As Dawn Spread Over the Mountains

As Dawn Spread Over the Mountains

In the summer of 2013 Itzhak Shapira published a book entitled “The Return of the Kosher Pig”. In this book Shapira attempts to bring support to various Christian doctrines from the writings of Judaism’s sages. I have written two reviews demonstrating that Shapira’s arguments are based on his lack of understanding of the texts he quotes. In the review entitled “The School of Matthew” I listed over 80 errors that I found in Shapira’s book ( ).

On December 14 2013 Shapira presented this response to one of my objections: Response to Objection 2: “Hebrew 101” – Blackness vs. Dawn. An Answer to R’ Blumenthal objection.

With this response Shapira has only further confirmed his abysmal lack of comprehension of the basic Jewish texts.

In both of my reviews I exposed Shapira’s mistranslation of the comments of Metzudat David on Malachi 3:20. I hereby quote from Spiritual Responsibility ( ):

“On page 191 of his book Shapira quotes the comments of Metzudat David (a popular Jewish commentator) on Malachi 3:20 (4:2). The commentator elucidates Malachi’s metaphor which attributes “wings” to the sun with a reference to a passage in Joel 2:2. In the book of Joel the dawn is described as “spreading” over the mountains. The Metzudat David explains that the spreading of the light of dawn that Joel speaks of can help us understand the spreading of wings in the verse from Malachi.

Shapira completely missed the point of the Metzudat David and he translated the verse in Joel with the words: “as blackness spread upon the mountains”. Check out these passages in your own Bible (Joel 2:2; Malachi 3:20 (4:2) – see Strong’s concordance #7837).

The commentary of Metzudat David is written in a simple Hebrew. The style of the Metzudat David is not complicated. The comments of the Metzudat David are enjoyed by school-children. Yet Shapira cannot navigate his way through a simple comment that is designed for the child and for the layman.”

Shapira defends himself by telling us that the JPS translates the word “k’shachar” with the words “as blackness.”

The JPS on Joel 2:2 has nothing to do with my objection. My objection was focused on Shapira’s mistranslation of the comments of the Metzudat David.  I present here the full translation of the Metzudat David’s comment on the phrase in question: “and healing in its wings. With its shining you will have healing and pleasure, he (the prophet) compares the spreading of the light and its shine to the spreading of wings because the sun spreads its light over the land like outspread wings as it is written “k’shachar parus al he’harim” (Joel 2:2).”

Here are Metzudat David’s comments on Joel 2:2: “k’shachar. Like the light of dawn spread over the mountains so will the locusts cover the mountains.”

Shapira goes on to say that the purpose of my critique was to demonstrate that the verse in Malachi was not Messianic. Shapira did not understand my review. I was not discussing if the verse in question is or isn’t Messianic. I was demonstrating that Shapira is incapable of reading a comment that a sixth grade school-child should be able to read.

In his defense Shapira has demonstrated that he is incapable of admitting a mistake even when his error is as obvious as the dawn spread over the mountains.   

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal


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16 Responses to As Dawn Spread Over the Mountains

  1. Annelise says:

    I agree with your point here, that in “Spiritual Responsibility” (and by association, also the short thought in “The School of Matthew) you were not saying that Shapira has simply mistranslated Joel 2:2. Actually, the point was that it is a mistranslation of Joel 2:2 in the context of the Metzudat David, which he has misunderstood in taking out the more natural meaning of light which the author is drawing upon to begin with. So he has misunderstood your objection, although it seems right to me that the translation by him and the JPS could be justified in that other context of Joel 2:2.

    So I have a question. What if he was not trying to make a proof out of the plain meaning of Metzudat David at all, but instead just poetically bringing random links together to illustrate something he already believes? In saying that, I already realise that to do so would not be consistent with his two aims of learning from the rabbis’ teaching with respect (since he is far from the plain meaning) and proving that some ideas that are considered non-Jewish by counter-missionaries are actually expressed by traditional rabbis. Nonetheless, that is a separate issue. You can see that he is drawing in all kind of subtle, not-clearly-connected ideas, such as the link between the letters in oneg and negah, and the connection of shachar with lepers. Perhaps his choice of translation for Joel 2:2 could be found to emphasise the same thing, in a similarly poetic way: although the Metzudat David is referring to light (which he should have made clear, definitely), the verse it comes from *could* be translated in terms of the darkness from which light springs. Therefore, a double meaning is emerging hen Itzhak puts the JPS translation into this context, and it is actually significant in the framework of his use of imagery.

    Of course it is empty of proof, but perhaps it is not necessarily ‘plain wrong’.

    That said, you presented many more serious translation errors and other errors that are yet to be responded to. I’m only talking about a possible (in my mind) defense for this one point, and I believe that although Itzhak probably wasn’t thinking in terms so detailed as this, it probably does accurately reflect part of his intentions.

