I have read that aishdas (Deut. 33:2) means "fiery law" or something of the sort. However, doesn't the word das with the meaning of law/religion come from Persian (i.e. did not have the meaning of law in Biblical times)? Can someone help me out here?


5 Answers 5


Prof Richard Steiner argues in this article that דת here is short for דאת, a rare verb meaning "fly" (like Deu 28:49 כאשר ידאה הנשר, but in an archaic construction like Lev 25:21 ועשת and with the א elided). So the meaning of the verse is really "from His right hand, fire flew to them," and the commonly seen "fiery law" is based on Midrash. Indeed given the structure of the verse a verb like that is to be expected here. He and Rabbi Dr. Sid Z. Leiman in this article find support for this in Targum Psuedo-Jonathon to Exodus 20:2 which, in parallel to Sifre on our verse, explicitly describes at the Revelation at Sinai a torch/fire flying (טייס -- the same root the Targum uses to translate ידאה) from God's right hand to [surround] the Jewish people.

In defense of the more common translation, one might argue that דת as "law" may be a native Hebrew word that is otherwise unattested, rather than a loanword from Persian.

  • The word דת is used frequently in Megillat Esther. That may support your claim that it is originally a Persian word.
    – DanF
    Jun 12, 2019 at 1:19

Based on the k'siv, in which "אשדת" is only one word, I have heard it being related to the independent word אשדת, meaning waterfall, as in "תחת אשדת הפסגה". (D'varim 4:49)

  • You may enjoy the improvements I made to Alex's answer.
    – Double AA
    Jul 7, 2016 at 17:04
  • @DoubleAA I do enjoy them. And to make this a non-"thank you" comment, I will add that the verb "אשד" also appears in the translation of Micha.
    – WAF
    Jul 12, 2016 at 12:42
  • No one has suggested a verb אשד. If anything it would be relevant to understanding the כתיב not the קרי. What does it mean there?
    – Double AA
    Jul 12, 2016 at 13:08
  • @DoubleAA My point is that if you're looking for a (f.) verb in that part of the pasuk to validate the parallelism it doesn't need to be "das".
    – WAF
    Jul 12, 2016 at 13:14
  • It does if they are two words (as in the קרי)
    – Double AA
    Jul 12, 2016 at 13:15

Conceivably, דת is simply a semitic root that happens to only come up once in the earlier Hebrew of the Chumash, but was used more in Persian. It appears in Aramaic and Syriac as דתא (which is also found in the book of Ezra).

But yes, the kesiv is "waterfall".

A nice metaphor for Torah -- fiery passion and rite fused into a whole that is neither, from which flows life.


The Persian language did not exist at the time of Torah? Not even a prototype?

I'm not sure I really understand the difficulty. The Torah has words that were not (originally) Hebrew. A couple of examples off the top - Totofos (tefilin) and Moshe.

Is there anywhere stated that all the words in the Torah had to be of Hebrew origin?

  • "Is there anywhere stated that all the words in the Torah had to be of Hebrew origin?" This question presupposes a difference between "Hebrew" and "the language of the Torah", both of which - for the purposes of this discussion - could probably be more precisely conflated into "Lashon Hakodesh".
    – WAF
    Dec 24, 2010 at 16:21
  • 1
    Still a fair point, though. Conceivably דת could have been a really early loanword into Hebrew/Lashon Kodesh from proto-Persian.
    – Alex
    Dec 26, 2010 at 4:36

According to Rash"i (on B'reshis 37:17), Ya'akov's other ten sons used the word דת on their way to plot against Yosef.

  • I suspect that that's more likely to be a paraphrase in Rabbinic Hebrew rather than a quotation in Biblical Hebrew.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 28, 2010 at 16:58
  • אה"נ that it's a paraphrase but Rash"i is explaining the word דתינה as "toward their calculations" or something similar.
    – WAF
    Dec 28, 2010 at 17:09

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