Front page of HaZvi newspaper with a sub-headline reading "Newspaper for news, literature and science". HaZvi revolutionized Hebrew newspaper publishing in Jerusalem by introducing secular issues and techniques of modern journalism.

The revival of the Hebrew language took place in Europe and Israel toward the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, through which the language's usage changed from purely the sacred language of Judaism to a spoken and written language used for daily life in Israel. The process began as Jews from diverse regions started arriving and establishing themselves alongside the pre-existing Jewish community in the region of Palestine in the first half of the twentieth century. Arabic-speaking Jews in Palestine and the linguistically diverse newly arrived Jews switched to Hebrew as a lingua franca,[1][2] the historical linguistic common denominator of all the Jewish groups. At the same time, a parallel development in Europe changed Hebrew from primarily a sacred liturgical language into a literary language,[3] which played a key role in the development of nationalist educational programs.[4] Modern Hebrew was one of three official languages of Mandatory Palestine, and after the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948, one of two official languages of Israel, along with Modern Arabic. In July 2018, a new law made Hebrew the sole official language of the state of Israel, giving Arabic a "special status".[5]

More than purely a linguistic process, the revival of Hebrew was utilized by Jewish modernization and political movements, led many people to change their names[6] and became a tenet of the ideology associated with settlement and renaming of the land, Zionism[7] and Israeli policy.

The process of Hebrew's return to regular usage is unique; there are no other examples of a natural language without any native speakers subsequently acquiring several million native speakers, and no other examples of a sacred language becoming a national language with millions of native speakers.

The language's revival eventually brought linguistic additions with it. While the initial leaders of the process insisted they were only continuing "from the place where Hebrew's vitality was ended", what was created represented a broader basis of language acceptance; it includes characteristics derived from all periods of Hebrew language, as well as from the non-Hebrew languages used by the long-established European, North African, and Middle Eastern Jewish communities, with Yiddish being predominant.


Main article: Hebrew language

ArabicHebrewLatin dictionary, 1524
Mishneh Torah, written in Hebrew by Maimonides.

Historical records testify to the existence of Hebrew from the 10th century BCE[8] to the late Second Temple period (lasting to 70 CE), after which the language developed into Mishnaic Hebrew. From about the 6th century BCE until the Middle Ages, many Jews spoke Aramaic, a related Semitic language. From the 2nd century CE until the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language circa 1880, Hebrew served as a literary and official language and as the Judaic language of prayer.[9] After the spoken usage of Mishnaic Hebrew ended in the 2nd century CE, Hebrew had not been spoken as a mother tongue.

Even so, during the Middle Ages, Jews used the language in a wide variety of disciplines. This usage kept alive a substantial portion of the traits characteristic of Hebrew. First and foremost, Classical Hebrew was preserved in full through well-recognized sources, chiefly the Tanakh (especially those portions used liturgically like the Torah, Haftarot, Megilot, and the Book of Psalms) and the Mishnah. Apart from these, Hebrew was known through hymns, prayers, midrashim, and the like.

During the Middle Ages, Hebrew continued in use as a written language in Rabbinical literature, including in judgments of Halakha, Responsa, Biblical and Talmudic commentaries, and books of meditation. In most cases, certainly in the base of Hebrew's revival, 18th- and 19th-century Europe, the use of Hebrew was not at all natural, but heavy in flowery language and quotations, non-grammatical forms, and mixing-in of other languages, especially Aramaic. Hebrew also functioned as a language of secular high culture, and as a lingua franca between Jews from disparate countries. Jewish scientists and historians such as Abraham Zacuto and David Gans wrote in Hebrew, as did travelers such as Benjamin of Tudela and Chaim Yosef David Azulai.

Hebrew experienced a particular flourishing in medieval Spain, where, under the influence of contemporary Islamic culture, scholars such as Shmuel HaNagid, Judah HaLevi, and Abraham Ibn Ezra extensively engaged in secular Hebrew poetry, discussing topics such as love, nature, and wine. The works of these Sephardic poets greatly influenced future attempts at Hebrew poetry, including the modern revival. Outside of Spain, the Jews of Yemen were especially known until contemporary times for their tradition of poetry, exemplified by revered 17th century rabbi and poet Shalom Shabazi. Other secular poets of the post-Spain era include Immanuel the Roman and Israel ben Moses Najara.

Otherwise, creative work in Hebrew was mostly limited to liturgical poems known as piyyut, designed to be sung, chanted, or recited during religious services. This form originated in late antique Eretz Yisrael with poets such as Jose ben Jose, Eleazar ben Kalir, and Yanai and spread worldwide over subsequent centuries. The work of these early poets, often quite obscure, has been preserved mostly in the Italian, Romaniote (old Greek), and Ashkenazi rites; however, the general concept of religious poems to be sung during prayer is now common in all rites.

