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In Psalms 42:9, (his) song is written with a ה yet apparently recited with a ו. Is there a significance to it being written in the feminine form?

  • The word "שירה" in this context is associated by some Ugaritists with the Ugaritic word "ḏrt", meaning "dream" (cf. p. 360). If so, the "ה" is not a suffix, and the possessive "his" is distributed from "חסדו" but not realized at all in the word "שירה". Check out JBL 73 p. 237, if you're into that. – WAF May 10 '18 at 19:16
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The Meaning of the Term

The word is written in the feminine form because the antecedent would not be the Lord (masculine), but the word for ‘prayer’ (תפלה) mentioned in the verse which is feminine. So the term ‘her song’ would be literally the ‘song of prayer’ (or better, ‘praiseful prayer’) that provides comfort in the darkness of night. According to the commentary of the 19th Century Hebraists Keil and Delitzsch,

. . . the suffix of שִׁירֹה is the suffix of the object: a hymn in praise of Him, prayer (viz., praiseful prayer, Hab. 3:1) to the God of his life (cf. Sir. 23:4), i.e., who is his life, and will not suffer him to come under the dominion of death.

The Significance of the Term

This meaning of this term appears consistent with observations from Rashi and the Masoretes, who provide insight into the significance of this term. For example, the margin notes found in both the Masoretic Text in the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex connect this word with the word in 1 Ki 5:12; that is, in the margin of the Leningrad Codex there is a note to continue to view the written term as “שירה,” but when reciting aloud to use the term “שירו.” (The literal meaning of “שירו” would be “his song” when aligned with 1 Ki 5:12.) The Masoretes made the note that these two passages are the only two terms in Scripture that are to be understood with the same meaning in this way.

However, as already noted in another posting, Rashi made a correct observation from Midrash Aggadah that this term has a double-entendre based on the reference to ‘and Israel dwelt’ (וּשרָא) found in the Aramaic of 2 Sam 17:26 in the Targum Jonathan to the Prophets. The Aggadah provides for the idea that Torah study occurs in day, and comfort occurs at night through praiseful prayer. Rashi appears to have consulted the Babylonian Talmud, which makes the exact same observation of the idea of ‘dwelling’ based on the Targum Aramaic of 1 Ki 5:12. The precise idea is that the study of Torah provides grace from heaven during the day whose “presence” (or praiseful prayer) will fill the night.

b. Chagigah, Folio 12B
“And how do we know that it is called heaven? ‘Look down from heaven and see, even from your holy and glorious habitation’ (Is. 63:15).

‘dwelling:’ is where there are platoons of ministering angels, singing by night and silent by day for the sake of Israel’s glory: ‘By day the Lord commands his loving kindness and in the night his song is with me’ (Ps. 42:9).”

In summary, both the Talmud and Rashi juxtapose the idea of ‘dwelling’ (Targum Aramaic of 2 Sam 17:26 = שרָא) with the ‘praiseful prayer’ in Hebrew (שירה = feminine suffix) based on the homonym between both words in Aramaic and Hebrew, respectively. The study of Torah in the day leads to the comforting divine presence at night through ‘praiseful prayer.’ Finally, the literal idea of ‘his song’ (שירו = masculine suffix according to the Masoretic connection to 1 Ki 5:12) is therefore not contradicted, but is instead amplified and complemented.

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This is a less common orthography, but does appear elsewhere. For example, in Genesis 49:11:

אֹֽסְרִ֤י לַגֶּ֨פֶן֙ עִירֹ֔ה וְלַשֹּֽׂרֵקָ֖ה בְּנִ֣י אֲתֹנ֑וֹ כִּבֵּ֤ס בַּיַּ֨יִן֙ לְבֻשׁ֔וֹ וּבְדַם־עֲנָבִ֖ים סוּתֹֽה׃

Contrast the bolded words with the italicized words. עִירׂה, for instance, is the masculine third person possessive of עַיִר (mule).

Compare the Aramaic suffix -הּ. For example, in the Aramaic translation (Onkelos) of the verse has לְקַרְתֵּיהּ (admittedly translating the word עִיר rather than עַיִר ).

Hebrew also has the suffix in certain cases (e.g. אָחִיהוּ in Micah 7:2 rather than the usual אָחִיו). However, Hebrew (unlike Aramaic) elides ה in most cases. The orthography of שִירׂה (whether "song" or "dwelling") is a remnant of the earlier pronunciation *שירהו which was later pronounced ׂשִׁירו.

  • What is the reconstructed pronunciation you reference at the end? "Shirho"? – WAF May 10 '18 at 18:36
  • @WAF shirihu > shirehu > shiro – b a May 10 '18 at 20:50
  • So there was some point T at which it was written and pronounced with 3 syllables, then at T+1 it was written with two and pronounced with two but they were a different two? How did that happen? Or am I collapsing epochs? – WAF May 10 '18 at 21:52
  • @WAF I would put it this way: There was demonstrably a time T when forms such as אחיו and אחיהו existed side by side, because the Bible has both of the two forms. Since there is no earlier form of Hebrew attested, there is no demonstrable proof that at time T-1 there was only the form אחיהו and not אחיו, but comparative evidence (for which I quoted Aramaic, but really there's much more) shows that אחיהו was likely the older form and אחיו the innovation, and not the other way around, which is consistent with the general tendency of Hebrew to drop the ה in certain places... – b a May 10 '18 at 22:41
  • @WAF ... Orthography is a different issue than the pronunciation, but in early Hebrew epigraphy, spellings such as שירה for 3rd person masculine possession were the rule and not the exception, and based on these inscriptions we can tell that the spelling שירו only became the rule later on. The earlier spelling ending in ה is not surprising considering the history of the pronunciation I mentioned above. – b a May 10 '18 at 22:41
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The Chabad translation, following Rashi, translates שירה as "his resting place".

By day, may the Lord command His kindness, and at night, may His resting place be with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

Rashi comments on שירה עמי:

may His resting place be with me: Heb. שירה. May His resting place be in our midst. שּׁירה is an expression of camping, as we translate (II Sam. 17:26): “And Israel encamped,” וּשְּׁרָא. I learned this from the Great Masorah, which associates this [word] with (I Kings 5:12): “And his songs (שירו) were a thousand and five,” in the “aleph-beth” of two words with different meanings (homonyms). This taught [me] that this is not an expression of song, but the Midrash Aggadah does interpret it as an expression of song, interpreting in this manner: Israel says to the Holy One, blessed be He: “We remember what You did for us in Egypt. You commanded us one commandment by day on the eve of the Passover, and we observed it, and at night, You redeemed us and we sang Hallel before You. But now we keep many commandments, yet You do not redeem us. Because of this, I will say to God, my Rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me?...’”

  • So... What does this have to do with the kri/ksiv asked about in the question? – DonielF Jul 13 '17 at 5:34

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