Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Critical Examination of Genesis III. 16.

(Continued from p. 196.)

Having Reference to the Employment of Anaesthetics in Cases of Labour

By the Rev. Abraham De Sola, Lecturer on Hebrew Language and Literature, University of M’Gill College

But it may be objected, can there be no sorrow but that which is stated above, to be the inconvenience resulting from exhaustion?—it surely is an objection to the theory just set forth, that it would appear to teach this, notwithstanding there are other words in Hebrew to express sorrow and pain. Such an objection, natural as it is, forms one of the most powerful arguments in Kimchi’s and our favour, and furnishes us with yet another reason to reject the rendering of the English version. For there are words in Hebrew expressing sorrow and pain, and having no other meaning.

Four such we will now bring forward, giving their significations as determined in Buxtorf’s Concordance and Gesenius’s Lexicon. We select these authorities that we may not be charged with undue leaning to rabbinical interpretation. 1st, we have כאב, ke’eb, said by Buxtorf invariably to mean dolor (pain), and by Gesenius pain, grief.

2d, צרה tsarah, Bux. angustia (trouble); Ges. distress, trouble.

3d, יגן yagohn, Bux. maeror (sorrow), and maestitia (sadness); Ges. affliction, sorrow.

4th, אנחה, anachah, Bux. gemitus (groaning), and suspirare (sighing); Ges. sigh, sighing.

Now, is it not most probable that one of these words, conveying no other idea but of sorrow or pain, or some such compound term as occurs Genesis xxxv. 17, would have been used, <<238>>if no other idea but sorrow or pain was to be conveyed? We think it is, but the reader will, of course, decide.

Farther to demonstrate the propriety of the signification we have given to ngetseb and ngitsahbohn in Genesis iii. 16, we may state, in the third place, that a celebrated Christian writer (Leigh in his “Critica  Sacra”) has admitted that ngitsahbohn, in the passage referred to, means labour accompanied with pain. He says, “Laborem qui adjunctam malestiam et dolorem habet, significat, sicut Graecis χότος; laborem et dolorem; nam alterum ex altero nascitur, et licet on terminatio in nominibus formam diminuticorum constituit, tamen aliquando auxesin facit, sicut in praesenti loco.” We have only to add to this, that Parkhurst refers to the following passages where he says χότος means weariness from labour, viz.: in Xenophon de Re Equest. iv. 2, and Anab. v. 8, 3.

We find that in attempting to determine the sense of ngetseb, we have extended our remarks to so undue a length, that although we might say a great deal more in support of our opinion, we must close, and proceed to other topics. But, before doing so, we cannot but remark as a circumstance worthy our note, and as showing the propriety of the idea that the primary meaning of ngetseb is labour,—that the very essentials of labour, the muscles and nerves of the human body, are styled in the Hebrew עצבים ngetsabim. That they are only so called, in post-biblical writers, can be no argument against the fact of their having always been so termed. The word was to be found in this sense some fifteen centuries back,* in the Talmud, and this may surely be considered as some warrant for its having always had that meaning; the more especially as there is only one word† in the Hebrew Bible to express muscle, nerve, sinew,‡ tendon or ligament, viz.: גיד gid.

* It has also another meaning in the Talmud, that of putting in order or laying regular the muscles; see Tract. Shabbath, fol. 147, a. בפרק הבית בשבת אין מעציבין את הקמן פירוב בישבין איבריי אר קמן  Such is the meaning given by R. Benjamin Musaphia, in his Arooch; he adds, הה עיציב מלשין עצבין i.e. “And the meaning of ngetseb in this Talmudic quotation is the same as that of ngitsahbohn in the Scriptures. See also Maimonides, in his Moreh Neboochim, part 2, chap. I.

† Sinew occurs eight times in the Bible; muscle, nerve, etc., not once.

‡ As to there being another word for sinews in Job xxx. 17, vix, ערק ngorek, this has been more correctly understood by several eminent grammarians and commentators (Buxtorf among them) to mean artery.

But we are of opinion that it really has this sense, even in the Scriptures, and we are led more particularly to think so from the remark of Kimchi on Job x. 8, “Thine <<239>>hands” עצבוני ngitsebooni (a. v. “have made me,” but a marginal reading has more correctly “took pains about me,”) ויעשוני veyangasooni (a. v. and fashioned me together round about)! Upon this passage Kimchi says, “‘Thy hands took pains about me,’ means they laboured and toiled in forming him; the expression used being a figurative one. And the learned R. Moses Aben Ezra explains the word (ngitsebooni) with reference to the muscles, which are called ngetsabim.”* That this celebrated Hebrew grammarian is more correct than the English translators we think indisputable, for ngetseb can never be translated “to make,” as they have rendered it in the passage we are just considering, more especially when, as here, it is followed by ויעשוני which does mean “to make.” We suppose that no objection to this explanation can be urged on the grounds that it refers to God material properties, since Kimchi reminds us, “והוא על דרך משל;” the expression is merely metaphorical, being an example of the figure Anthropopathy, just as elsewhere in Holy Writ the Eternal is said to have hands, eyes, etc. But we must leave the word ngitsebonech now, and direct our attention to veheronech, upon which we have also some few observations to make.

