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The Hebrew language

The Hebrew language:


Why does the Hebrew serve a minor and difficult language spoken by less than seven million persons? This is the question that often the students raise in diverse countries, who, after the secondary school, are conscious of the enormous respect agreed the classic civilizations of Greece and Rome. For whom "classic language" is synonymous of "dead language", the modern languages turn out to be at least a practical instrument that it helps to the study in prestigious professional fields: English, for the technology and the international relations; French so associated with the fashion, the kitchen and the art; the Italian, with the music and the opera; German, with the philosophy, the medicine and the psychology.

The negative attitude of the present generation with regard to foreign languages in general exists also, ironically, between many Jewish students of the Diaspora, to whom the Hebrew seems of scarce utility, except for the synagog or to visit Israel, for being an exotic oriental language without any relation with the European languages. Due to his Semitic origin, his vocabulary, grammar and alphabet they turn out to be seemingly strange. They reinforce this impression the memories of traditional classes of Hebrew in the synagog, and, in the mind of many of his parents, those of the image of the fourth wretch and illuminated evil (the jéder) in some shtetl of oriental Europe, presided by a bearded rabbi who hoists a rule, ready to make her crack on some absent-minded one while it recites mechanically his class.

The stereotyped image of the Hebrew like language belonging to the rite and to the prayer is completely incorrect, and it forbids us to appreciate the immense debt of the western civilization for with him, parallel to the one that it has with the Greek and the Latin. During the Renaissance, the Christian students were interested deeply by the Ancient Testament and produced new translations of the same one from the Hebrew original, like substitutes of the Latin translation, the Vulgata. We find this interest, for example, in the poetry of William Blake and John Milton (who was reading and the Hebrew was writing fluidamente), and in the famous picture of Rembrandt "The writing in the wall". The Tower Redonda in Conpenhague has recorded the Latin word Doctrinament, a sword, a heart and the God's name with four Hebrew letters of the Tetragrama, indicating that the doctrine of the Protestant monarch was to allow that to be guided his heart by the God's word. The Hebrew letters were there to demonstrate that the king was faithful to the "original" God word in Hebrew and not across inaccurate translations. This loyalty to the original Hebrew of the sacred texts had been demonstrated previously by the Christian scholar Johann Reuchlin (1455-022), whose study of the Hebrew Writing influenced so that educated clergymen were preventing the fire of the Talmud like book heretic.

The Hebrew occupied a prominent place in the puritanical movement in England, so much due to the desire to read the Bible in the original as for the belief of which the Hebrew was "The Mother of the Languages". It culminated when, during the Republic of Oliver Cromwell, a motion presented to the House of Commons in 1649 proposed to institute like Day of Gentleman to Saturday, the "Real Shabat", instead of Sunday. The poet John Milton (108-1674) was a devout Hebraist, whom Cromwell named "Secretary of Foreign languages". John Selden (084-1654) was a well-known legal expert whose study of the Biblical sources and talmúdicas of the ancient Jewish law (in Hebrew and in Aramaic) it helped to remodel the British legal system and to establish the privilege of the individual against the self-incrimination.

The English puritanical emigrants helped to turn the Hebrew partly of the studies programs into North American universities as out-standing as Harvard, Columbia, yale, Brown, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth and Pennsylvania; yale, Columbia and Dartmouth still have Hebrew inscriptions in his stamps. In his first years, in the university of Harvard it was assined more hours to the study of the Hebrew than to that of the Latin or the Greek. This role of the Hebrew in the programs continued up to the decade of 1820. The postgraduates of the School of Theology had to be capable of reading the Ancient Testament in his original language still current demand in Denmark.

Our notion of the ancient history has been shaped by the enormous roll that Greece, Rome and the Christianity redeemed with his not objective attitude towards his Jewish origins in the formation and development of what it is known as a western civilization. This term is really incorrect, since part of his fundamental bases the monotheism, the Judeo-Christian ethics, the alphabet originated in the Middle East, heart of the ancient world that was spreading from the Aegean Sea and the Delta of the Nile across the Levant, Phoenicia and Israel, up to the Mesopotamia (included the kingdoms and empires of Acadia, Assyria, the hititas and Babylonia).

