Scholars Debate What To Make of Biblical References
Published September 09, 2011, issue of September 16, 2011.
An interesting query comes from Gerald M. Siegel, professor emeritus in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at the University of Minnesota. He writes:
In the Torah [Exodus 4:10], Moses initially resists being God’s messenger because of his speech, saying: “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words…. I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” From this the rabbis concluded that Moses was a stutterer, which a story in the midrash attributes to his having burned his tongue on hot coals as an infant. Yet why decide that he stuttered rather than that he suffered from some other speech impediment? On what basis was this explanation given?Actually, there has been a wide gamut of rabbinical interpretations of the Hebrew words k’vad peh, “heavy of mouth,” and k’vad lashon, “heavy of tongue,” by which Moses describes himself. If that of stutterer has become the most accepted, this is probably because it is found in the 11th-century commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Yitchaki or Rashi, the most popular of all Jewish biblical exegetes. As is sometimes his manner, Rashi translates the Hebrew into medieval French, in this case using the noun balbus, stuttering or stammering (from which comes the modern French verb balbutier, to stutter), to which later glossarists added the Old German Stammeler, a stutterer.