* Sepher Hashorashim, col. 385. Rad. עצב

It is agreed on all sides that והרונך veheronech is derived from the root הרה harah, which means to admit into, to form in the uterus (concipere), and is, according to Kimchi and most authorities, the noun הרון herohn, according to others† הריון hirayohn, in construction with the personal pronoun ך cha, thee. This difference in respect to the etymology of the noun is but of little importance, since all agree as to its meaning; translating “and thy conception,” or by some other equivalent phrase. We pass on, therefore, to the last word upon which we have any remark to offer.

† Newman considers הרון not as the absolute form of a noun, but the genitive or constructive form of הריון herayohn; and we are disposed to agree with him.

The word תשוקתך teshookatech is rendered in the English version “thy desire,” and such meaning has uniformly been attached to it by the most able commentators and critics. It is derived from the root שוק shook, among the meanings of which Buxtorf gives the following: desidere (to desire); concupiscere (to covet, strongly to desire); appetere (covet earnestly), etc. The celebrated Hebrew commentator Rashi, says that teshookatech in Genesis iii. 16 means “Thy desire,” like שוקקה shokekkah in Ps. cvii. 9‡ (translated in the authorized version “long‑<<240>>ing;”) and Buxtorf is of the same opinion, translating it here, however, appetitus tuus.

תשוקתך האתך כמו נפש שוקקה

R. David Kimchi attaches to it the same signification, declaring its meaning to beתאוה וחשק taavah vachishek.* A note in the new Anglo-Jewish translation of the Scriptures† informs us that some “construe תאוה וחשק as submissiveness, and render it ‘unto thy husband shall thy will be submissive.’ F. K. Rosenmuller).” But to this explanation of Rosenmuller we think there are many weighty objections, the chief being that his application of such a sense to שוק, from which root תשוקה is derived, is quite unwarrantable; the word, undoubtedly, having that meaning which has been attached to it by every translator and commentator of any note.

* Seph. Hash. Rad. שוק

† “The Sacred Scriptures in Hebrew and English, with Notes,” etc. by the Rev. D. A. De Sola and Rev. M. J. Raphall, Ph. D., London: Bagster, 1844.

With these few remarks respecting the derivation of תשוקתך, we conclude our examination of those words in Genesis iii.16, the correct rendering of which materially affects the propriety, on scriptural grounds, of superinducing anaesthesia in cases of labour. The foregoing observations would tend to show, that but in two words (they of the last importance, however) we do not adopt the rendering of the English version; and that according to our opinion, the passage should be translated thus: “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy TRAVAIL and thy conceptions; with TRAVAIL shalt thou bring forth children; and unto thy husband shall be thy desire, and he shall rule over thee.” We are aware that this rendering may, at first sight, appear objectionable to many, who will, doubtless, consider it as displaying a total disregard of the scope of the text, and rendering a denunciation, in fact, no denunciation. But we beg must the attention of such, to certain considerations which we shall forthwith lay before them, to show that such a rendering is in every way consistent with the scope of the text, and with certain assertions made by many eminent writers, both Jewish and Christian.         

We shall notice, first, the objection made, even by such as do not oppose, on religious grounds, the employment of anaesthetics in midwifery, that the rendering of ngetseb, by labour, or travail, would be tantamount to asserting that the woman received no punishment for her sin; since there is no punishment conveyed by either of these two words.‡

‡ I am at a loss to conceive what punishment or ‘curse’ could be implied in the words which the learned Professor (Simpson) considers to be the proper translation of the Hebrew word עצב etzebh ‘with muscular effort,’ or ‘with toil shalt thou bring forth.’”—Dr. Charles Waller in the London Medical Times, 10th November, 1849.

We reply that there is a punishment conveyed by the words “with travail shalt thou bring forth,” for the travail of the parturient female is almost invariably accompanied with pain.* It may be rejoined that by this confession we virtually admit the correctness of the authorized version, since the word we give is, actually, as much expressive of pain as is “sorrow;” and that consequently, the foregoing inquiry, even if it show, on philological grounds, the incorrectness of the rendering of the English translators, cannot controvert the fact that they have selected a word most correctly expressive of the sense intended to be conveyed.

* Each so called labour-pain, consists of two distinct and separate elements, first, of contraction of the uterus and other assistant muscles; and, secondly, of sensations of pain, more or less agonizing, accompanying these contractions, and directly resulting from them.”—“It is worthy of remark and wonder that the lan­guage of the Bible is, on this, as on other points, strictly and scientifically correct, and long ago made, with perfect precision, the very distinction which we are nowa­days only recognising. For the Hebrew noun ’etzebh distinctly signifies the muscular contraction or effort, and the nouns hhil (חיל) and hhebel (חבל) as distinctly signify the sensations of pain accompanying these efforts.”—Anaesthesia, p. 124.

