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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Idit here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Hebrew questions.
The question for this lesson is…
Is it true that Hebrew was a dead language for centuries?
Actually, Hebrew was never “dead;” it just ceased to be a spoken language. But let’s start from the beginning.
Historically, Hebrew is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, and was a spoken language in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah from about 1200 BCE. Hebrew had ceased to be an everyday spoken language somewhere between 200 and 400 CE, declining since the Bar Kokhba revolt. However, it survived into the medieval period as the language of Jewish liturgy, rabbinic literature and poetry. Since the Bible is written in Hebrew, all the Jewish people around the world could read and understand it.
In the 18th century, the Jewish community in Jerusalem was composed of Sephardic Jews who spoke Ladino or Arabic, and Ashkenazi Jews who spoke Yiddish. In order to communicate, they needed a common language, so they created the early version of spoken Hebrew. However, it still wasn’t a native language, but a basic way to communicate.
The literary Hebrew was renewed in Europe starting from the 18th century by a Jewish movement that decided Hebrew was deserving of fine literature. Hebrew writers of the time wanted to write essays, poems and novels, and to translate European literature and science books. However they realized it’s very hard to write about contemporary topics in a language that has been “frozen in time.” So, they had to find a way to update the language’s vocabulary.
Thus biblical language was combined with figures of speech and vocabulary from the Rabbinic literature, together with vocabulary and syntax found in European languages and Semitic languages such as Arabic and Aramaic.
Another important contribution to the Hebrew language was made in the 12th and 13th centuries by a Jewish family of rabbis who translated Jewish writings from Arabic to Hebrew. The Arabic language, which belongs to the same language family as Hebrew, made an important contribution to the revival of the language.
In the 19th century, Hebrew writers began arriving in Palestine, influencing the development of spoken Hebrew. Hebrew schools were built and Hebrew was used in public activities, and eventually became the language used by the Jewish population in Israel. This process was aided by many organizations that saw Hebrew as an ideological purpose.
Today, the spoken Hebrew in Israel is called “Israeli Hebrew” or “Modern Hebrew.”
How was this lesson? Pretty interesting right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!