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Sea-ing Red

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Topic: Red Sea/Reed Sea

Stephen Tenzer in Germantown, MD wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I recently read a book which claimed that the Israelites did not cross the Red Sea, as is commonly believed, but rather crossed the Sea of Reeds. "Red Sea," according to the author, is a mistranslation. This was news to me. My English translation of the Bible refers to the Red Sea, while the Hebrew refers to "yam suf." I remember from Hebrew School that "yam" means "sea." What does "suf" mean? Did the Israelites cross the Red Sea, the Sea of Reeds, or some other sea?

Dear Stephen Tenzer,

"Soof" means "reeds." The Jews crossed the "Yam Soof" which means the "Sea of Reeds."

There are several views in our commentaries as to what the Yam Suf is. It may have been the Gulf of Suez, which branches up from what is today called the Red Sea. Others identify it with the large delta at the mouth of the Nile in the North of Egypt; interestingly, in ancient Egyptian, the swampy Delta districts were called "sufi."

  • "The Living Torah" by Rabbi A. Kaplan, Exodus 10:19, 13:18
  • Artscroll Chumash Stone Edition, Exodus 13:18

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