If the Targum on the Torah written by Onkelus was given at Har Sinai, How can Rashi say that he made a mistake?

See Gemara מגילה דף ג ע"א Megilla 3a:

ותרגום של תורה אונקלוס הגר אמרו? והא אמר רב איקא בר אבין אמר רב חננאל אמר רב מאי דכתיב (נחמיה ח, ח) ויקראו בספר תורת האלהים מפורש ושום שכל... ויבינו במקרא ויקראו בספר תורת האלהים זה מקרא מפורש זה תרגום

The Gemara asks: Was the translation of the Torah really composed by Onkelos the convert? Didn’t Rav Ika bar Avin say that Rav Ḥananel said that Rav said: What is the meaning of that which is written with respect to the days of Ezra: “And they read in the book, the Torah of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, and they caused them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8)? The verse should be understood as follows:... “distinctly,” this is the translation...

This indicates that the Aramaic translation already existed at the beginning of the Second Temple period, well before the time of Onkelos.

The Gemara answers:

שכחום וחזרו ויסדום

The ancient Aramaic translation was forgotten and then Onkelos came and reestablished it.

The Gemara in Kidushin 49a says: ר' יהודה אומר המתרגם פסוק כצורתו הרי זה בדאי והמוסיף עליו הרי זה מחרף ומגדף:

Rabbi Yehuda says: One who translates a verse literally is a liar, [since he distorts the meaning of the text], and one who adds his own translation is tantamount to one who curses and blasphemes G-d...

Rashi explains: המתרגם פסוק כצורתו - שבא לחסר תוספת התרגום שלנו לומר לא אתרגם פסוק זה אלא כצורתו: One who disagrees with the additions added in our targum's translations, and he says "I will translate this passuk literaly"...

והמוסיף עליו - שבא לומר הואיל וניתן רשות להוסיף אוסיף גם אני בכל מקום שארצה:

And one who adds to it, and claims that that "If additions can be made, I too will make my own additions wherever I please".

And then Rashi adds: ואונקלוס כשהוסיף לא מדעתו הוסיף שהרי בסיני ניתן אלא שנשתכח וחזר ויסדו כדאמרי'ושום שכל זה תרגום (מגילה דף ג.):

Onkelos Did not add anything of his own accord, for the Targum [of Onkelos] was given at Sinai, as the Gemara states in Megilla 3a that the targum was forgotten and then Onkelos came and reestablished it".

If so, how is it that in numerous places in his commentary on the Torah, Rashi quotes the Targum Onkelos and than says that his translation is a mistake? [3 examples out of many: Rashi on Beraishis 15:11, Rashi on Beraishis 43:2, Rashi on Devarim 17:5, and many more.]

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  • IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE A TRANSLATION FREE OF MISTAKES. This is why we learn in the original as much as possible. The translation given at Har Sinai could have had mistakes (purposefully perhaps), or the Targum Onkelos which was reinstated could have had mistakes. – ezra Apr 26 '18 at 13:01
  • @ezra I don't understand this possibility: "The translation given at Har Sinai could have had mistakes (purposefully perhaps)" – רבות מחשבות Apr 26 '18 at 13:08
  • @רבותמחשבות Perhaps G-d could have purposefully included mistakes in the Targum to ensure that people would not use the Targum in place of the Torah – ezra Apr 26 '18 at 13:09
  • @ezra that is absolutely wild, and I cannot bring myself to believe that. Especially without a source, but maybe even with one... Ribbis - the very, very simple answer is that Rashi is following one specific approach to explaining Pesukim, Onkelos followed another. By Rashi's method in his Peirush, Onkelos is "wrong". – רבות מחשבות Apr 26 '18 at 13:11

According to some translations of Rashi, you have simply misread these cases.

As examples:

According to the translation of Rashi (Bereishis 43:2) found at Alhatorah (I'm literally too lazy to see which edition it is), the words

והמתרגם: כד ספיקו, טועה הוא‏

do not mean that Onkelos has made a mistake, but rather it means:

He who has the reading in the Targum כד ספיקו "when they had enough" is in error.

Same in Devarim 17:5:

המתרגם אל שעריך – לתרעב בית דינך, טועה

is translated as:

He who renders אל שעריך in the Targum by לתרע בית דינך, unto the gate of thy court, is in error

  • I just rechecked a number of the places where Rashi says that a certain Targum is a mistake, and you are correct that the wording is והמתרגם... טועה. Thus, it would make sense to explain the Rashi as you have, that he who has the reading in the Targum in that way is in error. This is very enlightening. Thank you very much. – RibbisRabbiAndMore Apr 26 '18 at 20:22
  • @RibbisRabbiAndMore not to toot my own horn, but if you like an answer, you can mark it as accepted by clicking the little green check mark next to the answer. You can also vote on questions and answers by clicking the up or down arrows. That's what distinguishes good questions and answers from bad ones, and also gives or takes away reputation points. – רבות מחשבות Apr 26 '18 at 23:49

Your answer is partially in the question:

The ancient Aramaic translation was forgotten and then Onkelos came and reestablished it.

According to Rashi on the Torah, the reinstatement was imperfect and contains mistakes. As to

אונקלוס כשהוסיף לא מדעתו הוסיף שהרי בסיני ניתן

This could very well apply to additions (where we deviate from the literal), not translations.

