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I know that in Biblical Hebrew, take a word like "Vaydaber." "Yedaber" = "He will speak"; the "v" flips the word from future tense to past, so it's "he spoke."

Most translations understand the "v" ALSO means "and"; so in most translations of the Bible (Jewish included), you'll see:

And the Lord spoke ...

Though R' Aryeh Kaplan's translation leaves out the "and"s. (Is that him just making it more readable in common English? Or that the vav's were never intended as "ands"?)

I suppose one could hold "the vav sometimes means and" instead of "always does" or "never does" too.

What are our sources on this?

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2 Answers 2

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1) I once heard a proof that the "vav ha-hipuch" also indicates "and", from the fact that Targum Onkelos includes these "vav"s even though the "hipuch" function is unnecessary in Aramaic. For example, ויאמר is translated as ואמר, even though the Aramaic word אמר is already past tense.

2) The Sefer Klalei Taamei HaMikrah states that in most cases the vav ha-hipuch also functions as a "chibur," with only a few exceptions. One exception is the vav in the beginning of a sefer, e.g. ויהי אחרי in the beginning of Sefer Yehoshua, which cannot be a conjunction (see Radak there). Another exception is a posuk such as ביום השלישי וישא אברהם, where the vav is clearly only for hipuch. He quotes the following sources, which I have not checked:

ספר הזכרון הקדמון, ספר דקדוק לרמח"ל דף ק"ג (ובהגהות שם סק"ד), אבן עזרא פרשת וירא- כ, ט"ז

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That is not a proof. Onkelos deviates from many aspects of a literal translation of the text. For example he avoids any possible implication of corporeality of Hashem by using a non-literal approach. He could very well be avoiding the question of "Why bother with vav hahipuchs? Just start with the correct tense anyway!" by always translating it as a conjunction even when a conjunction would not be necessary. – Yahu Aug 31 '10 at 5:03
There's quite a difference between translating something non-literally and translating it wrong. It would be like someone adding a spurious word "and" into an English translation just to spare the readers from having to contemplate the function of a vav hahipuch. Not very reasonable if you ask me. – Dave Aug 31 '10 at 13:48
About the beginning of Sefer Yehoshua: Rashi there disagrees with Radak - he holds that indeed the vav there does serve its usual function as a conjunction, tying it to the end of Sefer Devarim. – Alex Aug 31 '10 at 17:01
Dave, I never meant to say that he would be trying to avoid the Vav Hahipuch function. Onkelos leaves the vav in even though he translates the word in its correct tense. The function of vav hahipuch is not avoided rather he shows that the vav also is a conjunction. This leads me to Alex's comment, on the level of D'rush it seems that Hazal do indeed treat the vav hahipuch also as a conjunction. – Yahu Aug 31 '10 at 23:36
The above being said, let me rephrase what I said before in more precise terms: Onkelos is willing to translate along with the Drush intent in order to address the general question on L'shon HaTanach: Why bother with the vav haHipuch to begin with? To that he responds by demonstrating that it can be understood as a conjunction on some level. – Yahu Aug 31 '10 at 23:37

Vav doesn't mean 'and'. It is a conjuction and it's purpose is dependent on context. It could be: and, or, nor, but, although, if, then, since- you get the point. I would say most vavs in the Torah's narrative are the equivalent of 'then', but in a softer tone than we would use in English which is why many dispose of the conjunction altogether.

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