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I shall cite 3 verses. What I state below in terms of "plain" knowledge vs. intercourse is confirmed by Rash"i and / or other commentaries on each verse:

1 - Genesis 4:1 (excerpt):

וְהָ֣אָדָ֔ם יָדַ֖ע אֶת־חַוָּ֣ה אִשְׁתּ֑וֹ וַתַּ֙הַר֙ וַתֵּ֣לֶד אֶת־קַ֔יִן

The man 'knew' Chava his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Kayin

In this verse, it mentions pregnancy and birth, so I assume that we can easily determine in this case what the word ידע means, here.

2 - Exodus 1:8:

וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף׃

A new king rose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.

Here, it means, "brain" knowledge (i.e. - not an intercourse action.) I'm guessing that since there is no mention of birth, here, we translate this as "plain" knowledge.

But see

3 - Genesis 19:5:

וַיִּקְרְא֤וּ אֶל־לוֹט֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְרוּ ל֔וֹ אַיֵּ֧ה הָאֲנָשִׁ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥אוּ אֵלֶ֖יךָ הַלָּ֑יְלָה הוֹצִיאֵ֣ם אֵלֵ֔ינוּ וְנֵדְעָ֖ה אֹתָֽם׃

They called to Lot, and said to him: ‘Where are the men that came in to you this night? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’

Rash"i on this verse (citing Midrash Rabbah) says that נֵדְעָ֖ה here means via intercourse.

While he is citing the Midrash, from viewing just the verse itself, since there is no mention of birth in this verse, how would we know what its meaning is?

For that matter, when we view a form of the word ידע how do we know what it means?

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    Do you have any reason to suspect it's not just reason and context? – Double AA Dec 29 '15 at 18:53
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    Maybe we don't know without the help of the Midrash. In any case, I don't think that third example is unanimously agreed upon. – Daniel Dec 29 '15 at 19:16
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    In (3), it's probably intended to be a double entendre - what they were ostensibly asking for was innocent, but their actual intentions were very thinly veiled. – Isaac Moses Dec 29 '15 at 19:20
  • The Pirkei dRabbi Eliezer Ch. 31 (bit.ly/22Qm5l1) actually explains your first example in the "knowledge" sense. Yet of course the simple reading is referring to intercourse. To me that indicates that these usages are multilayered, and may be understood with both connotations in any instance. – Chaim Jan 8 '16 at 19:56
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The word "yada" is clearly defined in context. In fact, the 3rd instance is treated in 3 different ways by different meforshim (commentators) as follows:

the Ibn Ezra claims that is "a euphemism for laying down" with no proof. Is the context. The people of Sodom wanted to have homosexual relations. Similarly, Targum Yonasan translates "v'nei'd'ah osam" as "u'nisha'mesh im'hone" and we will have relations with them. (Interestingly, in the case of the first possuk, re Adam and Chava, the same TY translates "yada" as "he became intellectually aware that Chava had been impregnated by a malach..."!)

Rashi says that the statement means they wanted sexual relations. The Ikar Sifsei Chachamim asks "from where did Rashi understand this?" He explains, "Rashi concluded this from Lot's response 'Behold, I have 2 daughter, etc.' Since Lot had offered his daughters for sexual relations, clearly they had been talking of the same topic."

Likutei Anshei Shem, in the Rav Peninim Mikraot Gedolot 1970 edition quotes "K"Ch" that the context could be otherwise: normally people enter in the daytime. These guests entered the city at night! What's going on here? Let us get to them and interrogate them then we will know if they are spies or not!

  • How does this explain when you have conflicting Midrashim explaining the Pesukim as both knowledge and intimacy? Seems that they each found the context appropriate for their method of explanation, or exegesis as it were. Your answer doesn't seem to provide a clear way to interpret each usage of the word. – Chaim Jan 10 '16 at 11:56
  • I agree. Look at both cases I brought. Each perish finds a compelling reason to assume the context is one way or the other. I think this falls into the general idea of "ayin pamim latorah" (there are 70 facets to the Torah): there are legitimate yet alternate ways to look at the Torah text, and each way adds to our understanding of the story. – R Yisroel Meir Vogel Jan 10 '16 at 16:33

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