You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

December 16: Eliezer Ben Yehudah

Lawrence Bush
December 16, 2009
Eliezer_Ben-Yehuda_at_his_desk_in_Jerusalem_-_c1912 (1)The man who almost singlehandedly invented modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben Yehudah, died on this date in Jerusalem in 1922. He emigrated to Palestine in 1881, where he, his wife Dvora Jonas and their son Ben-Zion are widely believed to be the first family to speak the language full-time. In 1910, he began to publish his Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew, which was completed by his family and published in seventeen volumes in 1959. Eliezer Ben Yehudah also founded and presided over the Va’ad HaLashon, forerunner of the Hebrew Language Academy. He was an atheist and faced considerable persecution from the Orthodox community. Over the course of forty years in Palestine, he expanded biblical and liturgical Hebrew into a language of everyday life. “In every new event, every step, even the smallest in the path of progress, it is necessary that there be one pioneer who will lead the way without leaving any possibility of turning back.” —Eliezer Ben Yehuda

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.