    • Annelise says:

      PS I think that his ideas defending whether it is messianic came because of conversations like the one he had with Rabbi Eli on Facebook. At the end of a note written a couple of months ago, Rabbi Eli turned to this topic: “…while I cannot state in absolute terms that there are no grounds for translating K’Shachar as ‘as blackness’, (although I believe the author of TROTKP will concede that K’Shachar is better rendered as ‘as dawn’) nevertheless, in the context of the Metzudat David, we can state in absolute terms that the Metzudat David is using the words ‘K’shachar Porus al H’Harim’ (Joel 2:2) as a reference to the LIGHT of dawn spreading (like the sun rising in Malachi 3:20) and not “blackness” spreading.
      “Therefore the Metzudat David was not nearly suggesting or hinting that 1. the messiah is the ‘sun of righteousness’ or 2. that Joel 2:2 is a reference to the messiah as ‘afflicted’ or 3. that the messiah will ‘be known as “affliction” and “delight” at the same time.’
      “In short, the whole attempt to use the Metzudat David as a source for his is ‘great and awesome remez’ is simply fraudulent or outright ignorant. You decide.”

      Shapira responded by posting a quote that directly links the healing light with the idea of the rejection of the messiah.

      Rabbi Eli wrote, “Tzahi, I would hope have you have enough intelligence to understand that I’m limiting my comments to your attempt to use the Metzdat David as support.
      As usual, instead of addressing the Metzudat David, you run elsewhere skirting around the issue at hand (namely your misuse of the Matzudat David)….”

      All this just to point out that he was perhaps responding not only to your article, but to the various conversations he has had with counter-missionaries on this topic. More recently, in a comment responding to this new video, Rabbi Eli also wrote, “In addition, I wonder why both in your book and in this video you fail to mention that Rabbi Tivon from explicitly states that it is the “Oral Torah” that is compared to “the hidden light” and the “sun of righteousness-and-healing”. In fact this is the main point of Rabbi Tivon’s article.”

    • Dina says:

      Annelise, it’s kind of you to give Shapira the benefit of the doubt, but a Hebrew speaker like him should not be making such errors. I can’t understand it.

      • Annelise says:

        He says that he quoted directly from the old JPS translation, rather than making the translation himself. Rabbi Eli also found a similar translation, with a note: “In the first edition of the Soncino’s books of the Bible the translator rendered the word K’Shachar as ‘as blackness’. (In the current editions Soncino have updated the translation to read ‘as dawn’)
        “In the notes at the bottom the translator writes ‘as blackness. A.V. and R.V. , as the dawn. The word Shachar can have both meanings. Thin is the veil between the coming light and the departing darkness, and the night is the blackest before dawn.'”

        So in light of those things, and the fact that (as a non-Hebrew speaker and a non-scholar!) the seeming etymology of shachar lends itself to a possible reading of prophetic word-play, I don’t take issue with the translation of shachar as blackness.

        The real question to me is why he found it appropriate to use that version, with its unusual translation, in the context of the Metzudat David where it is clearly not the intended thought. What I wrote above was only trying to address that question.

        Does it make sense? I did a lot of searching last night to come to these conclusions, so they are thought-out in detail, but I may still be wrong.

        • Annelise says:

          As to the other errors that Rabbi Yisroel has pointed out I feel as you do.

          • Annelise says:

            And it isn’t only out of kindness. Although I keep taking liberties with the great respect that I owe to Rabbi Blumenthal as my teacher, and I do so in the hope of being corrected (as I was on this issue somewhere else, actually), I believe that any aspect of light, or of sensible reasoning, that is spoken even by those who teach what I think is falsehood, should be pointed out as light and not as darkness. This allows clarity to emerge regarding what issues must be discussed, and a greater level of contrast between their true and false articulations.

            I also believe that we owe it to people to allow them to have the credit that is due to them, because to do otherwise would be oppression; while they may be teaching dangerous ideas and need to be held responsible for that, they should still never be attacked without cause. To do so would be to add a great difficulty to their ability to humbly surrender to admitting the mistakes that are actually real. By finding a small but, to me, consistent thread of justification within this wider issue, that’s one of my intentions. I believe that we should always defend the truth in our hearts with passion and at times even with anger, but we should also have a level of humility (which can’t be excessive) before everyone that gently allows them to concede their mistakes without feeling impossibly crushed as a human being.

          • Dina says:

            I confess that when someone is consistent in being wrong I tend to stop giving him the benefit of the doubt, but I agree with you that we should always try to give credit where it is due. Having said that, my comment refers to Shapira’s translation errors in general and not this particular one which I have not yet examined (and probably won’t for a while).

          • Annelise says:

            Mm. It was also pointed out to me that in offering any defense no matter how small an issue it is on, unfortunately some Christians who want to respect Shapira’s ideas could cling to that as if it unraveled all the counter-missionary objections (including my own… since when passion is involved on both sides you can rarely write clearly enough about the weighing of thoughts against each other). Difficult situation for truth to thrive in.

          • Dina says:

            I think there is more to it than that, and I refer not to this particular instance but others where I have seen you defending a Christian mode of thought by explaining or justifying how a particular Christian arrived at some erroneous conclusion or other. I do not see how this serves the cause of truth, because the sincerity or motivation or reasonable train of thought on the part of a particular person is irrelevant to the argument they are making, objectively speaking.

            I think therefore that in the interest of truth we should focus on the merit of the argument rather than the train of thought or motivation or sincerity of the one presenting it.

