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In the Shabas table song "M'nucha v'simcha", God is credited as having created

חַיַּת רְאֵמִים

What does this mean?

It would seem to translate literally as "animal of ראםs". Now, we do find a singular noun being used for a whole group of things (as in Baer Hetev OC 489:9), even where that noun is, as here, construct (though I can't think of any examples offhand with a construct noun). So we can translate this instead as "animals of ראםs". That's more readable, but still, what are animals of ראםs (as opposed to ראםs themselves)? The חית, "animals of", here seems to be not just superfluous, adding nothing, but against the usual style or diction of Hebrew.

An argument that the unusual construction is necessary for purposes of meter is weak in my opinion, as another creation could have been substituted: instead of "תנין ואדם וחית ראמים", perhaps "תנין וצפור אדם וראמים".

Note that the items listed as having been created are listed pretty much in order of their creation — "sky, earth, seas, all the armies on high [= presumably stars etc.], sea creatures, man" — except that then comes "חית ראמים". I don't know what that implies, but it may somehow help someone to answer my question.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

See Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar for "Farther Use of the Construct State". It can be used in cases of apposition, where it does not mean X of Y, but rather X which is Y. Thus, I would assume that חַיַּת רְאֵמִים indeed means animals which ARE re'eimim.

I don't know the specific motivations for this irregular (though acceptable grammar) -- whether it is meter or other concerns, but it is, after all, poetry, where such considerations do come into play.

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+1. Sounds reasonable. And the singular? You think that's a standard Hebrew singular-used-for-a-large-group thing? –  msh210 Nov 13 '11 at 8:14
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I'm not sure. It makes sense, given the other items in the list, which are also in the singular to refer to the collective. –  josh waxman Nov 14 '11 at 17:48
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