Hebrew was used not only in written form but also as an articulated language, in synagogues and in batei midrash. Thus, Hebrew phonology and the pronunciation of vowels and consonants were preserved. Despite this, regional influences of other languages caused many changes, leading to the development of different forms of pronunciation:

Within each of these groups, there also existed different subsets of pronunciation. For example, differences existed between the Hebrew used by Polish Jewry and that of Lithuanian Jewry and of German Jewry.

In the fifty years preceding the start of the revival process, a version of spoken Hebrew already existed in the markets of Jerusalem. The Sephardic Jews who spoke Ladino or Arabic and the Ashkenazi Jews who spoke Yiddish needed a common language for commercial purposes. The most obvious choice was Hebrew. Although Hebrew was spoken in this case, it was not a native mother tongue, but more of a pidgin.

The linguistic situation against which background the revival process occurred was one of diglossia, when two languages—one of prestige and class and another of the masses—exist within one culture. In Europe, this phenomenon has waned, starting with English in the 16th century, but there were still differences between spoken street language and written language. Among the Jews of Europe, the situation resembled that of the general population, but with:

In the Arab Middle East, Ladino and Colloquial Arabic were the spoken languages most prevalent in Jewish communities (with Ladino more prevalent in the Mediterranean and Arabic, Aramaic, Kurdish, and Persian more widely spoken by Jews in the East), while Classical Arabic was used for secular writing, and Hebrew used for religious purposes (though some Jewish scholars from the Arab world, such as Maimonides (1135–1204), wrote primarily in Arabic or in Judeo-Arabic languages).[11]

Revival of literary Hebrew

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The revival of the Hebrew language in practice advanced in two parallel strains: The revival of written-literary Hebrew and the revival of spoken Hebrew. In the first few decades, the two processes were not connected to one another and even occurred in different places: Literary Hebrew was renewed in Europe's cities, whereas spoken Hebrew developed mainly in Palestine. The two movements began to merge only in the beginning of the 1900s, and an important point in this process was the immigration of Haim Nahman Bialik to Palestine in 1924. But after the transfer of literary Hebrew to Palestine, a substantial difference between spoken and written Hebrew remained, and this difference persists today. The characteristics of spoken Hebrew only began to seep into literature in the 1940s, and only in the 1990s did spoken Hebrew start widely appearing in novels.[12]

Hebrew during the Haskalah

First known translation of Shakespeare to Hebrew by Solomon Löwishn, 1816. The "Are at this hour asleep!" monologue from Henry IV, Part 2.

A preceding process to the revival of literary Hebrew took place during the Haskalah, the Jewish movement paralleling the secular Enlightenment. Members of this movement, called maskilim (משכילים), who sought to distance themselves from Rabbinic Judaism, decided that Hebrew, specifically Biblical Hebrew, was deserving of fine literature. They considered Mishnaic Hebrew and other varieties of Hebrew to be defective and unfit for writing. Particularly influential on the movement was early 18th century Italian rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Writing poetry and drama in a pure, Biblical style of Hebrew, he was greatly admired by the maskillim who deemed him the founder of modern Hebrew literature.

The Haskalah-era literature written in Hebrew based itself upon two central principles: Purism and flowery language. Purism was a principle that dictated that all words used should be of biblical origin (even if the meaning was not biblical). The principle of flowery language was based on bringing full verses and expressions as they were from the Tanakh, and the more flowery a verse was, the more quality it was said to possess. Another linguistic trait thought to increase a text's prestige was the use of hapax legomena, words appearing only once in the text.

But while it was easy to write stories taking place in the biblical period and dealing with biblical topics, Haskalah-era writers began to find it more and more difficult to write about contemporary topics. This was due mostly to the lack of a broad and modern vocabulary, meaning translating books about science and mathematics or European literature was difficult. Although an earlier, little known attempt at scientific writing was made when Israel Wolf Sperling translated Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1877 and 1878,[13] this barrier was breached with more lasting effect in the 1880s by a writer named Mendele Mocher Sfarim.

Another difficulty faced by Haskalah Hebrew writers was that the audience was exclusively male with profound study background, which meant that women and the less educated men were pushed against reading Hebrew by reading Yiddish literature, which led a number of writers to write in Yiddish to find audiences.[14]

Hebrew writers and educators

Mendele Mocher Sfarim

Mendele Mocher Sfarim

Ya'akov Abramovitch (1836–1917), is often known by the name of his main character, "Mendele Mocher Sfarim" (מוכר ספרים), meaning "bookseller". He began writing in Hebrew as a Haskalah writer and wrote according to all the conventions of Haskalah-era literature. At a certain point, he decided to write in Yiddish and caused a linguistic revolution, which was expressed in the widespread usage of Yiddish in Hebrew literature. After a long break he returned in 1886 to writing in Hebrew, but decided to ignore the rules of biblical Hebrew, and proponents of that style, like Abraham Mapu, and added into the vocabulary a host of words from the Rabbinic Age and the Middle Ages. His new fluid and varied style of Hebrew writing reflected the Yiddish spoken around him, while still retaining all the historical strata of Hebrew.

