Friday, October 15, 2010

Happy birthday, Hebrew!

Many tourists to Israel have enjoyed an evening stroll on Ben-Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. This pedestrian mall--with its shops, restaurants, and street performers--is a great gathering place, especially after the end of Shabbat. But few of the tourists visiting Ben-Yehuda Street know much about the man for whom the street is named. An article in today's online edition of the Jerusalem Post has a great history lesson about Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew. It's definitely worth reading!

On October 13, 1881, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his friends agreed to begin speaking Hebrew exclusively. For nearly 1,750 years the Hebrew language had been confined to the dusty shelves of history, a language studied by Bible scholars and rabbis but not used in the day-to-day life of the Jewish people. Ben-Yehuda and his friends believed a united people needed a common language...and they set out to make Hebrew the spoken language of the Jewish people. A quotation in the article sums up the contribution of this man to the revival of Hebrew as a language. "Before Ben-Yehuda Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, they did."

How significant is this achievement? As the article points out, there is no other example of an ancient language being revived to become a modern national language. But then, no other people group also had a divine promise that they would be restored as a nation and returned to their own land!

So happy 129th birthday, modern Hebrew!

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