Notable Quotable – on Eliezar Ben-Yehuda

Eliezar Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922) was the man who singlehandedly resurrected the Hebrew language for modern use, beginning in the last quarter of the 19th century.  Using legitimate grammatical processes extrapolated from ancient Hebrew texts, he developed the many thousands of new words necessary for modern life.  He reasoned that it was only a matter of time before the Jews had their own state, and he wanted to make sure they had their own language waiting for them when that occurred!  Among his other accomplishments from working sometimes eighteen hours a day was his remarkable seventeen-volume, “A Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew.” It was completed by his second wife, Hemda, and his son after his death.

But as the Talmud says, “all beginnings are hard,” and so was his.  Michael Brenner reports,

Since Eliezar Ben-Yehudah did not have the most important basic terms of the modern language at his disposal in the late 19th century (when he began his project), the Hebrew spoken in his home was woefully inadequate.  If, for example, he asked his wife, who understood very little Hebrew anyway, for a cup of coffee, his own vocabulary lacked the words for cup, saucer, spoon and pour.  His son Itamar Ben-Avi later recalled Ben-Yehuda gesticulating while saying, “Take that and do that and bring that and I’ll drink.” (Michael Brenner, Zionism: A Brief History, Trans. by Shelley L. Frisch, Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2004) 80.

Let that be an encouragement to any of us struggling to learn a language!

About Stuart Dauermann

The blog of Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, teacher, mentor, radio talk show host, denizen of Los Angeles, and a visionary with a long career in Messianic Jewish activism. You can hear Rabbi Dauermann as he hosts Shalom Talk, a weekly radio show, and even listen online at ShalomTalk.com. Rabbi Dauermann spends time traveling nationally and internationally, and throughout the year is in Israel as a Scholar in Residence at the MJTI Jerusalem Center. He has plenty to say about Jewish-Christian relations, the need for shalom in the world, and the agenda of Messiah, the Son of David.
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2 Responses to Notable Quotable – on Eliezar Ben-Yehuda

  1. M Hurley says:

    When I lived in Israel his daughter, Dola Whitman (who was in her 70s at the time) came to my class to speak. I’ll never forget it. Ben Yehuda is for me an icon of chutzpah (imagine calling your dog in the Loyshen haKoydesh), vision (working up to 22 hours a day) and a living embodiment of N’vua (prophecy–the revival of a people).

    איך הדקדוק שלך?

  2. M Hurley says:

    PS–It’s Wittmann. My memory apparently doesn’t include spelling.

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