Mendele's language was considered a synthetic one, as it consisted of different echelons of Hebrew development and was not a direct continuation of a particular echelon. However, today, his language is often considered a continuation of Rabbinic Hebrew, especially grammatically. He was considered as the representative figure who provided great literatures to whichever language he was associated with.[14]

Devorah Baron

Devorah Baron (also spelled Dvora Baron and Deborah Baron) (1887–1956), was a Hebrew writer who fascinated her readers with her unique use of the language in Eastern Europe, which was dominated by Yiddish speakers. Her early writings mostly involve the feminine Yiddish traditions, and she worked on more feminist topics in her later writings. The topics were mostly divided into two sorts: (1) the marginalization of female in the religious and family life; (2) the tension between men and women, and between generation to generation.[14]

Other figures

See also Robert Alter, and his book The Invention of Hebrew Prose, who has done significant work on modern Hebrew literature and the context that enabled the language to revive itself via creative writing. The book has a large section on Abramovitch. Yael S. Feldman also gives a short overview of Mendele and his milieu in her book Modernism and Cultural Transfer. She notes the influence of Yiddish on his Hebrew, and traces this language interaction to Gabriel Preil, the last Haskalah poet of America. Eventually, writers like Yosef Haim Brenner would break from Mendele's style, and utilize more experimental techniques.

In his book Great Hebrew Educators (גדולי חינון בעמנו, Rubin Mass Publishers, Jerusalem, 1964), Zevi Scharfstein described the work of Maharal of Prague, Naphtali Hirz Wessely (Weisel), R. Hayyim of Volozhin, R. Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, R. Israel Salanter, R. Israel Meir Ha-Kohen (the Hafes Hayyim), Aaron Kahnstam, Shalom Jonah Tscharno, Simha Hayyim Vilkomitz, Yishaq Epstein, David Yellin, Samson Benderly, Nisson Touroff, Sarah Schenirer, Yehiel Halperin, H. A. Friedland, and Janusz Korczak as significant contributors to the movement.[15]

Continuation of the literary revival

Mendele's style was excitedly adopted by contemporary writers and spread quickly. It was also expanded into additional fields: Ahad Ha'am wrote an article in 1889 using the style entitled "This is not the Way", and Haim Nahman Bialik expanded it into poetry with his poem "To the Bird" of the same year. Additionally, great efforts were taken to write scientific books in Hebrew, for which the vocabulary of scientific and technical terms was greatly increased. At the same time, Europe saw the rise of Hebrew language newspapers and magazines, while even sessions and discussions of Zionist groups were conducted and transcribed in Hebrew. In addition, poets and writers such as David Frischmann and Shaul Tchernichovsky began avidly translating European works into Hebrew, from the Finnish epic the Kalevala to works by Molière, Goethe, Shakespeare, Homer, Byron, Lermontov, and Aeschylus. At the same time, writers like Micah Yosef Berdichevsky and Uri Nissan Gnessin began to write complex works of short fiction and novels in Hebrew, using the language to express psychological realism and interiority for the first time. As Hebrew poets and writers began arriving in Palestine armed with the new literary language, they exerted a certain amount of influence on the development of spoken Hebrew as well.

Revival of spoken Hebrew

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, working

Jewish communities with different colloquial languages had used Hebrew to communicate with each other across Europe and the Near East since the Middle Ages. The use of Hebrew enabled Jews to flourish in international trade throughout Europe and Asia during the Middle Ages. In Jewish communities that existed throughout Europe, Arab lands, Persia, and India, Jewish merchants knew enough Hebrew to communicate, and thus had a much easier time trading with each other than non-Jews had trading internationally due to the language barrier.[16] As Jews in Palestine spoke a variety of languages such as Arabic, Ladino, Yiddish, and French, inter-communal affairs that required verbal communication were handled in a modified form of Medieval Hebrew. Hebrew was used by Jews from different linguistic backgrounds in marketplaces in Jerusalem since at least the early 19th century.[17][18]

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858–1922) (אליעזר בן יהודה‎) is often regarded as the "reviver of the Hebrew language" ("מחיה השפה העברית"):[12] he was the first to raise the concept of reviving Hebrew, to publish articles in newspapers on the topic, and he initiated the project known as the Ben-Yehuda Dictionary.[19] However, what finally brought about the revitalization of Hebrew were developments in the settlements of the First Aliyah and the Second Aliyah. The first Hebrew schools were established in these settlements, Hebrew increasingly became a spoken language of daily affairs, and finally became a systematic and national language. Yet Ben-Yehuda's fame and notoriety stems from his initiation and symbolic leadership of the Hebrew revival.

