At the behest of my friend and colleague, Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, I finally read Tongue of the Prophets by Robert St. John.
Let me tell you … I could not put it down, and even got Monique reading it. So if you are looking for some great Summer reading … here you go.
Tongue of the Prophets is the riveting biography of Eliezer Ben-Yehudah, the father of Modern Hebrew, who single handedly resurrected Hebrew into a living, spoken modern language. And he did this in spite of constant opposition and ridicule during his lifetime. As with so many great individuals in history, he was only truly appreciated after his death.
But in addition to his efforts at reviving Hebrew as a spoken language, what many people are not aware of is his constant struggle for the establishment of a Jewish homeland. Long before Herzl wrote his famous Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), Ben-Yehudah had written two appeals in Hebrew for the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel.
He immigrated to Jerusalem in 1881, and following his lead, many young idealists also began moving to Israel to establish kibbutzim and moshavim. He personally was a driving force for these early waves of settlement. In addition to his being the Father of Modern Hebrew, he may well have been the true Father of Zionism.
The book sat on my bookshelf for many years, and I have always intended to read it, but just never got around to it. Thanks to Rabbi Dauermann, I am so glad I read it. The book is anything but boring and gives a fascinating look at not only the personal life and struggles of Ben-Yehudah, but what life was like in Jerusalem under the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate, the early Zionist Movement in Europe, and the settlement of Israel in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
In the epilogue to the book, the author writes of Ben-Yehudah:
“In life he had been fought, denounced, vilified by Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazic Jews, by Zionists and non-Zionists, by haters of Hebrew and lovers of Hebrew, the Orthodox and the un-Orthodox, Jews in Palestine and Jews out in the Diaspora.
In death thirty thousand Jews followed his body to the grave. School children with black-draped flags. Ultra-religious Jews with long side curls and garments reminiscent of the ghettos of Europe. Jewish businessmen, very Western-looking, from Tel Aviv and Haifa. Healthy young pioneers who had been streaming in for two days from remote colonies. Jewish soldiers, Jewish scholars, Jewish statesmen. There were Christians and Arabs in the procession, and British High officials. Dominican monks and Franciscan monks and Moslem leaders.
Palestine was ordered to observe three days of national mourning. Palestine wept, knowing a man had died who had all the qualifications of greatness (p. 364).”
This book is fascinating and reads like a novel, full of suspense, love, heartache, joy, and suffering. For those who love history or desire to be inspired by a great figure, I highly recommend this book. You will not be sorry.
The book is available online through Amazon and other book sellers.