Isaiah 1 (28): And destruction shall come over rebels and sinners together, and those who forsake the Lord shall perish. כח. וְשֶׁבֶר פֹּשְׁעִים וְחַטָּאִים יַחְדָּו וְעֹזְבֵי יְהֹוָה יִכְלוּ

The translation of חַטָּאִים is sinners according to Rashi there.

Psalms 104 (35) חַטָּאִים will be destroyed from the earth and the wicked will be no more; my soul, bless the Lord. Hallelujah. לה. יִתַּמּוּ חַטָּאִים | מִן הָאָרֶץ וּרְשָׁעִים | עוֹד אֵינָם בָּרְכִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת יְהֹוָה הַלְלוּיָהּ:

When neighbours harassed Rabbi Meir and his wife Beruriah, he prayed and asked God to strike down those who are responsible. To this Beruriah responded: “Do you justify yourself because of the Psalmist’s pleas, ‘Let sins cease from the land?’ Sinners don’t have to die for sins to cease; it is sufficient that they stop sinning” Brakhot 10a

Beruriah understood that חַטָּאִים means sins and that חוטאים means sinners analogous to פֹּשְׁעִים.

How do we translate חַטָּאִים ?

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    Is it possible that she was deliberately misreading the word, in the manner of derash (as in "al tikrei ... ela ...")?
    – Isaac Moses
    May 8, 2013 at 17:50
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    Note that Chatta'im is used in parallel with Posh'im, Resha'im, and Leitzim (here mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt2601.htm#1) all of which are the people. So just by symmetry we should expect it to mean 'people who sin', which is AFAIK the correct grammatical understanding of the word.
    – Double AA
    May 8, 2013 at 17:56
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    rashi on the pasuk translates it against the gemara. see my analysis: dafyummy.blogspot.com/2012/08/berachot-10a.html May 8, 2013 at 18:04
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    the difference is a chataf patach under the chet (sins) vs. a full patach under the chet and a dagesh chazak in the tet (sinners). May 8, 2013 at 18:05

2 Answers 2

  • The word "חַטָּאִים‏" (with a Patach under the Chet and a Dagesh Chazak in the Tet) means sinners. See for example Tehillim 25:8.
  • The word "חֲטָאִים‏" (with a Chataf-Patach under the Chet) means sins. See for example Kohelet 10:4.

Without punctuation the word can be read both ways. Bruria is telling R' Meir that praying for them to die is not the only option. If the verse would have read "חוטאים", there would be no other interpretation except for "sinners". Since the word is "חטאים", it could be read either way. If so, why understand it as "sinners" (and therefore pray for them to die) when you can understand it as "sin", and pray for them to do Teshuva, a much better option.

(Based on the Maharsha and The Kotev. This is why the Rashi on the Gemara has Nekudot as well.).

Bruria is therefore not saying the the word in Tehillim 104:35 actually means sins, she's saying that the possibility exists (if it wanted to be completely unambiguious it would have used the word "חוטאים"), and therefore don't be so quick to destroy what you can instead transform.

Therefore, when Rashi on the verse says that "חוטאים" == "חטאים", he is not arguing with the Gemara or Bruria.

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    Sounds like Bruia wasn't looking at a text with Nekudot.
    – Double AA
    Oct 23, 2013 at 16:58

Most commentators I saw claim that the correct translation is sinners. It could be that Beruriah really meant to state that the end goal of a world free of sinners may also be accomplished by bringing them to correct their ways.

  • You saw some commentators who though the proper translation was Sins??
    – Double AA
    Jul 23, 2013 at 21:26
  • Grammatically, contextually, and in other verses it means sinners. I didn't find anyone who explains like Beruriah, but perhaps there are commentators who I didn't see which explain differently. Jul 24, 2013 at 7:01

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