, , , , , , , ,

“The struggle for the revival of Hebrew as a living, modern language might provide a good illustration of the range of options in the fulfillment of national obligations. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858– 1922) led the effort to turn biblical Hebrew into a living language. He was a “lingual zealot.” Although Hebrew lacked many words necessary for life in a secular, mundane, and prosaic context, Ben-Yehuda insisted on speaking only Hebrew and invented new words as needed, which he registered in his dictionary. For Ben-Yehuda’s supporters, speaking any language but Hebrew meant betraying their national duties. Much later, during the 1970s and 1980s, Jewish dissidents in the Soviet Union were ready to risk imprisonment for teaching Hebrew. Today, Hebrew is the mother tongue of several million people for whom speaking Hebrew is no longer part of a conscious and deliberate effort. Many Israelis today feel safe enough to incorporate English words when speaking or writing in Hebrew. They are no longer purists of their own language but are open to learning others as well as incorporating foreign expressions. By using the language, they fulfill their national obligation and contribute to the process of re-creating their own culture. Nevertheless, were they ever threatened or forbidden to speak their language, they too might be ready to risk their liberty and their lives for it.”

p. 88 – Liberal Nationalism, Yael Tamer, 1993.