The Words מאה ‘100’ and מאתין ‘200’ in Derashot Based on Popular Dialects of Aramaic
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Rabbinic literature of all periods contains derashot based on Aramaic – not only literary Aramaic but also popular dialects of that language. This article deals with two derashot based on colloquial and dialectal forms of the Aramaic words for '100' and '200'. In TB Menaḥot 43b, R. Meir derives the requirement to say a hundred blessings per day from Deut. 10:12 'What [מה] does the Lord your God ask of you?' This derasha plays on the orthographic and phonetic identity of the colloquial Aramaic word for '100' and the Hebrew word for 'what'. The colloquial form מה 'hundred' is already found in the El-Mal dedicatory inscription (7-6 B.C.E.) and in the Jewish Aramaic tombstone inscriptions from Ẓoar (fifth century C.E.); the form מא is also found at Ẓoar, as well as in Syriac, Christian Palestinian Aramaic and Mandaic. That the vocalization of this colloquial form of מאה is מה is clear from Syriac, Samaritan Aramaic, and internal reconstruction. An obscure passage in Lam. Rab. 4:16 presupposes both a colloquial pronunciation of the word for '100' and a dialectal pronunciation of the word for '200'. An intelligible reading can be recovered with the help of manuscripts and the editio princeps: 'God's face divided them – they were divided (and there remained only) one hundred out of every two hundred, for there they pronounce the word for "200" as,מאתן. In Syria, the word for '200' could indeed be written מאתן (instead of מאתין) in the Talmudic period, as we know from a Palmyrene inscription, and it was probably vocalized מאתן, as in Syriac. The darshan read מאתן as a compound of colloquial Aramaic מא 'one hundred' and Hebrew תן 'give!' meaning 'give one hundred!' From this reading, he derived a divine command to divide every group of 200 Jews into two groups of 100 each and to eliminate one of the groups.
שטיינר, ר"ש, and Richard C. Steiner. “The Words מאה ‘100’ and מאתין ‘200’ in Derashot Based on Popular Dialects of Aramaic / המלים ‘מאה’ ו’מאתין’ בדרשות שנתיסדו על ניבים עממיים של הארמית.” Tarbiz / תרביץ סה, no. א (1995): 33–36. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23599877.
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