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...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.