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I am wondering why snakes no longer talk. The Lord punished the serpent by making him crawl on his belly and eat dust, and be at odds with Eve's offspring, but it does not mention taking away the serpents power of speech.

Why don't snakes talk anymore?

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    A preliminary question is whether (1.) snakes as a category could originally speak, (2.) only that individual snake had a unique power of speech, or (3.) that snake was miraculously granted speech temporarily and could not ordinarily speak. See, for example, Radak (B'reishis 3:1), who discusses these questions as well as yours. – Fred Jul 2 '14 at 22:05
  • @Curiosfellow While not a direct answer to your question, you may want to read the 1st chapter in Avot D'Rav Natan. There is a detailed explanation of what the snake actually did as well as how and why it was cursed. I think you'll find it quite interesting – DanF Jul 3 '14 at 14:48
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It's pretty hard to ask any questions from the first two chapters of Genesis, considering both the esoteric nature of both the topic and the fact that the world seems to have rather different back then in a way that may be inherently incomprehensible for us now that we've been evicted from Eden.

That being said, there are several approaches to this question. (The first three here are quoted by the Ibn Ezra)

  1. It could be that the snake in the story is not literally a snake, but a metaphor for the Satan, or some similar evil force. The Ibn Ezra himself rejects this opinion, though there are several midrashim that seem to take this view, despite the obvious problem of God punishing the 'snake' by making it crawl on the ground.

  2. Chava was a wise enough person to understand snake language (a parselmouth, בלע"ז)

  3. R. Saadia Gaon says that an angel spoke for the snake, even though the 'evil plan' or whatever it was that he did wrong was his own fault (the angel just helped give him a voice)

  4. Ibn Ezra himself does believe that pre-tree snakes could talk, and though he doesn't mention this lack of punishment, he might reply that by losing his ability to eat normal food and walk on 'legs' are symbolic of becoming less human-like and indicate a loss of the ability to speak as well.

  5. Abarbanel writes that the snake never actually spoke, and though the Torah states that he spoke, it means that he gestured in way that his message to Chava was obvious (such as by continually eating from the tree, and shoving Chava into it, etc.)

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The Lubavitcher Rebbe discusses this at length according to Rashi and the plain meaning of the verses (there are others who say that the very ability to speak was something just special for that occasion). He brings up a two possibilities:

  • It is obvious. Everyone sees snakes don't talk, so there is no need to specify that this was included. (He rejects this explanation).
  • The taking away of the ability to speak is included in the fact that it was cursed more than all other animals. If it retained the ability to speak, it would not be worse than all the other animals.

The second is referenced by the verse saying "Because you did this you will be cursed ..." That which gave it the ability to do entice Chava into the sin is what was removed from it. Both the ability to speak, and its cunning over the other animals (thus it became lower than the other animals).

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    But everyone sees that snakes crawl on their belly. – Clint Eastwood Jul 2 '14 at 21:48
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    @ClintEastwood, right, that is part of why he rejects it. – Yishai Jul 2 '14 at 21:50
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The Chizkuni to Bereishis 3:1 says that the serpent ate from the eitz hadaas, this would explain why he have gained "cunning" and also the ability to talk by ingesting some of that tree.

On regard the taking away the serpent power of speech, the Torah DOES suggests this by saying:

“...and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.” (3:14)

The Oznaim LaTorah, says that "dust consumption" is sign of silence. The use of expression "all the days of thy life" would impact more this silence, i.e, the complete absence of speech. A paralellism in Eicha 3:28-29 alludes to this idea:

Let him sit alone and keep silence / because He hath laid it upon him.

Let him put his mouth in the dust / if so be there may be hope.

  • The chizkuni actually went on to say the snake was made to talk by Hashem the same way Hashem opened the mouth of Bilaam's donkey. – user6591 Dec 5 '16 at 1:18
  • That's true. But see Otzar HaChizkuni to these psukim for that. – Renato Grun Dec 5 '16 at 2:34
  • I can't seem to access what you are trying to point out. – user6591 Dec 5 '16 at 2:36
  • Unfortunately this sefer it is not available online. – Renato Grun Dec 5 '16 at 2:41
  • If you could quote and include what you see there as relevant, I would appreciate it. I was about to upvote, then decided to check your link. As is I don't feel comfortable with the way his words are presented here. – user6591 Dec 5 '16 at 2:45

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