Monday, June 12, 2006


In this weeks parsha (Shlach) we see that God gives the command:

שְׁלַח-לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים, וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת-אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן

What is the meaning of the verb תור? Milgrom translates it as "to scout":

Hebrew root t-w-r, "scout, seek out" (10:33, 15:39, Ezek 20:6); compare Akkadian taru, "turn around", that is, gather information but not necessarily of a military nature ... This verb contrasts with r-g-l, "spy out" (cf. Num 21:32; Josh 7:2, Judg 18:2). The Deuteronomic account (Deut 1:24) uses the verb "spy out" (cf. Josh 14:7)

As Milgrom points out, this non-military meaning also connects it to one of the last verses in the parsha:

וְלֹא-תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם, וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר-אַתֶּם זֹנִים, אַחֲרֵיהֶם

meaning "You should not seek out, follow, after your heart and your eyes".

As an aside, I had always thought that there was a connection between תור - "to scout" and tor תור - dove. The role of the dove in the story of Noach was essentially to scout out, and to return. But Klein writes that the origin of tor (dove) is:

Of imitative origin. cp. L. turtur (=turtledove), which is also imitative. Eng. turte (in the sense of 'turtledove') derives from the Old Eng. turtle, which is formed from the L. turtur with dissimilation of the second r into l.)

I still think there may be an associative connection, if not an etymological one.

The related, earlier meaning of תור as "turn about" (and there doesn't seem to be a connection between "turn" and tor) gives rise to more modern senses of tor as appointment and queue. (See here for the difference between תור and טור in this regard). It is also the root of the difficult to translate, but very familiar toranut תורנות - meaning duty by rotation.

The Hebrew word for tourist, תייר tayar, also derives from תור. However, this meaning is much more modern, and influenced by the English word "tourist". Kutscher writes that in Lashon Chachamim (Mishnaic Hebrew) tayar meant guide, as in Bava Kama 116b:
ואם שכרו (אנשי השיירה) תייר ההולך לפניהם
"If the caravan hired a guide to go before it"

Kutscher brings a story of a student who was unfamiliar with the original meaning of tayar, and was therefore very confused to hear Rashi called התייר הגדול hatayar hagadol...

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