This vision of the history is mistakenly compartimentalizada in separated categories - Greece, Troy, Egypt, Rome, Israel, Carthage, without a suitable comprehension and appreciation of the common sources of the legacy that would be consolidated under the Roman Empire, later identified like "western". The practice of distinguishing between "this one" and "west" originated in fact in the Vth century, when the schism took place between the Orthodox Church, with base in Constantinople, and the Catholic Church of Rome.

At present, it turns out to be clear that the Ancient Testament and the Hebrew language possessed many connections with the early Greek civilization and his classic works, the Iliad and the Odyssey. More than 30 years ago, the Prof. Cyrus Gordon pointed out in his great work common background of the civilizations Greek and Hebrew that both drank in a common legacy caused in the oriental Mediterranean, and numerous cultural contacts existed between them. "Only two of the ethnic groups that emerged in the oriental Mediterranean during the second millenium have enjoyed a conscious historical continuity up to the present: the Greeks and the Hebrews", he stood out.

This fact was ignored for the long time because few investigators were expert simultaneously in the Greek and Hebrew languages. An examination of the big works of the Hebraic and Hellenic civilizations throws light on similar customs, common characteristics in the monarchical system, the military strategy and the technology, the sacrifices, the music and the attitude earlier the focal problems of the human destination the evil and the suffering, as they describe the Book of Job and the big Greek tragedies. These central elements of the "western" civilization originated in the Near East, in ancient Israel and Greece (which then was including Crete, Cyprus and big part of Asia Minor).

The winners always write the history. Rome defeated Greece, in an almost completely pacific process, and there absorbed big part of the Greek legacy mythology, philosophy, laws. Another two rivals, on the other hand, were squashed in a series of violent wars: Israel and Carthage. The above mentioned were sharing big part of the Semitic tradition in his language, and they did not accept the pretensions for which Rome believed a top civilization. The Phoenicians of Shot and Sidón had been allied of the ancient Israelite kingdom, and they helped king Salomón in the construction of the First Temple. Emigrants of these two Phoenician cities founded Carthage and preserved his language (originally called Phoenician and later púnico), which age very similar to the Hebrew. The well-known Israeli author Amós Kenán gave expression to this connection between ancient Israel and Carthage, the most harsh enemies of Rome, in a titled article "Envy to Shot", in that he wrote:

"I always felt attracted by this wonderful phenomenon that Shot and Sidón constitute; and like the one who was born in the sand of Tel Aviv, in the coastal flatness, I felt very nearby of everything what was, it is and it will be on the oriental coast of the Mediterranean, to which I belong and that it is a part of me. The Hebrew language, my today language, was 4.000 and 3.000 and 2.500 years ago spoken in Jerusalem and I pull, in Shjem and Sidón, in Iafo and in Ugarit... and in Carthage. Tiro-Sidón and Jerusalem were two axes of the same culture... the spiritual one of Jerusalem and the material of Carthage. In the days in which the prophets of Israel were trying to create a universal morality code, the Shot navigators were establishing his colonies. . Why will not we have to feel pride in our proximity to this ancient contemporary of ours that recorded his stamp in the area, it gave to the world the writing, and sent to his elephants across the Alps led by Aníbal, for a moment to put the powerful Rome under destruction threat?".

In addition to his "strange" religion, also the Hebrew language of the Jews remembered the Carthaginian enemy and his ancient language púnica. It is no wonder that the Romans, who were recognizing willingly his cultural debt to Greece, were refusing to grant any credit to the defeated Jews, Phoenicians and Carthaginians. In contrast with so many other peoples submitted to the Roman domain, these Semites were presenting an obstinate resistance and inclusive they were proclaiming the superiority of the monotheism (the first Jew and then I christen), and the Romans were proud of his alphabet, which the Greeks had adopted firstly and then. Our alphabet is a direct descendant from the ancient alphabet Phoenician - Hebrew, and it still owes his name to the first two letters of the same one, álef and bet.

No polite person can read a newspaper or hear an exhibition on arts, sciences, right, psychology, physics, mathematics, military topics or any other professional field, without coming across with a rich wealth of phrases and expressions of foreign origin that have turned partly of all the modern languages. Expressions as status quo, casus belli, laissez-faire, déj?-vu, savoir-faire, haute cuisine, allegro, pogrom, of fact, of jure, sine qua odd number, premium facie, modus vivendi, leitmotif, blitzkrieg, lebensraum, etc. (inclusive, yes, the word et cetera), are a part of our daily language.

