Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Music Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    British rock band Coldplay started its set at the Glastonburg Festival on Sunday by broadcasting excerpts of the iconic speech Charlie Chaplin delivered in The Great Dictator, the 1940 political satire in which the famous filmmaker/movie star played a Jewish barber. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone,” Chaplin begins his address. “I should like to help everyone, if possible, Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    JNS.org – The seed for the city of Cleveland’s first professional championship in a major sport in 52 years may have been planted at the Shaw Jewish Community Center on White Pond Drive in Akron, Ohio, nearly 20 years ago. That’s when a tall, lanky kid from Akron named LeBron James walked onto the hardwood court and changed the game of basketball forever. Coach Keith Dambrot, now the head basketball coach at the University of Akron, conducted those sessions that attracted […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →