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July 31: The Only Hebrew-Speaking Child

Ben-Zion Ben-Yehuda, the son of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who almost singlehandedly turned Hebrew from a religious language into a modern language for everyday life, was born in Palestine on this date in 1882. His lexicographer father and his mother, Devora Jonas, spoke only Hebrew to him, which made him the first native Hebrew speaker on […]

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May 16: Saadia Gaon

The preeminent Talmudic scholar of Babylon in the 9th century, Egyptian-born Saadia ben Joseph, known as Saadia Gaon (“Gaon” is an honorific meaning one of splendor or genius), is thought to have died at age 60 in Sura on this date in 942. He was the first rabbinic authority to translate the Bible into Arabic, […]

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August 30: Hebrew Banned in Revolutionary Russia

The Evsektsiia, or Jewish Section of the Soviet Communist Party, proclaimed Hebrew a “reactionary language” on this date in 1919 as part of an anti-religion campaign that led to the banning of Hebrew language instruction, the arrest or suppression of many rabbis, and government confiscation of synagogues and other Jewish communal properties (properties of the […]

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Contra “Shabbat”

by Mitchell Abidor Peter Novick, in his 1999 The Holocaust in American Life — a brilliant analysis of the process by which the Holocaust went from being, in American Jewish life, the subject of shame and silence to a central fact and a sacralized event — speaks of the “profound ‘Israelization'” of American Jews following […]

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November 8: The Bodleian Library

Oxford University’s Bodleian Library was opened to the public on this date in 1602. The library then and now possessed one of the world’s foremost collections of Hebrew manuscripts and early printed Yiddish books, including a manuscript of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (c. 1180) signed and authenticated by Maimonides himself, which is now available for viewing […]

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January 9: H.N. Bialik

Modern Israel’s “national poet,” Haim Nahman Bialik, was born in Ukraine on this day in 1873. By his mid-twenties, Bialik was widely acclaimed for his writings in both Yiddish and Hebrew and had translated Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and other classics of world literature into Hebrew. With his longtime collaborator Yehoshua Ravnitzky, he […]

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December 16: Eliezer Ben Yehudah

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 […]

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The Return of the Repressed: Yiddish in Israel

by Benjamin Weiner Hebrew’s defeat of Yiddish in the language war of early Zionism is well known, but recent scholarship has added to our understanding of the conflict. The works of Dovid Katz and Yael Chaver, in particular, attest to the outright hostility, even physical violence, of the Hebraist camp, and the extent to which […]

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