by: George P. Fletcher on May 2nd, 2016 | 3 Comments »
AND GOD SAID, LET US MAKE ADAM IN OUR IMAGE, AFTER OUR LIKENESS.
Part IV: Borrowing Reason from Hellenism.
There is a romantic story implicit in the way the words s’vara and its related grammatical forms came to be adopted in modern Hebrew. The tale highlights another ray of influence of God’s Image in contemporary thought. It is well known that ‘reason’ is a Hellenistic idea – generally absent from Hebrew thought. This was evident in the drafting of the first criminal code ordinance in Israel/Palestine under the British mandate. The drafts took a code developed by the nineteenth century scholar Fitzjames Stephen for all the British colonies. When it was translated into Hebrew, the drafters had particular difficulty the word omnipresent in English legal discourse – reasonableness.
The drafter opted for a different idiom in very context. One of my favorites was: mitkabel al ha-daat – “It presents itself to the mind.” When I presented a paper at the Hebrew University in the early 1970′s, I focused on this problem of translation. I was aware that it was difficult to translate Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason into Hebrew, largely because of the same divide between Hellenism and Hebraism. The translators choose the word tvunah which was apparently too sophisticated for use in drafting statutes.
After I presented the paper, my old friend and colleague Shalev Ginossar took me aside and told me of a meeting in the ministry of justice in which they discussed the problem of translation. They decided at that time to take a word from the Talmud s’vara and introduce it into modern Hebrew. The word does not exactly mean ‘reason’ but it is as close as you can get. This is the word that subsequent drafters invoked to capture the English conception of reasonableness.
There was an implication for my own future work. Fifteen years later, in cooperation between Columbia and the Hartman