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Eliézer Ben Iehudá
The renaissance of the Hebrew language

In his pioneering work on restorations and languages restorers, the ling? ista North American Einar Haugen wrote: "She looks like that almost such movements usually go back to only one a self-sacrificing person, who was capable of focusing the preponderant dissatisfactions of his people. On having arisen from the group whose language had been neglected, these reformers had often a motivation more than purely intellectual to establish the existence of his language. His contribution turned into a contribution to the general liberation of the group, a way of rebellion and a symbol of unit". In the renaissance of the Hebrew, considered to be one of the acaeceres associate - ling? ísticos more outstanding than the modern times, this characterization constitutes a truth that it agrees eminently with Eliézer Ben Yehudá.

Eliézer Ben Yehudá, originally called Eliézer Itzjak Perelman, was born in the Lithuanian village of Luzhky on January 7, 1858. As all the Jewish children of this time and place, he began to study Hebrew at very early age as part of a religious education. It stood out in his studies and finally it was sent to a yeshivá (rabbinical academy) with the hope of which it would turn into rabbi. Nevertheless, the same as many promissory Jewish young people of this epoch in Eastern Europe, he was interested by the secular world, it finished with leaving the yeshivá and joined a Russian gymnasium, completing his studies as external pupil in 1877. This year Russia proclaimed the war to the Ottoman Empire to help the Bulgarians to recover his independence of the Turks.

Ben Yehudá turned out to be the Bulgarians captivated by the idea of restoration of the rights in his national soil. In the XIXth century progeny of the classic Athens had re-lived through several European nations that way, evidently the Greeks, in 1829, and the Italians, heirs of the classic Rome, in 1849. Ben Yehudá turned out to be deeply influenced by the above mentioned renaissances and extracted the conclusion that the European concept of national integrity must apply also to his village. Did it have the certainty of which if the Bulgarians, who were not an ancient classic people, could demand and obtain the proper state, also the Jews? Do I populate of the Book and heirs of the historical Jerusalem?, they were deserving the same. It is true that Eretz Israel, the ground of the Jews, was provided with few of these in the XIXth century, and that the language of the Jews, the Hebrew, was a really only one written language, not speech, but he was sure that such obstacles were not unbeatable. The Jews had to return to his historical ground and begin to speak again his language. 

Cheered up by these ideas, Ben Yehudá determined that he would move himself to Palestine. It departed from Russia in 1878, speaking first to Paris to study medicine, with the intention of helping in the future the Jewish community of Eretz Israel. Due to its own problems of health (tuberculosis), it could not continue the studies although, for his eternal credit, it did not hesitate in his convictions and in 1881 it arrived at the ground longed with his intact plans regarding to the renaissance of the Hebrew language. In fact, still in the exterior he had considered the restoration and published several articles in diverse Hebrew newspapers, on the triple question of the renaissance of the Hebrew people, of his ground and of his language. In fact, these first articles can be considered to be precursors of the modern political Zionism, since they include the basic elements of the Jewish nationalism: the establishment in the national homeland and the renaissance of the Hebrew language, the literature and the culture. 

Ben Yehudá settled in Jerusalem, where most of the Jews of the country were living in the bosom of diverse communities, planning the use of the city as base for the diffusion of his ideas in the Earth of Israel and in the diaspora. He adopted several action plans. The principal ones performed triple scope and it is possible to sum them up as: "Hebrew in the hearth", "Hebrew in the school" and "Words, words, words". As for the "Hebrew in the hearth", before coming already to the Palestine of that time and as result of his first successful conversation prolonged in Hebrew, Ben Yehudá had decided to speak only in Hebrew with every Jew whom it was finding. By what it is known, this first conversation took place with Guétzel Zelicovich or with Mordejái Edelman, in a coffee of Boulevard Montmartre in Paris.

Since Ben Yehudá had verified for himself that he could speak without stumbles in Hebrew with his friends and acquaintances, he wanted that the Hebrew was his only language after his arrival to the Earth of Israel. It is necessary to indicate that not him result, too difficult, except perhaps the absence of vócablos for certain topics. In fact, it described with big enthusiasm his first conversations in Hebrew when, together with his wife, it disembarked in Iafo and spoke with a money changer of Jewish money, with a Jewish innkeeper and with a Jewish cabriolet driver. Because here there had found the simple people who was speaking Hebrew, perhaps with errors although always more or less with naturalness and fluency. Pero Ben Yehudá wanted that the Jews in Eretz were speaking Israel exclusively in Hebrew. Therefore, in 1882, when there was born his first son Ben Sión Ben Yehudá (or Itamar Ben Aví, as it was known generally), his wife Débora had to promise him that the newborn baby would be the first speech child exclusively Hebrew in the modern history. 

In accordance with Ben Yehudá, this was a very important symbolic event for the future of the renaissance, since with a child in the house the parents and the visitors would have to speak and converse in natural form only in Hebrew, on the most daily matters. And when finally the child began to speak for himself, Ben Yehudá would have a vivid demonstration of which the renaissance of the language was really feasible. As he wrote in the introduction to his dictionary: "If a language that stopped being spoken, without nothing staying of her except what subtraction of ours, it can be the language spoken about an individual in all the needs for his life again, already it is not necessary to put in cloth of judgment that can turn into the language spoken about a community".

