Fighting to Keep Hebrew the Living Language of Israel

January 9, 2013 12:59 pm 1 comment

The Hebrew alphabet.

This past week, Israel celebrated the 155th birthday of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, considered by many the father of modern day Hebrew. Google Israel honored Ben Yehuda by creating a special Google ‘doodle’ in memory of the man, who believed that the “Hebrew language can live only if we revive the nation and return it to its fatherland.”

Born into a family of Chabad Hasidim in Lithuania in 1858, Ben Yehuda went on to study at the Sorbonne in Paris and moved to Jerusalem in 1881, where he worked as a teacher, journalist, newspaper publisher, lexicographer, and a coiner for Hebrew words, for which he is most well-known. Ben Yehuda invented hundreds of Hebrew words including the words for doll, bicycle, towel, ice cream, and dictionary - milon. He also compiled the first modern-Hebrew dictionary.

Before Ben Yehuda, the Hebrew language had still been used by Jews from different communities across the world, from Russia to Yemen, as a form of verbal and written communication, at least since the Middle Ages. Many Jews were able to read Hebrew texts, prayers and the Bible throughout the centuries, and much of Ben Yehuda’s modern Hebrew was inspired by Biblical Hebrew words, as he transformed the language of holy texts into the language of everyday life.

Three years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet decided to mark Ben Yehuda’s birthday as National Hebrew Day.

But preserving the Hebrew language in today’s climate of globalization and Americanization is not as easy as one may think.

The Academy of the Hebrew Language at Hebrew University of Jerusalem aims to preserve the Hebrew language by distributing around 2,000 new Hebrew words each year, taking words like SMS and blog and finding an original Hebrew meaning for those words.

“In the academy, we try to fight word by word. Instead of just making an exact translation from English, we try to find an original Hebrew word that captures the meaning,” said the academy’s president, Moshe Bar Asher to the Christian Science Monitor.

Others like Haifa’s mayor, Yona Yahav are fighting to prevent the English language from taking over both the municipality and from appearing on business signs across the city.

Yahav, who was born in Haifa before Israel became a state, has had enough with English dominating the coastal city, according to an article published in Israel Hayom last week.  Yahav banned municipal employees from using English words such as global, audition, fine-tuning, test, and project in official documents, in order to encourage Hebrew word usage.

Likewise, the Haifa mayor is trying to stop businesses from using only English signs to market their services.

It all started when Yahav went to get his haircut at his favorite barber and discovered to his dismay that the barbershop had a huge sign with the word, Hair Stylist, printed on it. The Haifa mayor asked the young owner to switch the sign into Hebrew, and when the owner refused, the mayor decided that he would start a campaign against the overuse of English in his city.

Israel has two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic, followed by English, which has a semi-official status and Russian, the most widely spoken non-official language of the country. Virtually all Israeli road signs and street names are displayed in Hebrew, Arabic and English as are government announcements.

1 Comment

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    אנני מסוגל לדמות תקופת-קיומה מדינת-ישראל היהודית ללא עברית כשפת-האם.

    למרות שעברית השפה השנייה שלי וחסרות לי יכולת לחבר, לשוחח, ולקורא

    בעברית כלות כמו באנגלית, בקרב לב אין לי ספק שעברית היא אמצעות-תקשורת

    נשמתי כיהודי; כדומה, עברית מייצגת שפת-עבותינו ואמהותינו. כך, עלינו לתמוך

    בהסטריה, זהות, וישותינו להמשיך להשתמש בעברית בתור ראשון בארץ-ישראל.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    The lead actor in Son of Saul, an Auschwitz thriller featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, told the UK’s The Guardian that he believes God was “holding the hand” of each Jew who died in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust. “I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage,” Géza Röhrig, 48, said. ”But I would not be able to get [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys singer Howie Dorough took to Instagram on Tuesday to marvel about climbing the famed Masada fortress with his band during their visit to Israel, where they will perform this week for the first time. The group’s second day of sightseeing in the Jewish state included the Masada hike, and taking a mud bath at the Dead Sea. A picture from the band’s official Twitter page shows the five singers covered in mud. While relaxing in the Dead Sea, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews US & Canada ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    A new book and its upcoming film adaptation tell the true story of how three former yeshiva students who habitually smoked marijuana scored a $300 million contract from the U.S. government to supply weapons for the Afghan Army, the New York Daily News reported on Sunday. Arms and the Dudes details how the Miami Beach potheads became “the most unlikely gunrunners in history,” according to the book’s author, investigative reporter Guy Lawson. The tale begins with Efraim Diveroli, nephew of [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    JNS.org – Natalie Portman, who directs and stars in the new Hebrew-language film adaptation of author Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, says that despite Oz’s record as a vocal left-wing critic of Israel, her film is not political. Like the book on which it is based, Portman’s film is about a young boy at the time of the founding of the state of Israel. “I think the movie is very much about this very particular, specific family story. Of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.