Sunday, July 23, 2023

takana and tikun

This post is part of a series about words from Kohelet, in honor of the release of my new book, Kohelet - A Map to Eden. For more information about the book, and how to get a discount for your purchase, see this Balashon entry.

In the Tanakh, the Hebrew root תקן appears only in Kohelet (1:15, 7:13, 12:9). As Klein notes, it means "to be or become straight", as in its first appearance in Kohelet:

מְעֻוָּת לֹא־יוּכַל לִתְקֹן וְחֶסְרוֹן לֹא־יוּכַל לְהִמָּנוֹת׃

 "That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered." (Kohelet 1:15)

It also appears once in the Aramaic section of Daniel, with the meaning "to establish":

... וְעַל־מַלְכוּתִי הׇתְקְנַת ...
"And I was [re]established over my kingdom." (Daniel 4:33).

As we've noted before, Kohelet uses words that appear more frequently in Rabbinic Hebrew, and were often borrowed from Aramaic. That is the case here as well. The verb has a number of related meanings:

  • to become straight
  • to repair
  • to prepare
  • to arrange
  • to establish
  • to amend
Klein provides this etymology:

Borrowed from JAram. תַּקֵּן (= he fixed, arranged, prepared), which is related to BAram. הָתְקְנֵת (= I was established), Arab. ’atkana (= he confirmed, perfected, brought to perfection), Akka. taqānu (= to be well ordered).

He then suggests comparing תקן to the root תכן.  Despite that suggestion, in that entry he surprisingly says (following Ben-Yehuda):

Usually connected with, but prob. not related to base כון or base תקן.

The root תכן originally meant (according to Klein) "to weight, examine, estimate", and only in Modern Hebrew came to mean "to regulate, arrange, fix" (which would be parallel to תקן). But the root כון (as we discussed here) always meant "to set up, establish" and also has many of the other meanings that we listed for תקן (including "to straighten"). Daat Mikra on the verse in Daniel writes that תקן is the Aramaic version of כון, although without making an etymological association. 

However, earlier researchers such as Gesenius, and more recent ones like Kaddari (in his Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew) do imply a common origin to תקן and תכן. They both emphasize more the Akkadian etymology (over the Aramaic one that Klein mentioned). While Akkadian was a Semitic language, it did not use the Hebrew/Aramaic alphabet. So there are times where two Hebrew words/roots, with different spellings, both derived from Akkadian - in a similar fashion to how foreign words are imported into Hebrew today.

The root תקן has many applications today. In addition to the ones mentioned above, we have the verb hitkin  התקין - "to install" (as in software) and the adjective takin תקין - "intact, in order, proper,"

There are also a number of nouns. Two of the most common are takana תקנה and tikun תיקון.

Takkanah originally meant "arrangement, ordinance, ruling", and today means "rule", usually as set by a legislative or executive body. It is the source of the related takanon תקנון - "set of rules, bylaws."

Tikkun has many more meanings. In a different book, The Medieval Heritage of Modern Hebrew Usage [Hebrew], Kaddari devoted an entire essay to the development of the word (pp. 91-106). I will try to summarize some of the most common usages and their histories.

As a gerund of תקן, tikun can mean "correction, fixing, improvement, emendation, regulation." But it has taken on many more specific meanings over time:

  • tikun soferim תיקון סופרים: This phrase has two meanings. Recalling the sense of תקן as "to prepare," it refers to the book scribes would use to prepare when writing a Torah scroll. A version of this for those preparing the reading of the Torah is known as a tikun korim תיקון קוראים.
    But the other meaning of תקן - "to correct" or "to amend" - gives us a different meaning of tikun soferim. In this other sense, it refers to corrections or emendations to a text that the scribes themselves made (see for example, Midrash Tanchuma, Beshalach 16)
  • A tikun can also refer to a set of readings proscribed by kabbalistic practice to be recited at certain special times. These include tikun chatzot תיקון חצות (read at midnight) and Tikun Leil Shavuot תיקון ליל שבועות (according to the original practice recited/read on Shavuot night, and now extended to any learning done that night). According to Kaddari, these tikunim got their names because of their ability to enact repairs in the "Higher Worlds".
  • Tikkun Olam תיקון עולם - Literally meaning "repairing", "improving" or "establishing" the world, it has been adopted for different purposes over the centuries. The Wikipedia entry divides them as follows:
    • In Rabbinic literature, it referred to "legal enactments intended to preserve the social order" (for example, Mishna Gittin 4:2-9)
    • In the Aleinu prayer, it refers to "the eradication of idolatry."
    • In Kabbalistic uses, it has mystical connotations - "to return the sparks of Divine light to their source by means of ritual performance."
    • In modern times, it has come to mean "the pursuit of social justice."
Yet to bring us back to our earlier discussion, there are scholars who claim that the original version of Aleinu was לתכן עולם, not לתקן עולם. (See, for example, Mitchell First's essay, "Aleinu: Obligation to Fix the World or the Text?") However, as we noted above, perhaps there isn't such a clear distinction between the roots תכן and תקן. In that case, the text might not need fixing.

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