The Language of Babel

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Tower-of-Babelby R. Jeffrey Saks, in Rav Shalom Bayanikh: Essays Presented to Rabbi Shalom Carmy by Friends and Students in Celebration of Forty Years of Teaching (eds. R. Hayyim Angel and R. Yitzchak Blau), posted here with permission.

The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), so familiar to us that we may neglect to read it carefully, is notable for its economy of prose. While its narrative companion, the tale of the flood and the ark, is spread over four long chapters, the story of Migdal Bavel is compacted into nine verses alone. The reader is almost encouraged to see the tower story as a mere coda to that of the flood. Strengthening this linkage, Hazal (telegraphed to us through Rashi to v. 9) refer to two stories as dor ha-mabul, the generation of the flood, and dor ha-palaga, the generation of the dispersion, setting up the same association, comparison, and contrast.

But is this so? Do our day school memories, often never supplanted by more mature readings, tell the whole story of the tower? Despite its height, is the message of the tower narrative drowned out by the waters of the flood?

Continued here: link (PDF)

About Jeffrey Saks

Rabbi Jeffrey Saks is the founding director of ATID. His frequent lectures at the Agnon House in Jerusalem are broadcast on

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