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I have recently read in a Muslim website claims that verses 17.19 and 17.21 of Genesis are misinterpreted by Jews, because

1) The word אֲבָל "abal" used in 17.19 means "Yes indeed" in Hebrew, not "No" as that verse is usually translated

2) The word וְאֶת "ve-et" used in 17.21, literally "and with", means "Along with" in Hebrew, not "But with" as that verse is usually translated

Are those linguistic claims correct ?

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In 17:19, Chabad.org does translate it as "Indeed", however that does not change the context or meaning of the statement. Art Scroll uses "Nonetheless" as the translation which has the same implication as Chabad.org.

יט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֲבָל שָׂרָה אִשְׁתְּךָ יֹלֶדֶת לְךָ בֵּן וְקָרָאתָ אֶת שְׁמוֹ יִצְחָק וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת בְּרִיתִי אִתּוֹ לִבְרִית עוֹלָם לְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו:

19 And God said, "Indeed, your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac, and I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.

Rashi:

Indeed: אֲבָל is an expression of a confirmation of a statement, and likewise (below 42:21): “Indeed (אֲבָל), we are guilty”; (II Kings 4:14): “Indeed (אֲבָל), she has no son.” - [from Targumim]

However, Rav Hirsch says that it means:

So here, too, "not so", the way Avraham wished that the future of Yishmael might develop.

Thus, in either case, no matter what might happen in the future, Yishmael will not be the heir of Avraham. Yitzchak will be the only heir.

In 17:21, I checked Chabad.org, Art Scroll, Rav Hirsch, and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and did not find an alternative to "But". I suppose that "As far as" or "regarding" might be a possible alternative. However, Rashi (above) and other meforshim state that this also connotes that the covenant applies only to Yitzchak.

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  • So, it would seem that "indeed" is answering verse 17 not verse 18 – Ewan Delanoy Nov 18 '15 at 14:21
  • @EwanDelanoy, I think it's modifying what comes after it. A better translation might be "truly". – msh210 Nov 18 '15 at 14:29
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The basic translation of אבל is 'but'. However, it is also used, as Rashi says, as 'really'. It is the same word and the same literal meaning. The function of 'but' in this context is used to mean 'really'. In the language of Mishna we have the same thing: ברם זכור אותו איש לטוב, but this person should be remembered for good. But, as in, and how. In fact, in Yiddish we do the same. א מלמד, אָבֶּער א מלמד.

As for ואת, we must realize that Hebrew, especially biblical Hebrew, is not English. Every language has its own usage. In biblical Hebrew, the 'and' is often used in the beginning of a statement. Although the closest translation of the vav is and, it is not completely the same. The book of Shemos (Exodus) begins with a vav. It is a hook, saying, I mentioned first part, here is the second part.

In this case, after completing the statement about Yishmael, the next verse begins with And Yitzchok, which in this case, of beginning the statement, it read as and on the other hand, Yitzchok.

We must always remember not to take translations for granted. For example, we have the lamed prefix which is often translated as 'to'. However, as is evident in many places, it can also mean 'regarding'. It is not a different meaning. It is a pointer. Often it will mean 'he said to her', but it can also mean 'he said of her'.

Another example is 'send, you shall send'. This is the famous biblical syntax for emphasis. In English we would say 'you shall surely send'.

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