Ben-Yehuda's main innovation in the revival of the Hebrew language lies in his having invented many new words to denote objects unknown in Jewish antiquity, or that had long been forgotten in their original Hebrew usage and context. He invented words such as ḥatzil (חציל‎) for an eggplant (aubergine) [adapted from Arabic ḥayṣal (حَيْصَل‎)][20] and ḥashmal (חשמל‎) [adapted from Akkadian elmešu][21] for electricity,[22][21] although the latter word (ḥashmal), found in the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 1, has been explained by Rabbi Yehuda in the 1st-century CE as meaning "fiery creatures who speak."[23]

As no Hebrew equivalent could be found for the names of certain produce native to the New World, he devised new Hebrew words for maize and tomato, calling them tiras (תירס‎) and ʿagvaniyyah (עגבניה‎), respectively. The former word derives from the name of a son of Japheth (Ṯīrās) listed in Genesis 10 who was sometimes identified with the Turkish people, who have been traditionally considered as the main source of distribution of maize in Europe.[24] The latter word was calqued from the German Liebesapfel (literally “love apple”), from the triconsonantal Hebrew root ע־ג־ב meaning lust. The new name, suggested by Yechiel Michel Pines, was rejected by Ben-Yehudah, who thought it too vulgar, suggesting instead that it be called badūrah.[25] Eventually the name ʿagvaniyyah supplanted the other name.

Sometimes, old Hebrew words took on different meanings altogether. For example, the Hebrew word kǝvīš (כביש‎), which now denotes a "street" or a "road," is actually an Aramaic adjective meaning "trodden down; blazed", rather than a common noun. It was originally used to describe "a blazed trail".[26] In what most rabbis view as an error, Ben-Yehuda is accredited with introducing the new Hebrew word ribah (ריבה‎) for "confiture; marmalade", believing it to be derived from the lexical root reḇaḇ, and related to the Arabic word murabba (jam; fruit conserves; marmalade).[27] He also invented the word tapuz (תפוז‎) for the citrus fruit orange, which is a combination of tapuaḥ (apple) + zahav (golden), or "golden apple".

The word tirosh (תירוש‎), mentioned 38 times in the Hebrew Bible, is now widely used in Modern Hebrew to signify "grape-juice", although in its original usage, it is merely a synonym for vintage wine.[28]

Three stages of revival

The revival of spoken Hebrew can be separated into three stages, which are concurrent with (1) the First Aliyah, (2) the Second Aliyah, and (3) the British Mandate period. In the first period, the activity centered on Hebrew schools in the Settlements and in the Pure Language Society;[29] in the second period, Hebrew was used in assembly meetings and public activities; and in the third period, it became the language used by the Yishuv, the Jewish population during the Mandate Period, for general purposes. At this stage, Hebrew possessed both spoken and written forms, and its importance was reflected in the official status of Hebrew during the British Mandate.[30] All of the stages were characterized by the establishment of many organizations that took an active and ideological part in Hebrew activities. This resulted in the establishment of Hebrew high schools (גימנסיות), the Hebrew University, the Jewish Legion, the Histadrut labor organization, and in Tel Aviv—the first Hebrew city.

Hebrew and Yiddish

Throughout all periods, Hebrew signified for both its proponents and detractors the antithesis of Yiddish. Against the exilic Yiddish language stood revived Hebrew, the language of Zionism, of grassroots pioneers, and above all, of the transformation of the Jews into a Hebrew nation with its own land. Yiddish was degradingly referred to as a jargon, and its speakers encountered harsh opposition, which finally led to a Language War between Yiddish and Hebrew.[14]

Nonetheless, some linguists, such as Ghil'ad Zuckermann believe that "Yiddish is a primary contributor to Israeli Hebrew because it was the mother tongue of the vast majority of language revivalists and first pioneers in Eretz Yisrael at the crucial period of the beginning of Israeli Hebrew".[31] According to Zuckermann, although the revivalists wished to speak Hebrew with Semitic grammar and pronunciation, they could not avoid the Ashkenazi mindset arising from their European background. He argues that their attempt to deny their European roots, negate diasporism and avoid hybridity (as reflected in Yiddish) failed. "Had the language revivalists been Arabic-speaking Jews (e.g. from Morocco), Israeli Hebrew would have been a totally different language—both genetically and typologically, much more Semitic. The impact of the founder population on Israeli Hebrew is incomparable with that of later immigrants."[31]

First Aliyah (1882–1903)

Further information: First Aliyah

The Haviv elementary school

With the rise of Jewish nationalism in 19th-century Europe, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was captivated by the innovative ideas of Zionism. At that time, it was believed that one of the criteria needed to define a nation worthy of national rights was its use of a common language spoken by both the society and the individual. On 13 October 1881, while in Paris, Ben-Yehuda began speaking Hebrew with friends in what is believed to be the first modern conversation using the language.[32] Later that year, he made aliyah and came to live in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, Ben-Yehuda tried to garner support for the idea of speaking Hebrew. He determined that his family would only speak Hebrew, and raised his children to be native Hebrew speakers. His first child, a son named Itamar Ben-Avi, who was born in Jerusalem on 31 July 1882, became the first native speaker of Modern Hebrew. Ben-Yehuda attempted to convince other families to do so as well, founded associations for speaking Hebrew, began publishing the Hebrew newspaper HaZvi, and for a short while taught at Hebrew schools, for the first time making use of the method of "Hebrew in Hebrew". In 1889, there were plays in Hebrew and schools teaching children to speak Hebrew.[29] Ben-Yehuda's efforts to persuade Jewish families to use only Hebrew in daily life at home met very limited success. According to Ben-Yehuda, ten years after his immigration to Palestine, there were only four families in Jerusalem that used Hebrew exclusively. According to the Hashkafa newspaper, there were ten such families in 1900.[33]

