumim, whose origin is mostly western (Land of Israel) rather than eastern (Babylonia). But for lack of a fixed place in the liturgy, they were poorly preserved and less well known. From the Land of Israel, the tradition of targum to Ketuvim made its way to Italy, and from there to medieval Ashkenaz and Sepharad. The targumim to Ketuvim were unknown in Yemen, so no living tradition of pronunciation was preserved for them.

Other Targumim on the Torah

There are also a variety of western targumim on the Torah, each of which was traditionally called Targum Yerushalmi ("Jerusalem Targum"). An important one of these was mistakenly labeled "Targum Jonathan" in later printed versions (though all medieval authorities refer to it by its correct name). The error crept in because of an abbreviation: The printer interpreted ת"י to stand for תרגום יונתן instead of the correct תרגום ירושלמי. Scholars refer to this targum as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. To attribute this targum to Jonathan ben Uzziel also contradicts the talmudic tradition, which quite clearly attributes the targum to Nevi'im alone to him, while stating that there is no official targum to Ketuvim.

In the same printed version, a similar fragment targum is correctly labeled as Targum Yerushalmi. Another important full western Targum on the Torah is Targum Neofiti.

The Peshitta

The Peshitta is the traditional Bible of Syriac-speaking Christians (those who speak a dialect of Eastern Aramaic). Its 'Old Testament' has been shown to be based on rabbinic targumim.

External links:

The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon (http://cal1.cn.huc.edu/index.htm) - contains critical editions of all the targumim along with lexical tools and grammatical analysis.de:Targum

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