Here is some text from Rambam's Hilkhos Teshuva:

לפי שבאותן הימים תרבה הדעה והחכמה והאמת...מפני שאותו המלך שיעמוד מזרע דויד בעל חכמה יהיה יתר משלמה ונביא גדול הוא קרוב ממשה רבנו ולפיכך ילמד כל העם ויורה אותם דרך ה׳

I checked an early manuscript (p. 32, right page, right column) from the Jewish National University Library and the text as quoted above seems close, except that it omits the pronoun הוא before קרוב:


I placed an ellipsis where Rambam proceeds to cite pesukim for his statement. You can see the entire text if you want.

My question concerns the phrase ונביא גדול הוא קרוב ממשה רבנו and Eliyahu Touger's English translation of -קרוב מ as "close to."

It seems to me that "close to" is untenable. Now, I know Rambam isn't writing in biblical Hebrew, but I researched the usage of קרוב in the Tanakh anyway. Whenever it is employed to express the sense of proximity to someone, it is either קרוב אל or -קרוב ל.

Edit: I know the supposed idea is similarity, not necessarily physical proximity. But, one would think Rambam would express both thoughts the same way. That is, moshiach ben David is close to [the prophetic degree] of Moshe, and thus, קרוב אל משה.

קרוב אל: cp. Gen. 45:10; Exo. 12:4; Lev. 21:2-3; Num. 27:11; Deut. 4:7, 13:7, 21:3, 21:6, 22:2, 30:14; 2 Sam. 19:42; 1 Chr. 12:40; Est. 1:14; Eze. 43:19.

-קרוב ל: cp. Ruth 2:20; Ps. 34:18, 85:9, 145:18.

Not only did I not encounter the phrase -קרוב מ used to express proximity or similarity, I didn't encounter it at all. (If someone has encountered it used in that sense, please post the pasuk.)

Here is my question: what grammatical basis is there for translating -קרוב מ as "close to"?

  • It's not expressing closeness (proximity), but similarity (which in English can be rendered as "close to"). The מ sounds odd to me as well. Maybe it's a copyist or printing error? This might do well on the proposed area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/36772/hebrew-language-usage Hebrew Language & Usage area. Perhaps they can clarify the usage of מ. It might be to indicate "like", as in "close like Moshe". – Ariel Dec 19 '12 at 10:12
  • Yeah, I understand the thought of similarity. I guess "proximity" was a bad word. I've edited my question to clarify. – user2088 Dec 19 '12 at 10:19
  • Maybe he means that the person will be a karov/relative meh/from (the line of) Moshe. Or maybe it is like the answer below says... – rosends Dec 19 '12 at 13:43
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    קרוב מ sounds like "closer than" – Double AA Dec 19 '12 at 14:02

Because the RaMBa"M spoke Arabic (for those who read Arabic, a closer example is in the first usage example here: "Japan is close to China").

Yes, he wrote in Hebrew, and he was very skilled in his Hebrew grammar. That does not mean, however, that he was not influenced by his Arabic language background. Given that he used this term regularly, I think it is fair to assume that this was his personal writing style, if not the common usage employed by his contemporaries (rabbinic and/or lay Arabic/Hebrew speakers).

Tzarich 'Iyun on that last point, but it is most definitely a grammatically correct expression in the language he used in every day speech and most of his writings.

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    +1 Good call. Now we have to search through the Perush haMishnayot in the original. – Double AA Dec 19 '12 at 18:11
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    @DoubleAA, yes, but more interesting to me would be other (Hebrew) rabbinic writings from the Arabic-speaking world in the 12-13th centuries. – Seth J Dec 19 '12 at 18:21
  • Very good point. Something I knew but did not think of when I wrote this post. Hence, looking for the expression in biblical Hebrew (as I did) would have been somewhat pointless. – user2088 Dec 19 '12 at 19:58
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81, no disrespect to Michoel, but if the primary question is, "what grammatical basis is there for translating -קרוב מ as 'close to,'" then I don't see how his answer answers the question. It just suggests that RaMBa"M does it a lot (which is a fair point, but not quite an answer). – Seth J Dec 19 '12 at 20:12
  • @Seth J: Fair enough. I did explicitly ask for a grammatical basis, and you did prove that it is a common and grammatically-acceptable expression in Arabic. Michoel did not mention the Arabic aspect. I would like to say that both of your answers are exceptional, especially Michoel's citation of the various passages in which Rambam used the phrase in a context that clearly indicates the meaning of "close to." However, because I did ask for a grammatical basis, as you noted, I prematurely selected Michoel's response. At the time, it was the only answer, and a great one at that! – user2088 Dec 19 '12 at 20:59

The term קרוב מ is commonly used by the Rambam to denote "close to". See for example:

and more, which are collected in the Frankel edition of Rambam in the ילקוט שנויי נוסחאות in the back on the words in the Hakdama. They note that while some prints change the text to קרוב ל, this is only because the transcribers were unfamiliar with the term and changed it: most ancient manuscripts say קרוב מ.

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  • This is very interesting. Is there any explanation for why the Rambam used such an odd phrasing? – LazerA Dec 19 '12 at 16:37
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    @LazerA It's standard Arabic. See SethJ's answer. – Double AA Dec 19 '12 at 18:12
  • @DoubleAA I suspected that might be it, but, not knowing Arabic, I didn't want to theorize. – LazerA Dec 19 '12 at 18:15
  • Please forgive me, @Michoel. Sometimes I am a bit impulsive in my actions. – user2088 Dec 19 '12 at 21:01

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