Language

The modern Hebrew language Israelis use today is another in a line of incarnations of the ancient language born in the Middle East among the Semitic languages. There is a specific feature which links it with other languages of this group: the words are based on roots (Hebr. shorashim) consisting of three consonants.

The alphabet we use today when putting the modern Hebrew into writing, and which was also used to record Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) is an alphabet of consonants. In the Biblical Hebrew, we have at our disposal vocalisation (Hebr. niqqud), a system of diacritical signs used to represent vowels. Today, we will find vocalisation only in texts intended for Hebrew learners. Another characteristic common to Semitic languages is that it is written from right to left.

It is generally accepted that Hebrew functioned as a spoken language at a time the Jews lived in the ancient Land of Israel: from the settlement of the Jewish tribes in Canaan to the destruction of the Second Temple. In later periods, Hebrew developed as the language of the Talmudic sages, of medieval Jewish poetry, of scientific and religious treatises and, naturally, of prayer and liturgy. It also continued as a spoken language, serving as a kind of lingua franca for educated Jews of all parts of the world.

We owe idea of reviving the Hebrew as the national language of the Jews to Haskala, the “Jewish Enlightenment” movement that developed in Europe at the turn of the 18th century. The writers initially involved in it wanted to rely solely on the classical language of the Hebrew Bible, but after some time the attitudes changed and the nascent modern Hebrew incorporated elements of other varieties of that language as well as entirely new words. Hebrew soon became a language in which periodicals, newspapers, literary works (original and translated), dictionaries and scholarly works were produced.

One of the most important figures in the revival of Hebrew was Eliezer Ben‑Yehuda, a nineteenth-century linguist, journalist and writer, a co-founder of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, and the creator of one of the first modern Hebrew dictionaries. He was also the forerunner of the Hebrew-based Hebrew language teaching method (Ivrit B’ivrit), still successfully used today by the Israeli Ulpan system (language schools). He also introduced many new words we deem essential Hebrew today into the language.

The community of the Hebrew speakers grew over time, as the respective waves of aliya (immigration) brought in new Jewish settlers to the Land of Israel. Soon, the language became one of the main languages spoken in the British Mandate, and in 1922 it was recognised as an official language there. Since then, all the Jews coming to the Land of Israel and after 1948 to the State of Israel, whether as immigrants or tourists, have encountered Hebrew as a dynamic idiom naturally used in every aspect of life.

For many years now, the Professor Moses Schorr Foundation in Warsaw has been offering modern Hebrew language courses at many levels for all willing to learn the language. The courses are conducted by experienced teachers and native speakers, and relay on materials and teaching aids developed in Israel. Group classes there normally run to regular schedules in afternoon sessions; individual tutoring is also available. Detailed information on the class timing and organisation can be obtained from the Foundation staff (tel. 22 620 34 96, e-mail schorr@jewish.org.pl or through the Foundation’s Facebook fan page).