The Glamour of Grammar: It's nothing new

The largest dairy producer in the country, Tnuva, takes its name from the biblical word tnuva, "fruit" or "produce."

tnuva products 88 298 (photo credit: )
tnuva products 88 298
(photo credit: )
'En kol hadash tahat hashamesh," we read in Ecclesiastes. "There's nothing new under the sun." Apparently it's true, though a certain irony marks the first time that the thought was penned. Ancient words and phrases continue to resurface in modern Israel. We might start with the largest dairy producer in the country, Tnuva. Founded as a cooperative in 1926, the company takes its name from the biblical word tnuva, "fruit" or "produce," as, for example, in Judges, where a personified tree asks rhetorically if it should give up its sweetness and its good tnuva. Similarly, Isaiah predicts that Israel will blossom and fill the earth with tnuva, that is, with good fruit. Osem, perhaps most famous for its delicious peanuty snack food Bamba, takes its name from a rabbinic Hebrew word for "plenty." The word osem is related to the biblical word asam, "granary" or "silo," that is a place where grain is stored, and osem represents having a full asam. Proverbs compares granaries filled with plenty to vats overflowing with something called tirosh. Tirosh, almost certainly a kind of wine in the Bible, is well known to Israeli children. It's now a syrupy sweet grape juice. More sophisticated fruit juices, including a popular mango nectar, come from, for example, Prigat. Pri means "fruit," and gat is a winepress. A company called Primor also makes it. Pri still means "fruit," and mor is called "myrrh" in English. It's an aromatic tree resin, I'm told. You can buy Tnuva, Osem, Prigat, etc. products at Shufrasal, an Israeli supermarket chain now a half-century old. Shufrasal is spelled in Hebrew in a way that makes it look a lot like "super-sal," a mistake that is reinforced by the English (and Hebrew) word "supermarket." But the name of the company is actually a compound of the Aramaic word shufra (beauty) and the Hebrew sal (basket). If you're looking to buy more than just food, Hamashbir Lazarchan, or, more colloquially, just Hamashbir, is a fine place to start. The second word means "for the consumer." The first word appears twice in the Bible, once in the Joseph story in Genesis, and once in Proverbs. It means "one who provides food," and it's the hif'il form of shever, "grain." In Genesis, Joseph sells grain to the entire land. In Proverbs, the one who provides food is to be blessed. Hamashbir would probably like that. To get to any of these places, you might take an Egged bus. The word "Egged" just means, basically, "group," but the buses themselves sport a quotation from Leviticus: mipnei seiva takum - "before the aged, stand." It's printed over the seats reserved for the elderly and infirm, and those who heed the sign are paying due homage to Leviticus. (It's actually a confusing line for some, because seiva, which is spelled sin-yud-bet-heh and means "aged," is a fancy word, and, unpointed, it looks like it might have something to do with shev, "sit." But "before you sit, stand," isn't what it says. Nor does it mean "return," as in Psalm 126. And it certainly doesn't mean "shiva," the seven-day period of mourning, which is spelled with an ayin.) You might also take a Dan bus. That company serves the middle of the country, and it takes its name from the ancient tribal territory of Dan. Gush Dan, that is, "the Dan bloc," now means "the greater Tel Aviv area," though it's not clear that the tribe of Dan really used to live there. (Another expression puts Dan near the top of Israel: "From Dan to Beersheba" means "the whole country.") Dan isn't the only company to take its name from a place. Yotvata sells dairy products and, for a particular treat, fruit smoothies. The name comes from Kibbutz Yotvata, and Yotvata, frequently transliterated Jotbath, is a place of unknown location in Numbers and Deuteronomy. The brand name "Jaffa," which marks most citrus fruit in Israel, represents a curious variation. The name comes from Yaffo, the ancient and modern port city, and the original point of export for Israeli produce, but it's the English name, Jaffa, and not the Hebrew yafo that gets used, even in Hebrew. The most common Jaffa citrus fruit is the orange, in Hebrew tapuz. That term is modern, coined last century as a combination of the ancient words tapuah (fruit) and zahav (gold). Like so much else, the new in this case is a revitalization of the old. The writer teaches at HUC- JIR in New York City.