From: Eli HandelSent: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 06:20Included in this issue is my "review" of Alan Smith's books.----- Original Message -----From: Shalom BergerSent: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 05:09Subject: [LOOKSTEIN] Bookjed Digest 72The Lookstein Announcements list is a project of the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education.
In this issue:
1. Book reviews
Ten books on Peshat by Alan Smith
Reviewed by Eli Handel
1. Book reviews
Ten books on Peshat by Alan Smith
All English unless otherwise stated
Haggadah - Hebrew with translation and commentary (Ashkenaz)
Get It Right - a commentary on Tanakh, concentrating on clearing up
misunderstandings of the text, points of grammar, the correct
meanings of words, and correcting traditional mistakes,
with introductions to specific topics.
# Fundamental Concepts of the Hebrew Verb
A completely new approach to Classical Hebrew Grammar
הפועל בעברית מקראית - מושגי יסוד (Hebrew version of same)
# Semi-Regular Classical Hebrew Verbs (a reference booklet)
# Verb forms in Hebrew and Aramaic (Article)
# Vowels in Classical Hebrew
# Third person feminine plural in Hebrew and Aramaic (Article)
# The Dot in the Hebrew Letter (Article)
# Nouns & Adjectives in Classical Hebrew
Intermediate Classical Hebrew Grammar
(The above marked # bound together in one volume)
The Original Zionists - the book of Ezra-Nehemiah (originally a course)
with complete text, translation, historical background and story.
Daniel the Dreamer - the book of Daniel made easy
with complete text, translation, notes, historical background etc.
Peshat Before Derash
Introduction to the Laws of Offerings
Introduction to the Laws of Tum'ah
Babylonian Hebrew Vowels - a brief introduction
Taamey Hamikra - a simplified introduction
Reviewed by Eli Handel
Ten years ago, at the OU Israel Center, I enjoyed a weekly class
called "What the Chumash Actually Says". In the course, Mr. Alan Smith
taught Peshat in Chumash with a strong emphasis on grammar and literal
translation. During the course, I gained insight into many words,
events, and instructions, and I even managed to start feeling
comfortable with the famous seven Binyanim.
Mr. Smith - of Eli, Israel, formerly of London, England - whom some
may recognize as the translator of Nechama Leibowitz's "Torah
Insights" - has written a number of books, mostly about Tanach. He's
very concerned with pointing out what is and is not written in the
text, while at the same time insisting that Dibra Torah Bileshon Benei
Adam, that mechanically translating each word or phrase separately
does not necessarily lead to understanding the message. His
observations of connections, interactions, and common denominators,
together with his combative style and careful step-by-step
presentations have helped me learn what used to seem like lists of
Before trying to briefly describe the books, I'll try to give a sample
of some ideas that I've picked up.
- Beshalach comes from Leshaleach which means to release, expel,
divorce; not from Lishloach which means to send. So 'Shalach Et Ami'
really does means 'Let my people go'.
- The famous seven Binyanim can be understood and remembered more
easily by seeing them in a three by three grid that has on one axis -
Active, Passive, and Middle, and on the other axis - Simple,
Causative, and Intensive.
- Tum'ah means banned from going into the Bet Hamikdash and coming in
contact with Kodshim.
Tum'ah stems from things associated with birth and death.
Thus, it appears that the Bet Hamikdash and Kehuna are intended to
deal only with day to day life, unlike priests of other religions who
often associate with birth and death, before life and after life.
- By Korbanot, the lists of Fats (Vayikra 3) are identical except by
sheep where there is one extra item. The Fats are smoked (from
'Lehaktir') on the Mizbeach to produce a Re'ach Nichoach, a relaxing
aroma. 'Smoked' means turned into smoke, like by tobacco or incense,
not smoked like by smoked salmon, and not burned (from 'Lisrof') like
by other things. Surprisingly, no Zevach, slaughter, actually occurs
on the Mizbeach, despite the root of the word.
- Ok, this is for people who really like words: La'asot Melacha, by
Briat Haolam and by Shabbat, means 'to produce or to acquire', 'to
Make or to acquire products'. La'asot Melacha does not mean 'to Do
work'. The same with Asot Chafatzecha (Yeshayahu 58:13 - Haftara of
Yom Kippur). Melacha does not mean work or labor, but rather it means
products or acquisitions, produced or acquired objects, just as
Gezeilah and Aveidah (Vayikra 5:23) do not mean theft and loss but
rather stolen and lost objects. This is in contrast to Melacha in the
Hebrew of the Gemara where Melacha means 'work' or a category of work.
- Thus, Melechet Avoda (Vayikra 23 - Emor, Bemidbar 28 - Pinchas)
means service products, products that are used rather than eaten,
unlike Melacha Asher Yeachel Lechol Nefesh (Shemot 12:16 - Bo), food
products. Melechet Avoda means service products just as Melechet Or
means leather products (Vayikra 13:48 - Tazria).
The book that I'm most excited about is "Get It Right", 274 pages,
which is a Rashbam or Ibn Ezra style Perush on Tanach, mostly on
Chumash. Many ideas that are spelled out in the other books are
naturally repeated here. In addition to linguistic observations and
suggestions for alternative explanations, there are descriptions of
structure and introductions to selected topics.
Mr. Smith's grammar booklets focus on basic rules without trying to
confuse the reader with too many exceptions. I was so inspired by his
lessons that I wrote a computer program to help me absorb them.
(Dikduk of the Torah - http://geocities.com/torahdikduk - a PDF file
of one of the booklets is included with the program).
"Peshat Before Derash", 66 pages, is an impassioned plea for precise
translation. There are lots of interesting Divrei Torah here, with a
large store of observations about Biblical Hebrew and about
translation in general. Ironically I seem to find it particularly
exciting to learn this After learning "Derash".
"The Original Zionists", 180 pages, and "Daniel the Dreamer", 158
pages, take you through the Sefarim of Ezra-Nechemiah and Daniel. They
contain the full text of the Sefer, broken down into bite-size pieces,
with translations, summaries, introductions, charts, maps, and
In "Introduction to the Laws of Offerings", 58 pages, and
"Introduction to the Laws of Tum'ah", 66 pages, Alan presents the
subjects of Korbanot and Tum'ah step by step, sorting out details and
focusing on key issues. I walked out feeling that I had become much
more familiar with the relevant Parashot.
"Taamey Hamikra", 5 pages/lessons, teaches the sophisticated
punctuation system of the Torah; the system allows sentences to be
broken up much more precisely than can be done with comma, semi-colon,
colon, dash, and period. And "Babylonian Hebrew Vowels", 12 pages,
presents the vowel symbols that were used in Bavel.
The Haggadah is titled "A Simple Haggadah for Adults and Teachers",
and contains introductions, instructions, translation, comments, and a
simple structured layout for easy reading. All is in Alan's signature
personal style which I don't know how to describe properly.
Technical and personal note: Since the books could only be printed
from Alan's computer using customized software, I developed a program
to convert the files to Acrobat PDF for future publication.
The books are available directly from the author; they have not been
published and he has been printing and binding them on his own.
Contact in Israel: (02) 994-3836 (Not on Friday afternoons. No e-mail.)
Alan Smith, P.O.B. 414, Eli (Mount Ephraim), 44828, Israel.
אברהם נפח, ת.ד. 414 עלי (הר אפרים), 44828