What is the function of את in Shemot 21:28 when it says וכי-יגח שור את-איש או את-אשה ומת?

את here is not marking definite direct objects but indefinite direct objects as there are no markings of definiteness on איש and אשה.

Is it possible then that את can serve other functions besides the conventional explanation of marking definite direct objects?

  • 2
    Could you edit in a reference to a source for the conventional definition of את that this verse apparently conflicts with?
    – Isaac Moses
    Jan 13 '17 at 15:25
  • It took me a while until I understood the problem. Usually, את precedes a word starting with a heh, or a person's name. Here it doesn't. I'm assuming the reason for the word את over here is that without it, it could be understood as a possessive / adjective, i.e. שור איש would mean "a man's ox", which has an entirely different meaning, here, obviously.
    – DanF
    Jan 13 '17 at 19:46
  • וַיִּבְרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־הַתַּנִּינִ֖ם הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים וְאֵ֣ת כָּל־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַֽחַיָּ֣ה ׀ הָֽרֹמֶ֡שֶׂת אֲשֶׁר֩ שָׁרְצ֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם לְמִֽינֵהֶ֗ם וְאֵ֨ת כָּל־ע֤וֹף כָּנָף֙ לְמִינֵ֔הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב׃ (Bereishis 1:21)
    – DonielF
    May 2 '17 at 17:22
  • @DonielF perhaps the word כל implies definiteness. If there were a ה הידיעה preceding the word עוף then it would carry a different meaning. Instead of meaning “all winged birds/fowl” (i.e. all types and species of bird/fowl) it would mean “the entire bird” or the “whole bird” (i.e. all of the bird or the entirety of the bird meaning all the parts of the bird). Fowl is a collective noun in English as is עוף in לשון הקודש.
    – הבלשן
    Feb 21 '20 at 8:19
  • How about לא תקם ולא תטר את בני עמך? (Also, welcome back.)
    – DonielF
    Feb 21 '20 at 14:04

The word את, according to some midrashic approaches, can serve as a marker of inclusiveness. That is, the word את signifies that more is included in the statement than is explicit. See, for example, Ramban on Genesis 1:1.

According to the Mechilta of Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai (on our verse), את איש means that liability is only incurred when the ox intended to kill the man, and את אשה means the same for a woman. Furthermore, the word את signifies that liability is incurred for goring a minor, a tumtum, or an androgynous (none of which are necessarily implied by איש or אשה).

The Or HaḤayyim (on our verse) says that את includes liability for an ox that intended to kill one person, and killed another.

According to the Meshech Ḥochma (Mishpatim [24 on Sefaria]), it doesn't say שור איש (without the את) in order to include the case of an ownerless (הפקר) or consecrated (מוקדש) ox. (Perhaps this means: if it read שור איש, we may be tempted to understand this as "a man's ox", ignoring the cantillation.)

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