The contribution of the Hebrew is less obvious and often spent to other languages for high, precisely because it has become so common. Cecil Roth, out-standing Jewish historian of our times, he said the following thing: "Generation after generation of Englishmen they heard the reading of the Bible in the church and studied it in his house. In many cases, it was his only book; in everything, the most important book. His cadenzas, his music, his phraseology, penetrated in his minds and turned partly of his being... This way, gradually his daily speech was enriched not only but even modulated by this influence".

If we do not know the Hebrew, his majestic cadenza and rich religious images, we can suppose that certain expression ways belong simply to the evolution of Spanish from his origins; the fact is that the translations of the Bible exercised a big influence on all the modern languages. Expressions like "a weight in the heart", "the drop that exceeds the glass", or superlatives in the style of "King of Kings" (Mélej Hamlajim), "to Sing of the Cantares" (Shir Hashirim), simply repeat literal translations of the Hebrew Bible.

The words of the Bible were adopted often and they adapted by means of a light change in the pronunciation: alphabet, on Saturday, amen, mesías, hallelujah, cherub, seraph, Satan, leviathan, jubilee, shallot (of Ashkelón), gauze (of Gaza), sodomy, the Bahamas (probably derived from Behemot, fabulous animal); the most surprising case is that of Europe, which probably derives from érev, evening, since for Hebrew and Phoenician Europe was the continent where the sun was putting itself. Many first names derive straight from the Hebrew: Jonatán, José, David, Isaac, Jacobo, Sara, Ester, Eva, Raquel, Débora, Cardigan, Reads, etc.

Certain expressions the same way used in the general speech and in the literature, originate in the Bible and hence in the Hebrew language: the writing in the wall (Daniel 5, 25), the mark of Caín (Genesis 4, 0), the goat emissary (Levítico 16, 26), the mattresses will inherit the ground (Psalms 37, 11), vineyards of anger (Deuteronomy 32, 32), the good ground (Deuteronomy 6, 18), the way of all meat (Genesis 6, 12), dust you are and you will return to the dust (Genesis 3, 19), idol of feet of mud (Daniel 2, 34), not only of bread there lives the man (Deuteronomy 8, 3).

Also cases of curious errors register in the translation. The most famous is perhaps that of keren, I "border", that was translated into the Latin as "horn". As result, generations of artists represented mistakenly to a Cradle with horns... when the Biblical text describes it radiating light! And the Red Sea (that is deeply blue) should be "Mar de Cañas" (Iam Suf).

Although the Hebrew stopped being a language spoken also in the proper territory of Judea between the IInd century AC and II DC, it kept on being the language of the Judaic religious comments, and influenced as such the hybrid Jewish languages arisen in the Diaspora, like the yídish, the Ladino or judezmo, the judeo-Greek, judeo-French, the ebri or judeo-Persian, the mógrabi or judeo-Arab, all who kept on using the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew contributed 0 % of the words in yídish, and minor proportions in other hybrids. Many Hebrew words of the yídish indicate beliefs and religious practices, but others constitute a vocabulary parallel to the words of non-Jewish origin, to designate a concept, occupation, ceremony or object of Jewish content.

During several generations, a living rivalry existed between the Hebrew and the yídish between writers, playwrights and philosophers. The followers of the yídish it proclaimed "the Jewish National Language" in a congress assembled in Czernowitz in 1908. For his part, did the Hebraists, in his congress of Vienna in 1913, declare the Hebrew like Jewish national language, emphasizing his historical continuity, the immense prestige of the Bible, his influence on big part of the European literature and his venerable antig? age. It is difficult to imagine a Zionist argument more convincing than the one that says that the Earth of Israel "speaks" Hebrew, across innumerable inscriptions in parchment, stone, clay, papyrus and wood.

The yídish lost progressively his force due to the emigration and the assimilation, while the Hebrew increased his due to the territorial concentration in Palestine and then in Israel. The yídish was reflecting the folklore and the religious life of the masses of European Jews, and later it was adapted to serve the requests of the sophisticated urban life and of the modern literature. The Holocaust aimed a final blow as spoken language, although one has come producing a renaissance in his academic study, and, in date as late as 1978, the Nobel Prize of Literature Isaac Bashevis Singuer was awarded to the writer yídish.

