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October 5, 2015 / 22 Tishri, 5776
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In Hebrew: ‘Intelligence Agency’

Your daily dose of Hebrew.
Intelligence Agency

סוֹכְנוּת בִּיּוּן Yesterday we saw some information about הַמּוֹסָדthe Mossad.

Today we’ll look at the general term for intelligence agencyסוֹכְנוּת בִּיּוּן.

The Hebrew word for agency is סוכנות, most recognizably in the Hebrew name of The Jewish Agencyהַסּוֹכְנוּת הַיְּהוּדִית, or simply הסוכנותThe Agency. A סוֹכֵן(male) or סוֹכֶנֶת(female) is an agent, so סוכנותmeans agency. This term comes from Biblical Hebrew.

The word for intelligence in the context of an intelligence agency is בִּיּוּן. This word comes from the Biblical root ב.ו.נ (b.w.n) or ב.י.נ (b.y.n), internalization.

You may recognize this root in the word for to understandלְהָבִין. But whereas in להבין, the root is plugged into the active-causative הִפְעִיל verb form, in ביון, the root is plugged into the active-intensive פִּעֵל form yielding the verb לְבַיֵּןand its noun form ביון.

So what do לבייןand ביון mean, specifically? In mathematics there is a concept called interpolation, which involves estimating the location of various data points within a range – a precise, sophisticated game of connect the dots. Which is exactly what an intelligence agency – a סוכנות ביון– does – it “connects the dots” in a real-life political, often international scenario to create a plan of action.

You may be familiar with the word מוֹדִיעִין, also referring to intelligence (as well as to a city situated between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), as in חֵיל הַמּוֹדִיעִין– the IDF’s Intelligence Corps. In that phrase, intelligence refers to gathering information rather than interpoling, so מודיעין, of the root י.ד.ע meaning knowledge, is used.

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About the Author: Ami Steinberger is founder and director of Ulpan La-Inyan.

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