Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Overview
Eliezer Ben‑Yehuda was a Jewish lexicographer and newspaper editor. He was the driving spirit behind the revival of the Hebrew language in the modern era.


Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was born Eliezer Yitzhak Perlman (Yiddish אליעזר יצחק פערלמאן), in Luzhki (Belarusian
Belarusian language
The Belarusian language , sometimes referred to as White Russian or White Ruthenian, is the language of the Belarusian people...

 Лужкі (Łužki), Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

 Łużki), Vilna Governorate
Vilna Governorate
The Vilna Governorate or Government of Vilna was a governorate of the Russian Empire created after the Third Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795...

 of the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 (now Vitsebsk Voblast
Vitsebsk Voblast
Vitsebsk Voblast or Vitebsk Oblast is a province of Belarus with its administrative center being Vitebsk .As of a 2009 estimate, the voblast has a population of 1,230,800...

, Belarus
Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

). He attended cheder
Cheder
A Cheder is a traditional elementary school teaching the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language.-History:...

 where he studied Hebrew and the Bible from the age of three, as was customary among the Jews of Eastern Europe.
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Encyclopedia
Eliezer Ben‑Yehuda was a Jewish lexicographer and newspaper editor. He was the driving spirit behind the revival of the Hebrew language in the modern era.

Biography



Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was born Eliezer Yitzhak Perlman (Yiddish אליעזר יצחק פערלמאן), in Luzhki (Belarusian
Belarusian language
The Belarusian language , sometimes referred to as White Russian or White Ruthenian, is the language of the Belarusian people...

 Лужкі (Łužki), Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

 Łużki), Vilna Governorate
Vilna Governorate
The Vilna Governorate or Government of Vilna was a governorate of the Russian Empire created after the Third Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795...

 of the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 (now Vitsebsk Voblast
Vitsebsk Voblast
Vitsebsk Voblast or Vitebsk Oblast is a province of Belarus with its administrative center being Vitebsk .As of a 2009 estimate, the voblast has a population of 1,230,800...

, Belarus
Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

). He attended cheder
Cheder
A Cheder is a traditional elementary school teaching the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language.-History:...

 where he studied Hebrew and the Bible from the age of three, as was customary among the Jews of Eastern Europe. By the age of twelve, he had read large portions of the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

, Mishna, and Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

. His parents hoped he would become a rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

, and sent him to a yeshiva
Yeshiva
Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim and in study pairs called chavrutas...

. There, he continued to study ancient Hebrew and was also exposed to the Hebrew of the enlightenment
Haskalah
Haskalah , the Jewish Enlightenment, was a movement among European Jews in the 18th–19th centuries that advocated adopting enlightenment values, pressing for better integration into European society, and increasing education in secular studies, Hebrew language, and Jewish history...

, including secular writings. Later, he learned French, German, and Russian, and was sent to Dünaburg
Daugavpils
Daugavpils is a city in southeastern Latvia, located on the banks of the Daugava River, from which the city gets its name. Daugavpils literally means "Daugava Castle". With a population of over 100,000, it is the second largest city in the country after the capital Riga, which is located some...

 for more education. Reading the Hebrew language newspaper HaShahar, he became acquainted with Zionism
Zionism
Zionism is a Jewish political movement that, in its broadest sense, has supported the self-determination of the Jewish people in a sovereign Jewish national homeland. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Zionist movement continues primarily to advocate on behalf of the Jewish state...

 and concluded that the revival of Hebrew language in the Land of Israel
Land of Israel
The Land of Israel is the Biblical name for the territory roughly corresponding to the area encompassed by the Southern Levant, also known as Canaan and Palestine, Promised Land and Holy Land. The belief that the area is a God-given homeland of the Jewish people is based on the narrative of the...

 could unite all Jews
Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 worldwide.

Upon graduation he went to Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 to study at the Sorbonne University. Among the subjects he studied there were history and politics of the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, but the one that had the most lasting effect was Hebrew — specifically, his advanced Hebrew classes taught in Hebrew. It was this use of Hebrew in a spoken form that convinced him fully that the revival of Hebrew as the language of a nation was practical. Ben-Yehuda spent four years in Paris.

In 1881 Ben-Yehuda immigrated to Palestine, then ruled by the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

, and settled in Jerusalem. He found a job teaching at the Alliance Israelite Universelle
Alliance Israélite Universelle
The Alliance Israélite Universelle is a Paris-based international Jewish organization founded in 1860 by the French statesman Adolphe Crémieux to safeguard the human rights of Jews around the world...

 school. Motivated by the surrounding ideals of renovation and rejection of the diaspora
Jewish diaspora
The Jewish diaspora is the English term used to describe the Galut גלות , or 'exile', of the Jews from the region of the Kingdom of Judah and Roman Iudaea and later emigration from wider Eretz Israel....

 lifestyle, Ben‑Yehuda set out to develop a new language that could replace Yiddish and other regional dialects as a means of everyday communication between Jews who made aliyah
Aliyah
Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel . It is a basic tenet of Zionist ideology. The opposite action, emigration from Israel, is referred to as yerida . The return to the Holy Land has been a Jewish aspiration since the Babylonian exile...

 from various regions of the world. Ben-Yehuda regarded Hebrew and Zionism
Zionism
Zionism is a Jewish political movement that, in its broadest sense, has supported the self-determination of the Jewish people in a sovereign Jewish national homeland. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Zionist movement continues primarily to advocate on behalf of the Jewish state...

 as symbiotic: "The Hebrew language
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 can live only if we revive the nation and return it to the fatherland," he wrote.

