Life, Death and Language: Imaginary Hebrew Language Revival and Death of a Sientific Paradigm - Philosophical, Historical, Sociological and Linguistic Analysis

Dr. Gitit Holzman, Levinsky College of education, Israel

Prof. Ghil’ad Zuckermann, University of Adelaide, Australia; Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

The end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth witnessed the foundation of modern Jewish community in the land of Israel. The new settlers invested much time and effort not only in working the land and in its corporeal construction, but they also labored on creating Modern Hebrew culture. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and other political activists, writers and intellectuals, insisted that this new culture would be Hebrew speaking, striving to transform Biblical Hebrew into a modern vernacular.

This heroic effort seemed to be miraculously successful as the Israeli Jewish community deserted diverse Diasporic tongues and adopted what is believed to be Hebrew. However, Ghil’ad Zuckermann’s recent studies demonstrate that this ‘Modern Hebrew’ is in reality a Semito-European hybrid. Its grammar relies on Hebrew, as well on Yiddish, the revivalists’ mother tongue, and on a plethora of other languages spoken by its founders, e.g. Polish, Russian, German, Arabic and Ladino.

Despite hard evidence proving the hybrid nature of ‘Modern Hebrew’, Israelis believe they use revived Biblical Hebrew. This study will show that this stance is not objective & scientific one, but rather a religious myth in disguise. The seemingly secular modern Israeli culture has allegedly detached itself from the ancient monotheistic belief. However, religious monotheism is alive and kicking within this culture, preventing scholars and laymen alike to acknowledge the Semito-European hybrid character of modern Israeli language. The Zionist secular, anti-religious movement has actually shifted from worship of one God to worshiping the concept of one language, professing the unity of biblical Hebrew and modern Israeli. Thus, the concept of modern Israeli as revived ancient Hebrew relies on traditional Jewish religious belief regarding the resurrection of the dead. Modern, secular Zionism could not to let go of that belief altogether, thus altered it and instead of believing in resurrection of dead people, professed the resurrection of a dead language.

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