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...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham responded on Tuesday to charges of antisemitism over an article she had penned for the New Yorker, saying it was all in good humor. Speaking to Variety, Dunham reflected on her “tight-knit Jewish family, where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication.” The article Dunham referred to was called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” with options such as “He doesn’t Tip” and “He’s Crazy for Cream Cheese.” Among Dunham’s critics, Anti-Defamation [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling tweeted a link on Wednesday to a wildly antisemitic article that accuses Jews of seizing control of the world’s media and using it to promote their own interests. The article, published by an obscure blog in April 2013, highlights six companies it claims are owned by Jews — such as Time Warner, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company – that allegedly “control 96 percent of the world’s media.”  The post includes allegations of “Jewish control” and says [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz responded to an outcry from Jewish fans on Tuesday, saying he will go ahead and play in the season opener despite the fact that it falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Keep getting tweets about that being the first night of Rosh Hashanah… Don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. It’s a tough break,” the Jewish athlete wrote, referring to the Giants’ on-the-road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    JNS.org – When David Blatt was hired as head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. The Jewish coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since the Browns won the National Football League title in [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    For the past two years, I have served as Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. I’m perhaps most proud of the paper’s commitment to publishing diverse and opposing viewpoints on the controversial issues of the day. We pride ourselves on voicing different opinions because we know that most issues are not black and white, and because our community is better served by a public debate. In my life outside of the paper, I am a professional actor and playwright. And similarly, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.