And this was what happened. Itamar Ben Aví describes in his autobiography, although it does it in a rather romantic way, some of the drastic precautions adopted as his father to make sure that his son will listen and then he will speak only Hebrew. When, for example, there were coming to the house visitors who did not know Hebrew, Ben Yehudá was sending it to the bed so that it did not hear the foreign languages. Similarmente was not allowing the son to listen "either the peeps of birds, or the neighing of horses, or the brays of donkeys, not the butterflies fluttering, because even all these voices were foreign, by no means Hebrews". The child began to speak at the relatively late age of four years. His mother could not fit to the demand of speaking to him only in Hebrew. Certain day, when the husband was out of the house, the mother began to intone inadvertently lullabies in Russian. Ben Yehudá had returned early and when it heard that Russian was sung in his house, it became mad and began shouting. Itamar wrote on the bitter scene that it continued: "It shook to me exceedingly to see my irate father and my upset mother and in tears; the dumbness separated of me lips and the speech came to my mouth". 

The fact that there was a child in the house it was accentuating the need to look for Hebrew words adapted to name the mundane things of the daily life. For it, Ben Yehudá minted new Hebrew words for objects like doll, ice cream, jelly, omelette, handkerchief, towel, bicycle and hundreds more. As the child was growing, the Hebrew was growing, both in lexicon and in naturalness. Ben Yehudá and his family of Hebrew speech transformed in a living legend, in an embodiment of the renaissance that they all had to emulate. 

Of all the steps given by Ben Yehudá to re-live through the Hebrew, the use of the "Hebrew in the schools" went to all lights more important and like that certainly it comprised it. His first articles, writings when it was still in the exterior, they were treating about how the Russian language had taken root between the young people of Russia, even between those for that it was not the mother tongue, his introduction as instruction language in the schools.

Based on the same beginning, he praised that the rabbis and the teachers were using the Hebrew as an instruction language in the Jewish schools of Eretz Israel for all the subjects, so much the religious ones like the secular ones. Ben Yehudá understood that the renaissance might be successful, special and perhaps exclusively, if the young generation of the country began to speak freely the Hebrew. Therefore, when Nisim Bejar, the director of the school Torá and Avodá de la Alliance Israélite Universelle in Jerusalem, proposed to him in 1882 to teach in the above mentioned school, he gained access. Bejar understood the need to use the Hebrew in his school because, for the first time, children of different Jewish communities were going to study in the same class without being provided with another common language out of the Hebrew.

Bejar explained to Ben Yehudá his method of teaching Hebrew by means of the Hebrew, direct system without translation to other languages, which was already existed had used for the education of French and other languages. Bejar had already proved the system in Hebrew in the School of the Alliance in Istanbul, which was directing before moving to Jerusalem. Ben Yehudá could practise only for space of a brief period due to reasons of health, but his education of the Hebrew was successful. To a few months, the children were already chatting flúidamente in Hebrew on daily topics related to the meal, the drink and the clothing, as well as with diverse events inside and out of the hearth. 

Ben Yehudá knew very well that on it the future of the renaissance was depending. If the children could learn Hebrew in the school from a quite early age, would they turn in hebreohablantes uniling? it is when they were major. In accordance with his words, "the Hebrew language would go on from the synagog to the house of studies, of the house of studies to the school, from the school to the hearth and finally it would transform in a living language" (Hatzví, 1886). 

And this was what happened. The personal example of Ben Yehudá and his success in the teaching they impressed exceedingly other teachers. To tell truth, the education in Hebrew involved many problems, for example the absence of teachers, of texts, of materials like games or singings, the absence of terminologies, etc. David Yudlevitz, a veteran teacher, wrote in 1928: "In a difficult ambience, without books, without expressions, words, verbs and hundreds of nouns, we had to begin teaching... It is impossible to describe or to imagine the pressures under which the first seeds were sowed... The teaching materials with which it was counted for the elementary education in Hebrew were limited... We were feeling semimute, were stuttering, speaking with the hands and the eyes". Another prominent educator, David Yelín, wrote in the same vein:" Every teacher had his own didactic text in French or Russian and was organizing his activity in Hebrew fitted to the same one... Terms did not exist for the education. Every village teacher was in fact a member of the Academy (of the Hebrew Language), as for the words creation to his taste, and each one, of course, was using his own inventions". Nevertheless, as it was passing the time the problems were solved and a young generation of Hebrew speech emerged, making sure beyond any doubt that the renaissance would be a success.

