Shavua' tov all,

A question from a friend that I thought I would post here regarding the origin of Onqelos. It seems fair to say that the classical rabbinic understanding is that the Aramaic translation of the Torah, known as Targum Onqelos, was given to Moses on Sinai. For example, BT Megillah 3b introduces the targum as having been "composed by Onqelos haGer" but then clarifies that what it means is that he restored the targum which was given at Sinai but had been forgotten. Rashi adopts this position explicitly in his comment on Qiddushin 49a, s.v. harei ze meharef. On the other hand, of course, contemporary academic scholarship assumes that Onqelos, like other targumim, is a compilation of (anonymous) oral Aramaic renderings of Torah reading, beginning in the Second Temple period and evolving well into the rabbinic period.

So, the question: are there Orthodox* scholars who would agree with some version of the academic understanding of Onqelos' origin? In other words, do you know of any Orthodox scholars who deny the divinity of the targum? (For example, my friend reports that Aryeh Kaplan writes in the bibliography of The Living Torah that "the Septuagint is the oldest translation of the TaNaKh," implying that Onqelos is not from Sinai, but I haven't been able to check that).

Or is this topic as verboten as TaNaKh source criticism?

*I am using the term 'Orthodox' here with some hesitation. I know there are self-identified Orthodox scholars who (attempt to) reconcile their religious beliefs with an acceptance of modern Biblical criticism, e.g. those involved with the TABS project. Qal wahomer I assume those people would be on board with a historical approach to Onqelos. Perhaps to state the question differently: are there rabbis/scholars who maintain a "Torah mi-Sinai" approach to Biblical text while accepting the academic view on the targumim?

  • seriously, no answers? do i have to put a bounty on it? Jan 20, 2014 at 19:53
  • 1
    The quote from R' Aryeh Kaplan, if accurate, does not care contradict Chazal. The Septuagint includes all of Tanach (and some apocryphal works). Targum Onkelos only translates the Torah.
    – LazerA
    Jan 21, 2014 at 21:21
  • @LazerA It also may not contradict Chazal because Chazal may not have thought Onkelos is actually from Sinai. No one ever thought Aryeh Kaplan would come along and claim something that contradicts Chazal. Why do you feel a need to prove otherwise?
    – Double AA
    Jan 22, 2014 at 23:16
  • I think you mean 3a.
    – Double AA
    May 3, 2016 at 5:52

2 Answers 2


Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chayos (assuming he falls under your definition of "Orthodox") discusses this in the opening section of his Iggeres Bikores.

At first astounded at where Rashi conjures this information given that the implication of the gemara is that a targum existed only as far back as the time of Ezra, he concludes that perhaps what Rashi (and others such as Maharsha) mean by this is that additions that Onqelos added to the text beyond the strict translation are explanations that are valid traditions transmitted through his teachers back to Sinai. The translation itself, though, was written by Onqelos.

Update: After a bit of research, we can add another couple of names of Orthodox scholars who agree with the above: Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler in Nethina L'Ger, Rabbi Yaakov Schor in Ittim L'Binah, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher in Torah Sheleimah.

  • Great — thanks!! That's exactly the kind of answer my friend's looking for, I think. I'd love to see other examples. Jan 22, 2014 at 2:49
  • @NoamSienna, See the update above. I'll see if I can find some more sources later.
    – jake
    Jan 22, 2014 at 23:14

The Maharal Teferes Yisroel 65 says that the meaning of Onkelos from Sinai is that the content and meaning of the Targum is in accordance with the tradition from the prophets and not his own innovation.

It seems very difficult to understand Rashi as intending anything else, since Rashi writes:

אונקלוס תרגם לשון מוקש. ואני אומר שלא חש לדקדק בלשון

Onkelos renders תִּנָּקֵשׁ as an expression of מוֹקֵשׁ, a “snare.” [However,] I say that he was not meticulous in examining the language ...

And then goes on to translate the word differently. If he thought this was Moshe Rabbeinu's translation of the word, we would at least expect a more respectful dissent.

Here from Rabbi Refael Binyamin Pozen (who has written books on Onkelos's translation and is Orthodox [Daat Limudi]) where he brings other sources which support this as well.


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