On the other hand, during the Ottoman era, widespread activity began in the moshavot, or agricultural settlements, of the First Aliyah, which was concentrated in the Hebrew schools. A Hebrew boarding school was established by Aryeh Leib Frumkin in 1884, where religious studies were conducted in Hebrew and students spoke Hebrew with their teachers and among themselves. In 1886, the Haviv elementary school was established in the Jewish settlement of Rishon LeZion, where the classes were taught exclusively in Hebrew. The Haviv school is recognized as the first Hebrew school of modern times. From the 1880s onward, schools in the agricultural settlements gradually began teaching general subjects in Hebrew. In 1889, Israel Belkind opened a school in Jaffa that taught Hebrew and used it as the primary language of instruction. It survived for three years.[34] The Literature Council, which was based on the Clear Language Society was founded in 1890 to experiment in the municipal and rural schools. It showed the possibility to make Hebrew the only language in the settlement.[29] At this point, progress was slow, and it encountered many difficulties: parents were opposed to their children learning in an impractical language, useless in higher education; the four-year schools for farmers' children were not of a high caliber; and a great lack of linguistic means for teaching Hebrew plus the lack of words to describe day-to-day activities, not to mention the absence of Hebrew schoolbooks. Added to these, there was no agreement on which accent to use, as some teachers taught Ashkenazi Hebrew while others taught Sephardi Hebrew.

In 1889, Ben-Yehuda, together with rabbis Yaakov Meir and Chaim Hirschensohn and educator Chaim Kalmi, founded the Clear Language Society, with the goal of teaching Hebrew. The company taught Hebrew and encouraged Hebrew education in schools, heders, and yeshivas. Initially, it hired Hebrew-speaking women to teach Jewish women and girls spoken and written Hebrew. In 1890, the company established the Hebrew Language Committee, which coined new Hebrew words for everyday use and for a wide variety of modern uses and encouraged the use of grammatically correct Hebrew. Although the organization collapsed in 1891, the Hebrew Language Committee continued to function. It published books, dictionaries, bulletins, and periodicals, inventing thousands of new words.[35] The Hebrew Language Committee continued to function until 1953, when it was succeeded by the Academy of the Hebrew Language.

A Hebrew boys' school opened in Jaffa in 1893, followed by a Hebrew girls' school. Although some subjects were taught in French, Hebrew was the primary language of instruction. Over the next decade, the girls' school became a major center of Hebrew education and activism. In 1898, the first Hebrew kindergarten opened in Rishon LeZion.[34] It was followed by a second one in Jerusalem in 1903.

In 1903, the Union of Hebrew Teachers was founded, and sixty educators participated in its inaugural assembly. Though not extremely impressive from a quantitative viewpoint, the Hebrew school program did create a nucleus of a few hundred fluent Hebrew speakers and proved that Hebrew could be used in the day-to-day context.

Second Aliyah (1904–1914)

Further information: Second Aliyah

The Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium

As the Second Aliyah began, Hebrew usage began to break out of the family and school framework into the public venue. Motivated by an ideology of rejecting the Diaspora and its Yiddish culture, the members of the Second Aliyah established relatively closed-off social cells of young people with a common world view. In these social cells—mostly in the moshavot—Hebrew was used in all public assemblages. Though not spoken in all homes and private settings yet, Hebrew had secured its place as the exclusive language of assemblies, conferences, and discussions. Educated Second Aliyah members already were familiar with the literary Hebrew that had developed in Europe, and they identified with the notion that Hebrew could serve as an impetus for the national existence for the Jewish people in Israel.[10][36] This group was joined by the aforementioned graduates of Hebrew schools, who had already begun to raise native-born speakers of Hebrew in their families. During this period, the World Zionist Congress also adopted Hebrew as its official language.

Hebrew education continued to expand, as more and more Hebrew educational institutions came about. The number of Hebrew kindergartens continued to grow. In 1905, Yehuda Leib and Fania Matman-Cohen, a couple of educators, began teaching the first high school classes in Hebrew in their apartment in Jaffa.[37] Hebrew teachers recreated the Hebrew Language Committee, which began to determine uniform linguistic rules, as opposed to the disjointed ones that had arisen previously.[29] The Council declared as its mission "to prepare the Hebrew language for use as a spoken language in all affairs of life," formulated rules of pronunciation and grammar, and offered new words for use in schools and by the general public.