To this we answer, the propriety, in a religious point of view, of employing anaesthetics in obstetric practice depends in no small degree, however, upon the fact that ngetseb and ngitsebonech, in the referred to text, means travail, and not sorrow. Thus, if the practice of superinducing, anaesthesia in labour have the effect of militating, in the remotest degree, against the evident designs of God in this regard, as evinced in the laws of nature, and as revealed in the text under consideration,—if it interferes with the natural labour, in any way—if it produce any of those results which may endanger, if not the safety and welfare of the mother, the safety and welfare of her offspring,† then it is wrong, unscriptural, and sinful, and should be visited with the same punishment as is merited by those guilty of foeticide or infanticide.

† And which may be regarded as in the most distant way productive of any of three circumstances which are regarded by the medical faculty as endangering the life of the infant. For a comprehensive statement of these, see an “Inaugural Dissertation on the Medico-legal Proofs of Infanticide,” by our talented friend Dr. David, of Montreal.—p. 42, et seq., and more particularly on p. 45, par. 2.

But if the practice have the effect only of assuaging the pain or “sorrow” resulting from the travail, then we maintain it is a good, a proper, and a scriptural practice. For, if the professional objections urged by some are ultimately pronounced to be futile, and the powerful arguments in its favour, backed by statistics (these rendering strength stronger), remain unrefuted, then it is a good practice, for it exempts from the most agonizing and excruciating <<242>>pangs those weakly creatures, who, when the hand of sickness lies heavy on us, like ministering angels, strive to alleviate our sufferings with a tenderness, a devotion, a loveliness, of which man is incapable, and which, alas! he cannot always fully appreciate. It is a proper practice, since, independently of the enormous amount of suffering relieved, statistical tables* fully prove that it has had the effect of preserving many who, but for it, would, no doubt, have sunk under the intense and continued suffering they were doomed to endure.

* See “Anaesthesia,” by Dr. Simpson.

It is a proper practice, because it is not, as some style it, “an unnatural practice,” not more so than the use of narcotics of all descriptions, such as laudanum, etc., taking nine to twelve hours sleep, when scarcely more than half is required—indulging in siestas in daylight, against which practices nothing is said with reference to their being unnatural or unscriptural.

Again, the inoculation of smallpox, which practice appears equally unnatural, and, in the eyes of an Israelite, perhaps more unscriptural than the employment of anesthetics, since the Mosaic law forbids the touching of any sore or ulcer by a person in health;† and by parity of reasoning (sic) it forbids inoculation; and yet, of this very practice, advantageous as it is confessed to be, it was said “Ergo variolas inoculate nefas”—therefore to inoculate small-pox is an abomination; “and some divines railed against it, calling it the offspring of atheism, a diabolical invention of Satan; and inoculators hellish sorcerers.”‡

† Many Israelites objected to inoculation on religious grounds, some (in Holland) in the memory of a relative of the writer of this note.

The History of Small-Pox. By James Moore, ap. The Harveian Oration for 1846, delivered by Dr. Elliotson, before the Royal College of Physicians, London.

But we must not stay to multiply instances. The propriety of the practice with which this inquiry is more immediately concerned is also shown from this consideration, that the text does not prohibit the abrogation of the pains of the parturient woman, but it declares the divine intention greatly to multiply her travail only; for if the inspired penman had intended to convey “In sorrow or pain shalt thou bring forth” cheblech, tsaratech, or chilech; and again, bechebel, betsarah, or bechil, would, doubtless, have been the word employed.

The practice is a scriptural one, for, as well as God acts towards us with love and mercy, “healeth the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds,”§ yea, “healeth all diseases,”|| so ought we to act when He gives us the ability to imitate Him. When He took the rib from Adam to introduce woman into the world, he caused a deep <<243>> sleep* to fall upon him while the process lasted; and it is but imitating the merciful dealings of the Supreme, if the accoucheur, exercising the knowledge God has bestowed on him, “causes a deep sleep to fall” on his patient, while he assists to come into the world the infant. Again, we find, from the earliest times, women whose sole business it was to assist, and, therefore, to alleviate, as far as they could, the pangs of their parturient sisters.

§ Ps. cxlvii. 3. || Ps. viii. 3.

* תרדמה (tardemah) Rad. רדם coma or sopar, a state of unconsciousness or lethargy, in contradistinction to natural sleep.

Now if their operations really tended to alleviation, and we cannot doubt but that they did, then, according to those who object, on scriptural grounds, to produce anesthesia in labour, these midwives must have acted sinfully, as must have those also who employed them; and yet they were countenanced in the families of the pious patriarchs, and in the beginning of the book of Exodus we are told God “dealt well with the midwives” who acted kindly towards the women of Israel, “and made them houses.”  

(To be continued.)