The process began on October 13th 1881, as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his friends agreed to exclusively speak Hebrew in their conversations.
By DANIEL BENSADOUN
Published: OCTOBER 15, 2010 10:37
The process of the Hebrew language revival began on October 13th 1881, as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his friends agreed to exclusively speak Hebrew in their conversations. As a result, the language, which had not been spoken as a mother tongue since the second century AD, once again became the national language of Israel.Some three thousand years earlier, when the Jewish people first arrived in Israel with Joshua, Hebrew was established as the national language and lasted for more than a millennium, until the Bar Kohba war in 135 CE. From that point on, Hebrew was exclusively used for literature and prayer, until late in the 19th century with the first aliya and Ben-Yehuda.Born in 1858, Ben-Yehuda grew up in Belarus, formerly part of the Russian Empire, where he started studying the Bible. At the age of three, he started learning in a cheder, a Yeshiva for young children, where he learned ancient Hebrew. By the time he was twelve, Ben-Yehuda was familiar with large portions of Torah, Mishna and Talmud. Hoping he would become a rabbi, his parents sent him to a Yeshiva where he continued studying Torah and ancient Hebrew.
If you’ve learned anything about the spread of Modern Hebrew, you probably heard that it’s all thanks to one man – Eliezer Ben Yehuda – that Israel’s national language is Hebrew and not Yiddish (or even German!). Not to spoil a good story with fact, but that’s not exactly how the rebirth of Hebrew went down. Far from being a crusade of one, it took an entire nation to revive a language that had been close to death for millennia.
Little-known trivia fact: Ben-Yehuda was actually born Eliezer Yitzhak Perelmen and he had some pretty wild ideas. Eliezer’s obsession with Hebrew started as a child in Europe, when his yeshiva teacher secretly introduced him to specific secular Hebrew literature, such as the works of Ahad Ha’am, the leader of Cultural Zionism I mentioned above. (Ahad Ha’am’s real name was Asher Ginsberg…I always feel compelled to mention that.) Anyway, Eliezer discovered that in rare cases, when two Jewish communities that spoke different languages — say Yiddish and Arabic — needed to correspond with each other, they would sometimes use a form of medieval Hebrew as a common language. This strengthened his opinion that Hebrew was the way to unite global Jewry. So, in 1881,he packed his bags and made the trek to the Land of Israel.
Hear it in his words:
Will our language and literature last much longer if we do not revive it, if we do not make it a spoken language? And how can that work other than by making Hebrew the instructional medium of our schools? Not in Europe, nor in any of the lands of our exile, where we are a significant minority and no amount of teaching effort is going to succeed, but in our land, the Land of Israel.~ Ben-Yehuda
His ideas were pretty simple – if modern-minded Jews resettled the Holy Land and spoke Hebrew, then Hebrew literature would be saved. Ipso facto — I think that’s how to use that phrase — Jews will be saved. Adopting the Biblical sounding name “Eliezer Ben-Yehuda,” he and his first wife Dvora established the world’s first strictly Hebrew-speaking household in almost 2,000 years, and soon produced the world’s first native Hebrew speaker in almost 2,000 years — their son Ben-Zion.
Who chose Hebrew as the National Language of Israel?
- Theodor Herzl didn’t know Hebrew. He believed that German was the natural choice for Zionism and the future Jewish state.
- The Ashkenazi Jews supported Yiddish.
- The Sephardi or Mizrachi Jews supported Ladino or Judeo-Arabic
It was Ben Yehuda whom God chose, stirring up his spirit to an unrelenting persistence until Hebrew became the National language, even after ~2,000 years of laying in Ezekiel’s valley of dead bones.
Hebrew, the language, was left to die in the desert with her mother Israel, when the Jews were spread over the wilderness of the gentile world.