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If Hebrew was the target language, what was the source language in any of the Psalms in which “maskil” is mentioned?

Rashi on Psalms 88:1 wrote:

משכיל: כל מקום שנאמר משכיל ע"י תורגמן נאמר שהיה הנביא מעמיד תורגמן לפניו וכשרוח הנבואה באה לו אומר את הנבואה לתורגמן והוא משמיעה:

a maskil: Wherever it says “maskil,” it was said through an interpreter. The prophet would set up an interpreter before him, and when he perceived a prophecy coming upon him, he would recite the prophecy to the interpreter, who would make it heard.

This reflects the earlier statement of the Sages where they said (Pes. 117a):

Every Psalm in which “maskil” is mentioned was said through an interpreter.

My pshat understanding of this comment is that there is an interpreter between the prophet and the listener.

For somebody to interpret something, there is a source language and a target language. So, if Hebrew was the target language, as this Psalm is in the Hebrew language, what was the source language, for which an interpreter is needed?

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The Ohr ha-Hamah (R. Zundel Kroizer) on Psalms 88:1 writes:

ע"י תורגמן אמרו ואין מבואר מה ענינו של תורגמן בזה ואפשר דכל מזמור שהוא חשוב לכל העם ורצה שכולם ישמעוהו העמיד מתורגמן שישמיע את המזמור הזה לרבים וכדוגמא מה שהיה נהוג בימי האמוראים שכל רב שהיה רוצה להשמיע העמיד אמורא לפניו מה שהוא לחש לו בשקט

By means of a turgeman they [i.e. the Sages] said. And it isn't entirely evident what the purpose of this turgeman was. It could be that each psalm that was important for the nation, he wanted everyone to hear it, so he appointed a meturgeman to cause it to be heard by the masses. Similarly, during the Amoraic era if a Rabh wanted to be heard, he appointed a meturgeman before the Amora to cause to be heard what he had whispered quietly to him.

The Ohr ha-Hamah here suggests that the meturgeman is utilized as an amplifier and interpreter of the original speaker. He analogizes it to the Amoraic institution of the meturgeman which the Jewish Encyclopedia describes as follows:

The head of the academy, while seated, would tell him in Hebrew and in a low voice the outline of his lecture; and the meturgeman would in a lengthy popular discourse explain it in the vernacular to the audience.

R. Adin Steinsaltz takes a similar tact, and explains Pesahim 117a as follows:

אם המזמור מתחיל בלשון "משכיל" — כוונתו שאמרו על ידי תורגמן, שנאמר לרבים כעין דרשה. שהוא אמרו כדרשן הדורש בלחש, והמתורגמן אמרו ופירשו ברבים

If a psalm begins with the language of "maskil" - the intention is that it was said by means of an interpreter (meturgeman) that was said to the masses like a homily. And it is said by the homiletician as a whispered homily and the interpreter says and explains it to the masses.

According to this understanding, the source language is a technical language accessible to the wise and their adepts, and the target language is the common vernacular of the masses. It isn't quite that Hebrew was being translated into an altogether different language (such as Aramaic), rather it was being translated from a less accessible form to a more accessible one. By analogy, different professions have their own "lingo" - they aren't exactly speaking a different language, but it may as well be if one isn't initiated to the respective field. Its kind of like the meturgeman gives the TED-Talk version of the psalm for the benefit of the masses.

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  • It appears that you are answering as if though a תורגמן was interpreting the Psalm in question post-Psalm (as in a תורגמן was employed by the Sages of the Talmud), but my question is about the תורגמן that the Psalmist employed; or are you saying that the title of the psalm (often considered as the first verse), wherein one reads, for example, Psalm 88, מַשְׂכִּיל, לְהֵימָן הָאֶזְרָחִי is not part of the original script of the original singer/songwriter of the Psalm?
    – ninamag
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 5:46
  • @ninamag The suggestion is that any time a psalm is introduced with משכיל it is presenting the voice of a מ)תורגמן). So הימן האזרחי would not have been the composer of the original דרשה, he would have been the one to re-articulate it for public consumption. The Me'am Lo'ez entertains this suggestion as well: אף על פי שהמזמור נאמר על ידי בני קרח הזכיר ביחוד את הימן האזרחי שכל מקום שנאמר "משכיל" הוא על ידי מתורגמן ואפשר שהיה הימן המתורגמן and indeed the introductory verse explaining where the composition came from would be the collator speaking (traditionally David). Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 13:36
  • and from where did the composition come from if the Psalm is introduced with לְדָוִ֗ד מַ֫שְׂכִּ֥יל ?
    – ninamag
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 14:26
  • @ninamag I don't think it is always 100% clear which direction it is going in. I.e. whether the person named in association with the term maskil is the meturgeman or whether they are the person that is being presented on behalf of. So it would either be that David is presenting on behalf of another (perhaps a more ancient psalm), or that another is presenting on his behalf. Sometimes the context will make it more self-evident (e.g. Psalm 142). Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 14:54
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The ben yeoyada explains as follows:

ומה שאמרו 'מַשְׂכִּיל', עַל יְדֵי תֻּרְגְּמָן, נראה לי בס"ד 'מַשְׂכִּיל' אותיות שם כלי דהמתורגמן הוא כלי של הדרשן שבו משקה מים של הדרשה לרבים. When it says "maskil" [it means] via an interpreter. I understand this with G.ods help that the letters of maskil form the words "שם כלי" that the interpreter is a vessel of the preacher in which he draws the water of the sermon and distributes it to the masses.

So he wasn't translating but explaining.

Furthermore, tehilim is in hebrew as can be proved from the tehilim that we have now which has been unchanged.

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  • how did 'the letters of maskil form the words "a vessel"'?
    – ninamag
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 8:37
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    @ninamag מַשְׂכִּיל can be rearranged to שם כלי, which can be read as "His nature is a vessel," or "its nature is a vessel," etc.
    – BID
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 9:48
  • Are you answering in such a way that a תורגמן is interpreting the Psalm in question post-Psalm (as in a תורגמן was employed by the Sages of the Talmud)? My question is about the תורגמן that the Psalmist employed (as indicated by the term מַשְׂכִּיל); or are you saying that the title of the psalm (often considered as the first verse), wherein one reads, for example, Psalm 32, לְדָוִ֗ד מַ֫שְׂכִּ֥יל is not part of the original script of the original singer/songwriter of the Psalm?
    – ninamag
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 5:55

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