Finally, it is worth noting that Rashi contradicting himself in different places is not rare at all, and one of the common explanations is that he had two ways of learning a sugya, and used different approaches in different places..


This is a complicated subject, one that has seen much discussion. First, on the matter of the premise of the question.

Is Onkelos from Sinai? I don't know about you, but I don't see any indication from the gemarra in Megillah 3a that it is. As you pointed out, all the gemarra indicates is that they had Targum at the time of Ezra. Rav Menachem Mendel Kasher, in his Torah Sheleimah Volume 23 is entirely devoted to the Targumim, and in Chapter 1 he brings many sources which he feels proves that Ezra and the other Neviim of his time wrote the Targum.

At the end of chapter 1, and in the Miluim to Torah Sheleimah 17, he addresses the sources which say that Onkelos is from Sinai. Most of them quote a Semag, which is quoting from Seder Rav Amram Gaon. He brings the original text and shows that there is no mention of Targum from Sinai. He wonders if the Semag held it himself, or was attributing this belief to the Geonim. He eventually tries to bring support for the Semag and other sources.

He also brings the Rashi you wrote. He feels that if we examine Rashi's language carefully, it's possible to say he means something else.

ואונקלוס כשהוסיף לא מדעתו הוסיף שהרי בסיני ניתן

Onkelos, when he added [to the Torah], it wasn't from himself, since it was given at Sinai

If Rashi meant like what we thought he did, he should have just said "All of Onkelos is from Sinai". Why add, "Onkelos when he added to the Torah". Rather, Rashi could mean that there are two parts to the Targum: 1) the literal Aramaic translation. This could have been done later, and Torah Sheleimah feels he has sources that it was Ezra and the other Neviim. 2) The additional parts, not the literal translations, which are from the Torah SheBaal Peh. These, like any other part of the Torah SheBaal Peh, can have machlokes. Onkelos received these additions he from his teachers, who received it from theirs, all the way back to Sinai. This is what it means, his Torah SheBaal Peh had a mesorah. He brings other supports for this interpretation.

In any event he concludes by asking your question. He points out that many times Rishonim actually argue on Onkelos.

Exodus 22:2, Rashi says:

שלם ישלם. הַגַּנָּב מָמוֹן שֶׁגָּנַב וְאֵינוֹ חַיָּב מִיתָה; וְאוּנְקְלוּס שֶׁתִּרְגֵּם אִם עֵינָא דְּסַהֲדַיָּא נְפָלַת עֲלוֹהִי, לָקַח לוֹ שִׁטָּה אַחֶרֶת

שלם ישלם means the thief shall only restore the money he has stolen but is not subject to the death penalty. Onkelos who renders אם זרחה השמש עליו by, “If the eye of witnesses fall upon him” chose a different way of explaining the verse

Exodus 23:2, Rashi says:

...וְאוּנְקְלוּס תִּרְגֵּם...וַאֲנִי אוֹמֵר

...Onkelos translates...but I say

Deuteronomy 12:30, Rashi speaks harshly:

פן תנקש. אוּנְקְלוֹס תִּרְגֵּם לְשׁוֹן מוֹקֵשׁ, וַאֲנִי אוֹמֵר שֶׁלֹּא חָשׁ לְדַקְדֵּק בַּלָּשׁוֹן

Onkelos renders תנקש as an expression of the same root and meaning as מוקש, a snare. But I say that he was not particular to examine carefully the expression

Torah Sheleimah suggests that because Onkelos was the one who brought back the Targum, and he learned from Tenaim, his Targum has the same status as a Tanna. So when Rishonim disagree with him, it's because they found other explanations in Chazal to follow instead.

  • In all the examples you quoted Rashi does not say that the translation of Onkelos is wrong. Rashi just cites the explanation given by Onkelos and then he brings his own explanation. In my question I was NOT referring to places where Rashi gives another translation/explanation other than that of Onkelos. I was referring specifically to places where Rashi disagrees with the translation of Onkelos, especially those where he says clearly that it is a mistake. – RibbisRabbiAndMore Apr 28 '18 at 20:19
  • After seeing the answer given here by 'רבות מחשבות' I rechecked and noted that indeed Rashi does not say that Onkelos made a mistake, but Rather he who has this translation is mistaken, meaning that since that translation is an error obviously Onkelos never said it and that version of onkelos translating it as such is an error. – RibbisRabbiAndMore Apr 28 '18 at 20:19
  • @ רבות מחשבות The last example given (by robev) "וַאֲנִי אוֹמֵר שֶׁלֹּא חָשׁ לְדַקְדֵּק בַּלָּשׁוֹן" is slightly more difficult. It would seem that Rashi there is indeed referring to Onkelos himself, although we still might be able to explain that to to mean he who has this version of Targum Onkelos, but the wording definitly does not seem so. – RibbisRabbiAndMore Apr 28 '18 at 20:46
  • I see no way of understanding the last example other than it saying Onkelos is wrong. Rashi giving a different explanation than Onkelos also implies he felt it was incorrect. @RibbisRabbiAndMore – robev Apr 29 '18 at 1:34

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