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I understand בְּתוֹךְ as "in the midst of". The tree of life is b'tokh ha-gan (in the midst of the garden), and God spoke to the people mitokh ha-eish (from the midst of the fire). I learned today that JPS also sometimes translates בְּקֶרֶב as "in the midst", as it does in Habbakuk 3:2 (בְּקֶרֶב שָׁנִים, in the midst of years).

What's the difference between בְּתוֹךְ in the first two passages and בְּקֶרֶב in Habbakuk? What does it mean that Habbakuk uses the latter and not the former?

Additional reason for my confusion: I understand b'kerev as "in nearness", the same way a korban draws us near to God. But JPS (who knows way more about biblical Hebrew than I do :-) ) translates it as "in the midst", which makes me wonder if tavekh and kerev are the same kind of "midst". Both "midst" and "nearness" indicate proximity, but in English there is a nuanced difference; is that what's happening here, or have I just run into a synonym and it doesn't mean anything special?

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+1. Re "Are tokh and kerev the same...": the non-construct form is actually tavech (תָּוֶךְ). – msh210 Jun 18 '12 at 18:17
isn't this a Biblical Hebrew language question? – Charles Koppelman Jun 18 '12 at 18:30
@CharlesKoppelman, yes, a language used in Jewish life and learning and about a Jewish text (why is Habbakuk different?), which I understand from the FAQ to be on-topic. Am I mis-reading? – Monica Cellio Jun 18 '12 at 18:47
@msh210 and Monica - works for me. – Charles Koppelman Jun 18 '12 at 20:43
The terms are used in some very similar contexts. Both, for example, are used for a person's being in a group of people (Dt 17:15, Gn 23:10). – msh210 Jun 19 '12 at 19:07

This doesn't directly answer the question, but it should be said that in Hebrew quite a lot of words are cognates, so while the JPS's rendering of בקרב שנים could very well be correct, that does not preclude your understanding of the meaning of קרבן from being accurate. Indeed, Radak (1160-1235) writes in his Sefer HaShorashim (entry קרב) that קרב can be a synonym of תוך but that it is not the original meaning, which denotes "drawing close."

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You're right that קרב means "closeness"/"close proximity", and from that understanding בקרב means "among", "in the midst of", with the understanding of proximity. However, there is still used the word בקרבי meaning "in me". בתוך on the other hand means more like "in the interior of". They mean basically the same thing, just in a different sense of understanding.

Like how כן means truly "thus", although it is currently used for "yes", which is also a valid translation of its meaning. And יש means "yes" in the way of something existing; it is mostly used, of course, to mean "there is/are".

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Actually Radak says that בקרבה means בתוך לבה. – Dov F Jun 19 '12 at 15:54
@DovF That's interesting, I'd never heard that before. – Aman Jun 19 '12 at 21:11

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