From: "Avner Zarmi"
Sent: Monday, May 28, 2012 10:49:30 PM
Subject: The Word Teva'
Dear Dr NosonovskY:
Thank you for paying such close asstention during my lkittle talk on Shavu'oth night at Lake Park Synagogue.
It turns out that you were correct that the word "teva'" per se does not occur in the Biblical corpus; my memory failed me. The root occurs dozens of times with such senses as "sink, impress, impose, seal" and so on; the words matba'ath and taba'ath, both of which mean a "signet ring", both occur built on this root as well.
The word itself does appear prominently in Mishnaic and Midrashic sources, however. This does not preclude the possibility that the word was in use during Biblical times, only that it is not attested in the Biblical corpus, and does occur as word after the Return to Tziyyon.
Rabbi Avi Zarmi
Dear Rabbi Zarmi,
Thank you for taking very seriously my question!
Yes, you are right, the word teva' occurs in the Midrashic literature (e.g., Bamidbar Rabba 14) with the meaning of "shape" and emerges as a philosophical term in Ibn Tibbon's translation of RAMBAM's Moreh Nevuchim, where it is a translation of the Arabic term tabi'a. Ibn Tibbon explains:
"Nature [teva'] is a term that has many meanings, especially in our language, especially since I use it in place of two different Arabic terms, which themselves have different meanings. The one is tabi'a, and the other tab'. ... The philosophers already explained these two terms and the meanings each possesses. What we need to mention here are only the following: One says 'teva' with reference to the principle of any change, persistence or abiding ... any power that exists in a thing always, without changing, is called 'teva'."
Note that as a philosophical term, Nature is complimentary with Culture. Both term are Hellenistic and they are foreign to the Jewish Biblical worldview. The somewhat similar Jewish term is Toldot from the root YLD, as it represents the idea of dynamic "procreation" of the world (Hebrew worldview) as opposed to the static "imprinting" (Hellenistic view).
By the way, I enjoyed you Shiur a lot, in particular the verse from Jeremy 33:25 on the role of the the subject (accepting the Covenant) in the establishing of the physical laws.
Thank you very much for your lesson and for the response! I would love to attend you other lectures and lessons.