Today Hebrew grammar is well understood and
there are many books on it. Rashi, however, lived
before the age of grammar books. A major Rashi method
is therefore the teaching of basic grammar.
Many students belittle this aspect of Rashi. They erroneously
think that because of modern methods we know more. However Rashi
will frequently focus on rare grammatical points not covered
in conventional textbooks.
There are many classical aspects to grammar whether
in Hebrew or other languages. They include
- The rules for conjugating verbs. These rules govern how you
differentiate person, plurality, tense, mode, gender, mood, and
designation of the objects and indirect objects of the verb. For
example how do you conjugate, in any language, I sang, we will
sing, we wish to sing, she sang it.
- Rules of agreement. For example agreement of subject
and verb, of noun and adjective; whether agreement in gender or plurality.
- Rules of Pronoun reference.
- Rules of word sequence. This is a beautiful topic which is
not always covered in classical grammatical textbooks.
Today we review the rules of connective words in Hebrew.
Connective words are words like, from, with, if, because, rather,but,...
There are only a few dozen such words. It is important to know what each
of these words means and how they function in sentences. Furthermore, many
of these words have multiple meanings. Novices frequently are only familiar
with the primary meaning of a connective word; as one advances in one's knowledge
of Hebrew one must learn the secondary meanings of connective words.
The Hebrew word Aleph-Tauv, Eth is very peculiar in its usage. Technically
it doesn't mean anything. Rather one places the word eth before a word to indicate that that
word is the object of the sentence. For example Eth the man bit the
dog would have the same meaning as the dog bit the man. Here the word
eth grammatically functions to indicate the grammatical object
of the sentence (Actually I am oversimplifying; typically a sentence with
reversed subject-object order might have other indicators (besides eth)
for example the change of the verb form from the active to the
Rashi as well as the Radack and other grammarians point out that eth
can have other meanings. For example eth can mean with or from.
Consequently Rashi/Radack interpret eth in the following sentences
as meaning from.
And G-d said unto Noah: 'The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them from the earth.
And Moses said to him, As soon as I go from the city, I will spread out my hands to the Lord; and the thunder shall cease, nor shall there be any more hail; that you may know that the earth is the Lordís.
The rest of all the acts of Asa, and all his might, and all that he did, and the cities which he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? But in his old age he was diseased from his feet.
Rashi points out that in some of the above verses Eth could mean
Even more fascinating is Rabbi Hirsh's comment that eth indicates
not only the object but also indicates fullness, and totality.
For example the verse Honor eth your father and eth you mother...
would connote honoring one's older siblings who are extensions of one's parents.
What should emerge from the above is that we have barely skimmed the surface
of this rich and beautiful topic of connective words. There are all types of nuances
to these words and throughout the ages different scholars have taught new nuances.
In Hebrew, instead of placing a question mark at the end of the sentence,
one places a letter hey with a chataf-patach punctuation
at the beginning of the sentence.
The first question asked in the Bible occurs at Gn03-19,
Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?
In English this sentence is indicated by a terminal question mark while in
Hebrew it is indicated by a prefixed hey with a chataf-patach
punctuation. Rashi explains This prefix hey with a chataf-patach
indicates the interrogative.