The widespread production of Hebrew schoolbooks also began, and Mother Goose-style rhymes were written for children. During the first decade of 20th century, Epstein's and Wilkomitz's Hebrew education, which restricted the children from speaking Yiddish not only in school but also at home and on the street, made progress toward wider use of Hebrew.[10] The first native speakers of Hebrew, who had mainly learned it in the Hebrew schools of the First Aliyah period and came to speak it as their primary language, reached adulthood during this time. Aside from rare exceptions who had been born prior such as Itamar Ben-Avi, the first generation of children who acquired Modern Hebrew as native speakers at home from their parents rather than mainly learning it at school were born during this decade, to parents who had attended the Hebrew schools of the First Aliyah period.[38] In addition, many of the Jewish immigrants during this period had reasonable Hebrew reading proficiency acquired from their education prior to arriving in the country. Most still learned it as a second language. Due to the growth of the number of native speakers and proficiency among second-language speakers, the Hebrew press was able to grow. During this period, it greatly increased in popularity and circulation. In 1912, it was observed that there was hardly a young Jew in the country who could not read a Hebrew newspaper.

In 1909, the first Hebrew city, Tel Aviv, was established. In its streets and in cafes, Hebrew was already widely spoken. The entire administration of the city was carried out in Hebrew, and new olim or those not yet speaking Hebrew were forced to speak in Hebrew. Street signs and public announcements were written in Hebrew. A new building for the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, a continuation of the first Hebrew high school established by the Matman-Cohens, was built in the city that same year.

The pinnacle of Hebrew's development during this period came in 1913, in the so-called "War of the Languages:" The Company for Aiding German Jews, then planning the establishment of a school for engineers (first known as the Technikum and for which construction had begun in 1912),[39] insisted that German should be its language of instruction, arguing among other things that German possessed an extensive scientific and technical vocabulary while a parallel vocabulary drawn from Hebrew would need to be created from scratch, often using calques or translations of terms anyway. Substantial unanimity of opinion in the Yishuv ran against this proposal, which was defeated, leading to the founding of Israel's foremost institute of technology, the Technion, with a curriculum taught in Hebrew. This incident is seen as a watershed marking the transformation of Hebrew into the official language of the Yishuv.

Also in 1913, the Language Committee voted to establish the official pronunciation of Hebrew - a pronunciation loosely based on the Hebrew pronunciation of Sephardic communities because it sounded more "authentic" to their ears than the Ashkenazic pronunciation of European Jewish communities.[40]

As a greater number of children passed through Hebrew language schools, the number of people who spoke Hebrew as their first language grew. As the number of people whose primary language was Hebrew increased, so did the demand for Hebrew reading materials and entertainment such as books, newspapers, and plays. During World War I, about 34,000 Jews in Palestine recorded Hebrew as their native language.[41]

Mandate period (1919–1948)

Further information: Mandatory Palestine

After World War I, when Palestine came under British rule, first under the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration and then under the Mandate for Palestine, Hebrew continued to develop as the main language of the Yishuv, or Jewish population of Palestine. It was legislated under the Mandate that English, Hebrew, and Arabic would be the official spoken languages of Palestine.[30] In 1919, a centralized Jewish school system in which the language of instruction was Hebrew was established. As the Yishuv grew, the immigrants arriving from the diaspora did not speak Hebrew as a mother tongue, and learned it as a second language either prior to their immigration or in Palestine, while their children picked up Hebrew as their native language. At this time, the use of Hebrew as the lingua franca of the Yishuv was already a fait accompli, and the revival process was no longer a process of creation, but a process of expansion. In Tel Aviv, the Battalion for the Defence of the Language was established, which worked to enforce Hebrew use. Jews who were overheard speaking other languages on the street were admonished: "Jew, speak Hebrew" (Yehudi, daber ivrit/יהודי, דבר עברית), or, more alliteratively, "Hebrew [man], speak Hebrew" (Ivri, daber ivrit/עברי, דבר עברית) was a campaign initiated by Ben-Yehuda's son, Itamar Ben-Avi.

The Academy of Hebrew Language focused on the structure and the spelling of Hebrew and prompted the issues about the further expansion of the use of Hebrew in Mandatory Palestine. The Academy worked with the Language College to publish the Ben-Sira in a scientific form.[29]

The 1922 census of Palestine lists 80,396 Hebrew speakers in Mandatory Palestine (829 in the Southern District, 60,326 in Jerusalem-Jaffa, 706 in Samaria, and 18,625 in the Northern District), including 65,447 in municipal areas (32,341 in Jerusalem, 19,498 in Jaffa, 5,683 in Haifa, 44 in Gaza, 425 in Hebron, 15 in Nablus, 2,937 in Safad, 6 in Lydda, 43 in Nazareth, 27 in Ramleh, 4,280 in Tiberias, 13 in Acre, 21 in Tulkarem, 7 in Ramallah, 2 in Jenin, 86 in Beersheba, and 13 in Baisan).[42]

