‘On This Day,’ Anniversary of Death of Eliezer Ben Yehuda

A good number of their children spoke the language of Ashdod and the language of those various peoples, and did not know how to speak Judean. Nechemya (Nehemiah) 13:24

ּובְ נֵיהֶ ם חֲ צִ י מְ דַ בֵ ר אַ ׁשְ ּדֹודִ ית וְ אֵ ינָם מַ כ ִ ירִ ים לְ דַ בֵ ר יְהּודִ ית וְ כִ לְ ׁשֹון עַ ם וָ עָ ם׃

uv-nay-HEM kha-TZEE m’-da-BAYR ash-do-DEET v’-ay-NAM ma-kee-REEM l’-da-BAYR y’-hu-DEET v’-khil-SHON am va-AM

Nechemya bemoans the fact that in seventy years of exile the Jews of his generation forgot how to speak Hebrew. The situation was even worse in the modern era after 2,500 years of exile, when Hebrew was nearly extinct, reserved exclusively as the Jewish holy language for prayer and study. This all changed with the advent of the Zionist revival, thanks in large part to the efforts of one man, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922), who decided that “in order to have our own land and political life it is also necessary that we have a language to hold us together.” Many scoffed at Ben-Yehuda’s vision, but today Hebrew has been revived from the dustbin of history and is the official language of the State of Israel. Millions of Israeli Jews today converse in Hebrew, conduct their daily affairs in Hebrew, and can read the Tanakh in their original mother tongue as well. In the words of his biographer, “Before Ben-Yehuda people could speak Hebrew; after him, they did.”

 

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