Ben Yehuda was married twice, to two sisters. His first wife, Devora (née Jonas), died in 1891 of tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

, leaving him with five small children. Her final wish was that Eliezer marry her younger sister, Paula Beila. Soon after his wife Devora's death, three of his children died of diphtheria
Diphtheria
Diphtheria is an upper respiratory tract illness caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, a facultative anaerobic, Gram-positive bacterium. It is characterized by sore throat, low fever, and an adherent membrane on the tonsils, pharynx, and/or nasal cavity...

 within a period of 10 days. Six months later, he married Paula, who took the Hebrew name "Hemda
Hemda Ben-Yehuda
Hemdah Ben‑Yehuda was a Jewish journalist and author, and the wife of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.Hemdah Ben‑Yehuda was born Beila Jonas in Drissa , Belarus to Shelomo Naphtali Herz Jonas and his wife Rivka Leah. She was the fifth of the seven children.In 1882, the family settled in Moscow...

".


Ben‑Yehuda raised his son, Ben-Zion Ben-Yehuda
Itamar Ben-Avi
Itamar Ben-Avi was the son of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Eliezer is credited with reviving the Hebrew language and brought up Itamar to be the first native speaker of what would become Modern Hebrew...

 (the first name meaning "son of Zion"), entirely through Hebrew. He refused to let his son be exposed to other languages during childhood. He even once yelled at his wife, after he caught her singing a Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

 lullaby
Lullaby
A lullaby is a soothing song, usually sung to young children before they go to sleep, with the intention of speeding that process. As a result they are often simple and repetitive. Lullabies can be found in every culture and since the ancient period....

 to the child. His son Ben-Zion was the first native speaker of modern Hebrew.

Journalistic career


Ben-Yehuda was the editor of several Hebrew-language newspapers: HaZvi, Hashkafa
Hashkafa
Hashkafa is a Hebrew term often used when referring to one's personal worldview as regards Jewish philosophy and Halacha. See Diversity within Orthodox Judaism under Orthodox Judaism....

 and HaOr
Haor
A haor is a wetland ecosystem in the north eastern part of Bangladesh which physically is a bowl or saucer shaped shallow depression, also known as a backswamp...

. HaZvi was closed down for a year in the wake of opposition from Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community, which fiercely objected to the use of Hebrew, the holy tongue, for everyday conversation.

Lexicography


Ben-Yehuda was a major figure in the establishment of the Committee of the Hebrew Language (Va'ad HaLashon), later the Academy of the Hebrew Language
Academy of the Hebrew Language
The Academy of the Hebrew Language was established by the Israeli government in 1953 as the "supreme institution for scholarship on the Hebrew language."-History:...

, an organization that still exists today. He was the author of the first modern Hebrew dictionary and became known as the "reviver" of the Hebrew language, despite opposition to some of the words he coined. Many of these words have become part and parcel of the language but others — some 2,000 words — never caught on. His word for "tomato," for instance, was badura, but Hebrew speakers today use the word agvania.

Death and commemoration



In December 1922, Ben Yehuda, 64, died of tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

, from which he suffered most of his life. He was buried on the Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge in East Jerusalem with three peaks running from north to south. The highest, at-Tur, rises to 818 meters . It is named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes...

 in Jerusalem. His funeral was attended by 30,000 people.

Ben Yehuda built a house for his family in the Talpiot
Talpiot
Talpiot , is a neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem, Israel, established in 1922 by Zionist pioneers.-Etymology:The name Talpiot derives from a verse in Song of Songs 4:4 – "Thy neck is like the tower of David, built with turrets." According to rabbinic sources, Talpiot refers to the Temple...

 neighborhood of Jerusalem, but died three months before it was completed. His wife Hemda lived there for close to thirty years. Ten years after her death, her son Ehud transferred the title of the house to the Jerusalem municipality for the purpose of creating a museum and study center. Eventually it was leased to a church group from Germany who established a center there for young German volunteers. The house is now a conference center and guesthouse run by the German organization Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP)
Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP)
The Action Reconciliation Service for Peace is a German peace organization founded to confront the legacy of Nazism.The Action Reconciliation Service for Peace was founded in 1958 by the synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany, driven by the efforts of Lothar Kreyssig...

, which organizes workshops, seminars and Hebrew language ulpan
Ulpan
An ulpan is an institute or school for the intensive study of Hebrew. Ulpan is a Hebrew word meaning basically studio or teaching, instruction....

  programs.

In his book Was Hebrew Ever a Dead Language, Cecil Roth
Cecil Roth
Cecil Roth , was a British Jewish historian.He was educated at Merton College, Oxford and returned to Oxford as reader in Jewish Studies from 1939 to 1964...

 summed up Ben-Yehuda's contribution to the Hebrew language: "Before Ben‑Yehuda Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, they did."

External links