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
  • Chapter 21, pasuk 33 of mishpatim doesn't have את between איש and בור. According to your theory, we could also read that as possessive (semichut) איש בור, meaning a "man's pit" or "a pit of a man". Why would we be misled on the 21:28 (and the Torah require את there to steer us away from this possible confusion) but not be misled on 21:33 (and the Torah not require את here)? – הבלשן Feb 23 '17 at 5:27
  • 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

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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