Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Ezekiel 16:4 seems to be describing practices performed on an infant or young child. But, what practice does לֹא הֻמְלַחַתְּ refer to? Do any rabbis explain the meaning?

share|improve this question
    
H3br3wHamm3r81, I've been looking at your profile and I hope you don't mind me asking: Why did you decide to ask this on Jusaism.SE instead of Hermeneutics.SE or even Christianity.SE (which would seem to be more your comfort zone)? –  jake Mar 22 '13 at 21:08
    
@jake: Because I don't think either of those SE sites can answer the question, "Do any rabbis explain the meaning?" better than Judaism.SE. :) –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Mar 22 '13 at 21:10
    
What I meant was, why did you want to know what rabbis say about it over whatever sources you can be provided with at Hermeneutics or Christianity? Did you think this was referring to some sort of specifically Jewish practice? –  jake Mar 22 '13 at 21:12
    
@jake: Well, Christianity.SE wasn't an option no matter what, because it's not a question one would ask there (i.e., it's not related to Christian doctrine, per se). I think it obviously refers to a Jewish practice. A Jew (Ezekiel) wrote about it, and the implication of the particular pasuk is that it was a common practice during that time. So, yes, Jewish practice indeed. I know of no Christian sources that have ever mentioned Christians practicing that. Now, I suppose I could have asked on BH.SE, but, I don't think the answers would have been as plentiful. It's kind of a judgment thing. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Mar 22 '13 at 21:18

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Rashi implies that the practice was to salt the infant to strengthen its flesh. (See also Malbim.)

According to Abarbanel, the salt was added in the water to strengthen the infant's body, but also (it seems) for extra hydration.

Also, see John Gill (who was a pastor, not a rabbi; sorry), who writes:

thou wast not salted at all; which was done, either by sprinkling salt upon it, or using salt and water, as a detersive of uncleanness, to prevent putrefaction, to dry up the humours, and harden the flesh, and consolidate the parts.

Apparently, salting newborns was an ancient practice that was also recommended by Soranus of Ephesus. From here:

Soranus recommends that the midwife sprinkle the infant with a moderate amount of "fine and powdery salt, or natron or aphronitre." All these chemicals are mildly astringent and were recommended primarily for their ability to cut through the residue of amniotic fluid, vermix, and placenta on the newborn's skin and also to make the skin less prone to develop rashes; however, astringents would also tend to make the baby's skin dry out and flake or crack. Soranus suggests mixing the salt with honey, olive oil, or the juice of barley, fenugreek, or mallow so the granules are less likely to abrade the baby's delicate skin. The emulsion is to be washed away with warm water and the process repeated a second time.

However, according to Abraham Benisch (quoting Ben-Zeev), the root "מלח" in this case does not mean "salt", but rather "swaddle" or something similar, and this is a parallelism with the next phrase "וְהָחְתֵּל לֹא חֻתָּלְתְּ". Compare to Jer. 38:11: "בְלוֹיֵ מְלָחִים" - "worn rags". (He also compares to "מַלָח" - "sailor/seafarer", but I don't understand the comparison he makes.)

share|improve this answer
    
Do we have any evidence of this practice in contemporary historical sources? –  Double AA Mar 21 '13 at 21:52
2  
@DoubleAA, Found this and this with Google. I'll edit something into the answer. –  jake Mar 21 '13 at 22:03
4  
@SethJ, There's no Christian theology here, just Christian exegesis (which, in the case of John Gill, is mostly based on Jewish sources). But if it really bothers you, I'll remove it. –  jake Mar 22 '13 at 1:32
2  
@SethJ, I merely cited it because it adds insight into how the practice in question was done, the same reason I cited (indirectly) Soranus of Ephesus regardless of his lack of Jewishness. [cont.] –  jake Mar 22 '13 at 3:29
2  
@SethJ Theology? Seriously? –  Double AA Mar 22 '13 at 6:30

It means you weren't salted. It seems to be some sort of old tradition that somehow treating newborns with salt (externally, by rubbing, I suppose) was good for the flesh of the child.

See Rashi there. He explains that it "hardens" the flesh. Targum doesn't seem to think anything of it and "translates" it straight as salting (it's the same word in Aramaic, just slightly different form).

Mahar"i Kra explains that in other lands this was done.

share|improve this answer
    
Do we have any evidence of this practice in contemporary historical sources? –  Double AA Mar 21 '13 at 21:52
    
Yes, it means "you were not salted," but the verse implies that other infants were indeed salted, as well as washed with water, have their umbilicus cut, and swaddled (other verbs present in the same verse). –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Mar 21 '13 at 22:04
    
@double aa what's a contemporary historical source? I seem to recall something like this that I learned recently, and I'm wondering if it might be and the section of Mas. Shabbath that discusses what you can and cannot do for a newborn. –  Seth J Mar 21 '13 at 22:44
    
@SethJ I mean like Babylonian peer reviewed medical journals or something that indicates that salting a baby was a thing. If it was common in the time period, then the analogy Ezekiel makes makes sense. –  Double AA Mar 21 '13 at 22:51
    
Well, if it's in the Gemara (which I have not had time to look up to confirm), is that "contemporary" enough? If not, is V. Care of the Newborn After Delivery (page 58) from Soranus contemporary enough? (With thanks to jake.) –  Seth J Mar 22 '13 at 16:20

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.