The creator of the Esperanto, Dr. Lazar Ludwig Zámenhof, was a Jew whose familiarity with the Hebrew undoubtedly played a role in the development of the only international language created in laboratory that managed to turn into a living language. Although the vocabulary of the Esperanto derives in most cases from the Romance, Germanic and Slavonic languages, it is probable that the deep Zámenhof knowledge in Hebrew and Aramaic contributed to the logical structure of what all the ling? istas they recognize like the language easiest to learn. For example, his logical economy of consonantal roots is similar to that of the Hebrew; also it used prefixes to transform the verb of the active form to the passive one.

The Esperanto caused interest precisely in those countries which languages are spoken scantly out of his borders, as Hungary, Poland, Japan, Brazil, Lithuania, China, Bulgaria and Korea. Part of his success must assume undoubtedly to his use of the logical structure hebrea1. 

Zámenhof created the Esperanto with the wish of which it would turn not only into an international language for all but into a new national language for the Jewish people. It loved the yídish and the Hebrew, but he was feeling that the yídish was lacking historical continuity and prestige and that the Hebrew was very difficult to adapt to the needs for the modern world. It must be remembered that in the time in which Zámenhof was preparing the Esperanto, in the decade of 1880, the efforts of Eliézer Ben Yehudá to revitalize the Hebrew were still in his infancy.

The successful transformation of the Hebrew in a living language and the development of his modern literature they have inspired defenders of languages "minor" that exist in the shade of powerful neighbors. Propellents of the Welshman, the Gaelic, the erse and the Basque 2 have visited Israel with the intention of studying the teaching methods used in the intensive courses of Hebrew for new immigrants (ulpán). The Maltese anxious to preserve his national language are proud that his language is a nearby relative of the Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages of Jesus and his disciples.

Luis de Torres, a converted Jew who accompanied Columbus in his first trip like interpreter, tried to speak with the native ones (that inhabitants of the India supposed) in Hebrew, and later there was those who supported that sayings "Indians" were descending from Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Many Renaissance wise persons and later European monarches (like Jacobo IV of Scotland) wanted to declare the Hebrew "the mother of all the languages", since they believed that the Hebrew was the original source from which they derived all the languages. This notion was rejected later for simplistic. Nevertheless, some recent investigations have indicated the possibility of to that the Hebrew is really more ancient than other Semitic languages. Can his geographical lease in the intersection of three continents have turned it into an important source of other families ling? ísticas. His sisters, the acadio and Aramaic, worked in distinas epochs as frank languages of the Near East.

The concept of the only origin of the languages, called "a monogenesis", is based on the idea of that the original roots of the Hebrew had two consonants (and not the three that we know at present). These roots suffered changes that can be explained fonéticamente, for the positions of the language on having pronounced certain sound combinations. The monosyllabic units formed by these consonants describe in several big idiomatic families the same action. This theory, very controversial and sustained in hundreds of examples shared by the Hebrew and other languages, he claims that possibly the Hebrew is the only origin of all of them.

Hebrew knowledge allows to enjoy the direct access to one of the most ancient continuous cultures of the world. For the Jewish people, it constitutes perhaps the most crucial element of his unit. The Bible and the works that continued Talmud, Mishná was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The rabbis were stimulating the literacy of the people, so that they all could study. More than 0 years ago, one of the big Jewish thinkers of the XXth century, Mordejai Kaplan, founder of the Movement Reconstruccionista in the United States, supported: "When the Hebrew turns a foreign or ancient language, the Jew stops experiencing an intimate relation with the Jewish life... the first practical step in all effort to live through the Judaism as civilization has to be the study of the Hebrew. It must be taught to the children in the secondary schools, and there must happen the same academic hierarchy as to the Greek and to the Latin".

Does the knowledge of the Hebrew allow direct access to the Bible, to more than 3.000 years from cultural creation, to a better comprehension of the proper language and even to a ling? ística comparative; to an appreciation of the Biblical legacy in the modern literature, the movies, the song, the art, the oratory and the politics; and to a deeper vision of the moral, ethical, religious and juridical bases about what we know today like western civilization.

Finally, but not for less important it, the Hebrew is the language of the modern Israel and an indispensable key to understand and to appreciate his society and his culture. Perhaps the day is not distant in any moment of the XXIst century in which most of the Jews of the world are Israelis of Hebrew language. For the Jews of the Diaspora, the Hebrew it keeps on being important like part of his religious tradition, but it has to work increasingly like a window to Israel and like key for its own cultural legacy.

Source: MFA - Foreign Office of Israel

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