Ben Yehudá wanted to attract also adults to his ideas. After writing for several years in the local newspaper Hajavatzélet, he began to publish in 1884 his proper newspaper Hatzví, like instrument for the adults' education. The newspapers in Hebrew of this time were still an innovation (the first one of them appeared in the middle of the decade of 1850), especially his, which Figaro of Paris wanted to emulate neither more nor less than Him, with a Hebrew newspaper that was tackling all the interest topics for a people who lives in his own country, which was including international and local news, bulletins regarding the climate, the fashions, etc, and which virtually every Jewish man in Eretz Israel at the end of the XIXth century, could read and understand without many difficulty a Hebrew newspaper. Ben Yehudá believed that if he was publishing a cheap newspaper, the people would become convinced to that it was capable of expressing everything what he should want in Hebrew and that would increase his disposal to use of the language to transmit his ideas. It was resorting also to his newspaper to introduce new words that otherwise would get lost, fell as itón (newspaper), orej (editor), mivrak (telegram), jaial (soldier), manúi (subscriber), ofná (fashion), etc. The Jews were eager readership and the newspaper of Ben Yehudá did very much for expanding his ideas and neologisms both in the Earth of Israel and in the diaspora. 

Also, to help those who would be speaking and reading in Hebrew, it began to compile a dictionary. It initiated it when it was still in Paris. Was it a question of a brief payroll biling? and in Hebrew and French, written to the back of a notebook of notes that it was using to note down his list of supplies. But, as proper Ben Yehudá explains it in the introduction to his dictionary, when he began to speak in Hebrew every day he felt increasingly the absence of words. His payroll was becoming longer and longer and began to publish it in his newspapers, in order to help to futures hebreoparlantes to stumble over similar problems.

The difficulties were multiplying. When he was speaking in Hebrew both in his house and with his friends, it could use the language more or less how he wanted. But if he wanted that the whole society was using the Hebrew, the words had to be precise and exact, in accordance with strict philological rules. Therefore, it turned into a scientific lexicographer. The results of his arduous efforts, working sometimes 18 hours per day, were amazing and they culminated with his "Finished Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew", monumental work in 17 volumes. It was completed after his death by his second wife, Jemda, and by his son, and today it is still singular in the annals of the Hebrew lexicography. 

To help him in his dictionary and to solve diverse problems of terminology, pronunciation, spelling, punctuation, etc., related to the form and the type of Hebrew, Ben Yehudá founded in 1890 the Council of the Hebrew Language, precursor of the Academy of the Language, supreme umpire and authority in all the pertinent matters to the Hebrew. 

These were the principal measurements that he adopted to realize his sleep of renaissance of the language. Of course, he did not re-live through the whole language only, how often he wanted to steady himself. Moreover, he needed and trusted in the support of the society who was surrounding it. In addition to the help of the local population (limited and sometimes also completely hostile), what more helped Ben Yehuda in his crusade ling? ística the fact was that the year 1881, the same year in which it came to the Palestine of that time, indicated the beginning of the first unmigratory waves of Jewish colonists to the country. Overwhelming most of these colonists were, as he, young, educated and idealistic, of similar Jewish socioeconomic backgrounds of Eastern Europe, which had decided to recommence his lives in the ground promised to his ancestors.

They were receptive of his new ideas and they were ready to speak in Hebrew, as he was demanding incessantly. In fact, many people already knew Hebrew when they arrived and others were wishing to improve his knowledge or they began studying the language. They were speaking Hebrew with his children in the hearth, as well as also in the preschools and schools that they established to everything long of the country. This way, in a Biblical generation, in 40 years between 1881 and 1921, did form a nucleus of young and fervent hebreoparlantes, with the Hebrew one like the only symbol of his nationalism ling? ístico. The authorities of the British Order recognized the Hebrew as the official language of the Jews in Palestine on November 29, 1922. The Hebrew renaissance was now a fact and the sleep of Ben Yehudá along all his life turned out to be materialized. Regrettably, only one month later it succumbed as a result of the tuberculosis that the asechaba from the days of his demurrage in Paris. 

It is not necessary to say, how often it was done, that before Ben Yehudá the Hebrew was a dead language, through which he re-lived without help and miraculously. To tell truth, one abused much of the "dead" term. As the philologist Jaim Rabin will indicate it in 1958, "... it would not be exaggerated to affirm that in the time of the first article of Ben Yehudá in 1879, more than 50 % of the Jewish men was capable of comprising the Pentateuco, the daily prayers, etc., and that 20 % could read a Hebrew book up to a point difficultly, made that it was true for a much higher proportion in Eastern Europe, North Africa and Yemen, and for a much minor percentage in the Occident countries. Being like that, we will quote the penetrating postulate of Cecil Roth on the role of Ben Yehudá in the renaissance of the language: "Before him the Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, they did it". 

Ben Yehudá was the prophet and propagandist, the theoretical and tactical one, the sign and symbol of the renaissance. The same one wrote in 1908, in his newspaper Hatzví: "For everything there is necessary only one judicious, skillful and active man, with initiative to dedicate all his energies to his cause, and this one will progress undoubtedly in spite of the obstacles that unite his way... In any new act, in any step although it is the smallest in the footpath of the progress, there is indispensable a pioneer who takes the road and side accent all possibility of turning back". For the restoration of the Hebrew language, this pioneer was Eliézer Ben Yehudá.

Source: MFA - Foreign Office of Israel

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