[b-hebrew] to'evah

Yigal Levin Yigal.Levin at biu.ac.il
Sun Mar 24 01:29:13 EDT 2013

Sorry, Mike, but I actually don't see the word To'evah in this passage (although I may have missed it). The term used throughout this chapter which has a similar but apparently more limited semantic range is "Shaqetz".

But in any case, as I wrote before, the meaning you attribute to such a word depends on your interpretation of the meaning of the passage. Specifically, the Torah is telling us not to eat these animals and that any person or object that touched their "Nevelah" becomes "tameh". Now, what does Nevelah mean? It usually refers to a dead body. So does this mean that touching a living specimen does not make one tameh? Or, in this case, does it just mean "body", dead or alive? And what does Tameh mean? It's the opposite of Tahor, "pure", which is a ritual state of being. The way in which one goes from tameh to tahor is by ritual, usually immersion in water, sometimes accompanied by a sacrifice. Do tameh and tahor have any ethical or moral significance as well? All of these are questions that go way beyond the literal meaning of the text.


As far as "loathing" non-tahor animals – that's also a cultural thing. Historically, different Jewish communities have had different attitudes towards such animals. There are passages in the Talmud which say that one should not keep a dog – unless one lives in such a place in which dogs are important for security. And what makes horses and donkeys less tameh than dogs? Probably just the fact that they were more common as household animals. As you probably know, pigs are considered to be especially "not-kosher", but they're no less kosher than horses. However Jews never kept them around, because they have no function other than to eat. 


Just as an anecdote, in the Jerusalem "biblical" zoo there is a display of tapirs, which look a lot like pigs. Next to the display there is a big sign in Yiddish (the only Yiddish sign in the whole zoo) which says "das nischt a Hazir" – "this is not a pig". Of course, a tapir is just a "sheqetz" as a pig, but the cultural connotation is such, that the zoo's many ultra-Orthodox visitors would freak out if they saw a pig there. A tapir does not have the same effect. 


Yigal Levin


From: Mike Burke [mailto:michaelgburk at yahoo.com] 
Sent: Sunday, March 24, 2013 3:47 AM
To: Yigal Levin; b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] to'evah


I was thinking of passages like Leviticus 11:42.


If unclean animals are an abomination, and that comes from a root that means "to loathe" (as in God wants us to loathe them), wouldn't it be wrong to have them as pets?


I've spoken to Moslems who hate dogs, consider them unclean, and tell me that strays are stoned in their countries.


It seems to me that if  תועבה means "to abhor" or "to loathe," that's precisely the attitude the Torah is telling us to have toward dogs, cats, ferrets, hamsters, gerbals, gecko's, etc. (though the Moslems I've spoken to seem more tolerant of cats than other pets.)


Is that what the Torah means when it speaks of such animals as To'evah?


From: Yigal Levin <Yigal.Levin at biu.ac.il>
To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org 
Sent: Saturday, March 23, 2013 8:07 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] to'evah


To which I would add, that, as in many cases, the specific English word which is closest in meaning to the Hebrew depends on the context, on your interpretation of the Hebrew, and often on the connotation of the English word that you're using as well. Which particular use of To'evah are you referring to?


Yigal Levin


From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Yohanan bin-Dawidh
Sent: Sunday, March 24, 2013 12:59 AM
To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] to'evah


Hello Michael, 


The term תועבה in a ritual sense means something that is "unclean" or "impure", and in a ethical sense means something that is "wicked". The word comes from the root תעב, which holds the meaning of "to abhor" or "to loathe".


In trying to understand this term properly, I look at the texts where this term is used, and one of the mest usages of the term is the fact that in Sefer B'reshit 43 that is was תועבה for the Misrayim to eat with 'Ibrim. In this situation it is an improper mixture between two different people, two different social classes, i.e. an improper or impure union of people.




Yohanan bin-Dawidh


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