            Does that make sense to you?

          • Annelise says:

            Dinah, I was told something similar by a rabbi when I asked about the way I was writing, trying to weigh both sides of issues, and whether that confuses the issue by lending an appearance of weightiness to people’s arguments when in my own perspective that glimmer of truth is only the size of a grain of sand. For this reason, and others like personal modesty and quietness of heart, I am choosing not to engage in debates about Christianity with men over the Internet… and also abiding by the intuition of people like you and my rabbi who feel that it only obfuscates things.

            Nonetheless I do think there is importance in evaluating BOTH the argument and the process by which it is attained. The process is so key in finding truth. As someone who has in past had to look into it minutely regarding the whole Christian claim, I know the importance of absolute transparency regarding what parts of a process are good and what parts are not.

            Rabbi Yisroel, I think you’re right and I agree. I was working within that assumption. And I can see that you are speaking clearly about how showing this has always been your main intention with this particular objection. As my friend told me, some of the arguments I bring in possible defense of Tzahi’s thought here are certainly not what he was thinking anyway.

          • Annelise says:

            In other words, I am not defending the Christian mode of thought, God forbid… I am only explaining how they could get to it in order to show more precisely what it missing. For some people who are really TRYING to weigh truth, such an approach must be important. For me it certainly was.

            Of course there are limits in how close you allow yourself to get to modes of thought that are false in the first place.

            There has to be a place for this in public, I just don’t know what it is because of the confusion that other people (combing the discussion for any reason to cling to their current values) may take from it. And do take from it, you are right.

          • Dina says:

            The process is only important to you personally; it’s not otherwise relevant to the discussion. And often what appears to be a defense of someone’s views may not even be what he was thinking–as you pointed out–but he will happily seize on it anyway. So I still don’t see the point of such an exercise.

            You have a strong commitment to discovering the truth and the humility to listen and absorb the views of others even when you disagree. I admire that.


    • If this is what Shapira meant he would have explained himself by saying that although the Metzudat David obviously translates the word “k’shachar” in Joel 2:2 as “dawn” but he chose to (or inadvertently did) follow the JPS translation on this verse. If Shapira would have said something along these lines we would know that at least now, after reading my words, he understands the point of Metzudat David. The way he has defended himself tells me that either he still does not understand the words of the Metzudat David or that he is still trying to prevent his audience from realizing his mistake – take your choice.

  2. Oy Vey Yisrael, you are wrong on so many accounts it is shameful. I love the fact that you failed to mention your other quote , maybe this will serve as a reminder :

    “On page 191 Shapira presents a translation of Metzudat David. In this translation he mistranslates a verse from the Bible. Shapira renders Joel 2:2 as if it said “as blackness spread upon the mountains” when in fact it says “as dawn spread upon the mountains”

    Funny how you forgot to mention that in your article, and you choose to put the other quote. I quotes Metzudot correctly as it is related to Malachi 3:20! How can you manipulate it to declare that I did not? You want to tell the audience that Shachar has nothing to do with Shachor? are you kidding me? Every Hebrew speaker would tell you how wrong you are which you are clearly are not. This is the reason for the JPS 1917 translation.1

    1. On Mal 3:20 it states: “”ומרפא בכנפיה” – בזריחתה יהיה לכם רפואה ותענוג. ודמה פרישת האור וזריחתה לפרישת הכנפים, כי השמש יפרוש אורו על הארץ בכנפים הפרושות; וכן נאמר (יואל ב): “כשחר פרוש על ההרים”.

    All what I have done is provided literal translation of Mal 3:20 translation of Metzudot! For you to claim that I have not done so based on the JPS is Criminal!

    2. Rabbi Shimshi declared: כן כאשר הקב”ה יתעורר להאיר לכנסת ישראל יאיר מתחילה כמו שחר שהוא שחור, ואח”כ ‘יפה כלבנה’ ואח”כ ‘ברה כחמה’ ואח”כ ‘איומה כנדגלות’ כמו שאמרנו

    Again, you want to tell us that Shachar has nothing to do with S’hachor?

    3.Here is Midrash Tehillim 22:13, according to Sefer HaAggadah by Bialik, which explains why Shachor and Shachar and linked (which is super obvious anyway according to the shoresh, but lets see what the Midrash says):

    In the verse “For the Leader; upon the hind of the dawn” (Ps. 22:1), Scripture speaks of the generation of Mordecai and Esther, [a time that was more dark than] the night. For though it is night, one has the light of the moon, the stars, and the planets. Then when is it really dark? Just before dawn! After the moon sets and the stars set and the planets vanish, there is no darkness deeper than the hour before dawn, and in that hour the Holy One answers the world and all that is in it: out of the darkness, He brings forth the dawn and gives light to the world.”

    4. Ibn Ezra declared:
    עד עלות השחר –
    עד סור שחרות הלילה

    Your argument is without Merit as you are missing the point and your argument and objection is baseless! In edition, Rabbi Eli Cohen wanted to argue that Mal. 3:20 is NOT MESSIANIC, I suggest starting with Midrash Rabbah on that one…..

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