State of Israel

Spoken Language and Hebrew proficiency, by Sex in Israel according to the 1948 Census
Israel: Day to Day Spoken Language, Among Non-Hebrew Speakers in the Jewish Population (1948)

By the time Israel was established in 1948, 80.9% of Jews who had been born in Palestine spoke Hebrew as their only language in daily life, and another 14.2% of Palestine-born Jews used it as a first among two or more languages. The small minority of Jews who had been born in Palestine but did not use Hebrew as a first language had mainly grown up before the development of the Hebrew school system.[43]

Following Israeli independence, large waves of Jewish refugees came from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and other parts of the world. The Israeli population increased significantly, doubling within a short period of time.[44] These immigrants spoke a variety of languages and had to be taught Hebrew. While immigrant children were expected to learn Hebrew through school, much effort was put into ensuring adults would learn the language. The institution of the ulpan, or intensive Hebrew-language school, was established to teach immigrants basic Hebrew language skills, and an ulpan course became a major feature of the experience of immigrating to Israel.

Young adult immigrants picked up much of their Hebrew through mandatory military service in the Israel Defense Forces, which aimed to teach soldiers Hebrew so they could function in the military and post-military civilian life. During the 1950s, Hebrew was taught in most military bases by recruited teachers and female soldiers. A 1952 order demanded that soldiers be taught Hebrew until they could converse freely on everyday matters, write a letter to their commander, understand a basic lecture, and read a vowelized newspaper. Soldiers also absorbed Hebrew through their regular service. Soldiers who were about to finish their service without a grasp of Hebrew deemed sufficient were sent to a special Hebrew school founded by the army for the last three months of their service. Immigrants from Arab countries tended to pick up Hebrew faster than European immigrants, due to Arabic being a Semitic language like Hebrew.

In daily life, immigrants largely limited their use of Hebrew to when they needed to, most often in their working lives, and to a somewhat lesser extent to satisfy cultural needs. They tended to use their native languages more when socializing and interacting with family. In 1954, about 60% of the population reported the use of more than one language. The children of these immigrants tended to pick up Hebrew as their first language, while their parents' native languages were either used as second languages or lost to them altogether. The Israeli Arab minority also began learning Hebrew, as Hebrew lessons were introduced into Arab schools.[43] In 1948, the study of Hebrew was made compulsory in Arab schools from the third grade to high school, though the general language of instruction remained Arabic.[45] This created a situation in which the Arab minority would continue to use Arabic as its native language but also become proficient in Hebrew.

