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This answer cites the Ralbag as interpreting a (critical-to-the-question) vav prefix on a verb as "or". I've heard before that a vav prefix is not always "and" and can be "or" or even "but". Is there any grammatical rule by which we can tell when to read it which way, or do all the non-"and" readings always arise from judgments about what would make most sense to the interpreter? Do Chazal generally agree on how any given vav is translated, making it received tradition and there are no explicit rules?

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I don't think there are such grammatical rules. Note that in regards to the linked answer, not everyone even reads the vav as "or". Chazal, for instance, read it as "and" (Taanis 4a). On the other hand, in a case like "ומקלל אביו ואמו", everyone reads the vav of "ואמו" as "or", because that's what makes the most sense. –  jake Nov 2 '11 at 16:26
    
@jake, can you be more specific about the Taanis source for the default reading of vav? I could not find it. –  YDK Nov 3 '11 at 4:09
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@YDK, It is not explicit. The gemara says that Yiftach acted improperly, vowing that he would sacrifice to God whatever exited his house to greet him first, even if it was not an acceptable sacrifice (אפילו דבר טמא). Chazal are thus not reading "והעלתהו עולה" as "or bring it as an olah offering"; otherwise, Yiftach may have only been referring to if what came out of his house was appropriate as a korban. Elsewhere, the midrash says that Yiftach actually sacrificed his daughter as a korban, in which case, clearly it is reading the vav as "and". See Abarbanel (Shoftim 11). –  jake Nov 3 '11 at 4:30
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Re "Do Chazal generally agree on how any given vav is translated, making it received tradition and there are no explicit rules?": that they agree on it doesn't mean there are no explicit rules. (Presumably, if there are rules, they agree.) –  msh210 Dec 1 '11 at 2:50
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@msh210, I was starting to wonder (based on the comments and answer here) whether the problem is that there are no rules. If there are I would like to know them; if it's "you just have to know" I'd like to know that too so I stop looking for rules. –  Monica Cellio Dec 1 '11 at 2:59

1 Answer 1

Vav does not necessarily mean and or or. It is a conjunction and translated according to context. I translate most vav's as a "soft then"- a subsequent event where formal written English would not put a then, but in a conversation, one might say "so then I..."

Other possibilities: but (although, however), while, since, therefore.

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