See also


  1. ^ Parfitt, Tudor (1972) 'The Use of Hebrew in Palestine 1800–1822.' Journal of Semitic Studies, 17 (2). pp. 237–252.
  2. ^ Tudor Parfitt; ”The Contribution of the Old Yishuv to the Revival of Hebrew“, Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol. XXIX, Iss. 2, 1 October 1984, pp. 255–265,
  3. ^ Parfitt, Tudor (1983) ”Ahad Ha-Am's Role in the Revival and Development of Hebrew.” In: Kornberg, J., (ed.), At the crossroads: essays on Ahad Ha-am. New York: State University of New York Press, pp. 12–27.
  4. ^ Parfitt, Tudor (1995) ”Peretz Smolenskin, the Revival of Hebrew and Jewish Education.” In: Abramson, G. and Parfitt, T., (eds.), Jewish education and learning : published in honour of Dr. David Patterson on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. Chur, Switzerland: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 1–11.
  5. ^ Halbfinger, David M.; Kershner, Isabel (19 July 2018). "Israeli Law Declares the Country the 'Nation-State of the Jewish People'". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  6. ^ "The Hebraization of Surnames". Jewish Agency for Israel. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 7 January 2009.
  7. ^ Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, p. 442. " Yet in all [of young David Ben-Gurion's] activity, three salient principles remained constant. First, Jews must make it their priority to return to the land; ‘the settlement of the land is the only true Zionism, all else being self-deception, empty verbiage and merely a pastime’. [Quoted in Encyclopaedia Judaica, iv 506.] Second, the structure of the new community must be designed to assist this process within a socialist framework. Third, the cultural binding of the Zionist society must be the Hebrew language.
  8. ^ The Origin of the Hebrew Language
  9. ^ A Short History of the Hebrew Language, Chaim Rabin, Jewish Agency and Alpha Press, Jerusalem, 1973
  10. ^ a b c Bar-Adon, Aaron (1975). The Rise and Decline of a Dialect: A Study in the Revival of Modern Hebrew. Mouton. ISBN 9783111803661.
  11. ^ Eliav, Mordechai (1978). Eretz Israel and Its Yishuv in the 19th Century, 1777–1917.
  12. ^ a b Izre'el, Shlomo. "The Emergence of Spoken Israeli Hebrew" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Online Books by Israel Wolf Sperling". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  14. ^ a b c d Seidman, Naomi (1997). A Marriage Made in Heaven – The Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20193-0.
  15. ^ Rin, Svi (April 1966). "גדולי הינוך בעמנו Book Review". Jewish Social Studies. 28: 127–128.
  16. ^ "China Virtual Jewish History Tour".
  17. ^ "This week in history: Revival of the Hebrew language". 15 October 2010.
  18. ^ "Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and the Making of Modern Hebrew".
  19. ^ Harshav, Benjamin (February 2009), "Flowers Have No Names: The revival of Hebrew as a living language after two thousand years was no miracle", Natural History, 118 (1): 24–29.
  20. ^ "حيصل - Wiktionary". Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  21. ^ a b Black, Jeremy (2001). "Amethysts". Iraq. 63: 183–186. doi:10.2307/4200510. ISSN 0021-0889. JSTOR 4200510. S2CID 232249061. On the origin of the Near Eastern archaeological amber (Akkadian elmesu; Hebrew hasmal).
  22. ^ These words are marked as "New Words" in the Even-Shoshan Hebrew Dictionary, s.v. חצילים; see: Modern Hebrew usages. Ḥashmal is found only once in the Hebrew Bible, in Ezekiel's vision of the chariot (Ezek. 1:4; 1:27), but has been explained in a medieval Judeo-Arabic lexicon (reprinted in the book, Jewish Culture in Muslim Lands and Cairo Geniza Studies, ed. Yosef Tobi, Tel-Aviv University: Tel-Aviv 2006, p. 61 [note 114]) as being some angelic entity that had "utmost strength". Others have explained it to mean an angel that changes hues.
  23. ^ Moses de León, The Zohar (Book of Exodus): Aramaic: חיות אשא ממללא
  24. ^ "tiras". Balashon - Hebrew Language Detective. Retrieved 29 May 2022.
  25. ^ Philologos (25 February 2009). "At Last, Pomedorn!". The Forward. Archived from the original on 7 August 2022. Retrieved 8 January 2024.
  26. ^ Compare Rashi's commentary on Exodus 9:17, where he says the word mesilah is translated in Aramaic oraḥ kevīsha (a blazed trail), the word "kevīsh" being only an adjective or descriptive word, but not a common noun as it is used today. It is said that Ze'ev Yavetz (1847–1924) is the one that coined this modern Hebrew word for “road.” See Haaretz, Contributions made by Ze'ev Yavetz; Maltz, Judy (25 January 2013). "With Tu Bishvat Near, a Tree Grows in Zichron Yaakov". Haaretz. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  27. ^ Eliezer Ben-Yehuda on the use of the word ribah for confiture (in Hebrew). Ha-Zvi, 9 March 1888.
  28. ^ Professor Zohar Amar, of Bar-Ilan University The Wine of our ancestors in Ancient Times on YouTube, Lecture published by The Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology. Bar-Ilan University / 20 February 2020, minutes 20:29–20:38. (in Hebrew)
  29. ^ a b c d e Saulson, Scott B. (1979). Institutionalized Language Planning – Documents and Analysis of the Revival of Hebrew. Mouton Publishers. ISBN 90-279-7567-1.
  30. ^ a b Mandate over Palestine, 24 July 1922
  31. ^ a b See p. 63 in Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2006), "A New Vision for 'Israeli Hebrew': Theoretical and Practical Implications of Analysing Israel's Main Language as a Semi-Engineered Semito-European Hybrid Language", Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 5 (1), pp. 57–71.
  32. ^ Omer-Man, Michael (12 October 2011). "This Week in History: Hebrew goes conversational". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  33. ^ Hagege, Claude: On the Death and Life of Languages
  34. ^ a b Segal, Myriam: A New Sound in Hebrew Poetry: Poetics, Politics, Accent
  35. ^ The New Jewish Encyclopedia – Vaad Ha-Lashon Ha-Ivrit
  36. ^ Haramati, Sh (1979). Reshit hachinuch ha'ivri ba'arec utrumato lehachya'at halashon.
  37. ^ "1909: First Hebrew high school in pre-state Israel is founded". Haaretz.
  38. ^ Lepschy, Giulio C.: Mother Tongues and Other Reflections on the Italian Language, p. 16
  39. ^ Technion Israel Institute of Technology. "Technion History: A story of how one stone changed the world [Web page]." (n.d.)
  40. ^ HNet Humanities and Social Sciences Online, Haim Rechnitzer, "Rechnitzer on Segal, 'A New Sound in Hebrew Poetry: Poetics, Politics, Accent'"
  41. ^ Strazny, Philip: Encyclopedia of Linguistics, p. 541
  42. ^ Palestine Census (1922).
  43. ^ a b Helman, Anat: Becoming Israeli: National Ideals and Everyday Life in the 1950s
  44. ^ "The Mass Migration to Israel of the 1950s".
  45. ^ Amara, M.; Mar'i, Abd Al-Rahman (11 April 2006). Language Education Policy: The Arab Minority in Israel. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-0-306-47588-7.