“The Transformation of the Hebrew Language from a religious language of the past into a dual language of secular Zionist daily life and religious messianic revival of the biblical past”. By Prof Rachel Elior

“The Transformation of the Hebrew Language from a religious language of the past into a dual language of secular Zionist daily life and religious messianic revival of the biblical past”.

Prof. Rachel Elior 

A Lecture that was given at an Academic Conference at the University of Vienna in honour of Israel's 70th Anniversary.


The Jewish Library in the Holy Language.

When the Renowned Jewish-Russian-British philosopher and historian of ideas, Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), had been asked during an interview in 1953: 'What is the problem of the Jewish People? He answered instantly: "The Jews have enjoyed rather too much history and too little geography".[1]

This precise observation concerning 'too much history' is well attested in the vast library of the Jewish people, one which reflects 3000 years of written history, revealing substantially more than any other evidence the uniqueness of this long history. In the National Library in Jerusalem, there are 100,000-catalogued volumes of printed Hebrew books, spanning a period from the earliest Hebrew incunabula, first printed at 1475, up until the year 1900. In addition to the individual printed Hebrew titles, there are 70,000 Photostats or copies of Hebrew manuscripts from all over the world, as well as 7000 original Hebrew manuscripts, all of which are written in Leshon haKodesh, i.e. 'The Holy Language', commonly known as Hebrew.[2]

How did the Hebrew language become holy? What is the meaning of that holiness? When the Hebrew language is first mentioned as a holy language? What is the connection between this holiness and its first appearance as a transcendental verbal transmission or as an angelic written tradition? In which manner did the ancient Hebrew language depart from most other human languages, those usually serving for communication and contact in the present, or for conserving knowledge and culture and recording human deeds from the past for posterity? Who transformed this holy written language into a renewed, 'actual', secular spoken language? The present article will address these questions in the first theological-mystical part of the discussion, pertaining to the meaning of the Holy Language in the past, and will explore in the second part, the crucial significance of the revival of this ancient mystical-messianic tradition in the secular Zionist present, and its far-reaching political implications in the State of Israel.

*The mystical tradition of the holy Language.

According to the ancient Biblical tradition, written in Hebrew three millennia ago, God created the world by means of words in the divine Hebrew language (Genesis 1). Further, God spoke to his People in the eternal Hebrew Language at the Sinai covenant (Exodus 19-20), and gave them the sacred Torah that was written down by prophets and priests in the holy Hebrew Language. Divine words and Holy Scriptures, divine law and sacred national history, defined by series of covenants, as well as the biblical literary narrative and biblical sacred liturgy, were all written in the 'holy tongue' and bound together by the Hebrew language.

According to the post-biblical mystical tradition from late antiquity, the world was created by God through letters and numbers of the Hebrew language, as it is demonstrated clearly in the following quotation from Sefer Yetzira (Book of Formation), presented here shortly.

"Sefer Yetzira", "The Book of Creation" or "The Book of Formation", an anonymous rhythmical text written in poetical-narrative tone in post-biblical Hebrew, in the middle of the First Millennium CE[3], demonstrates beautifully the eternal foundations of this perception of the holiness of the Divine Hebrew Language.[4]

Sefer Yetzira relates to us for the first time, that the divine language is composed of 22 foundational letters and 10 infinite numbers, created by God. These letters and numbers could be composed and should be assembled in infinite combinations, by Hebrew readers, due to their divine source. The anonymous author reflects upon different aspects of the Hebrew Language, its letters, divisions, sounds and pronunciation. According to this book, holy letters and sacred numbers are endowed with infinite creative power, and are perceived as holy and eternal. The holy language, with witch the world was created, is further perceived as possessing endless encoded meanings as well as containing numerous secret aspects that could be and should be deciphered by the speakers of the infinite divine language, "leshon hakodesh". The centrality of the holy language had been conceived in a religious culture that claimed that the entire process of creation had been taking place through letters and numbers of the divine language, that were pronounced by God.

The unique holy status of Hebrew as a spoken and written language, as a language of creation and a language of the divine law, is reflected in the perception of eternal divine language and divine creative power expressed in sacred letters and numbers. The letters of the Holy language have an eternal presence in all creation, according to the Book of Creation, as well as an eternal divine presence in the human and divine speech, breath and spirit:

A few sentences from the translation of the first chapter of the Book of Creation, will explain clearly this fusion of 22 letters, 10 numbers and endless words, voices, creative thoughts and endless meanings, shared by God and man:

1:1 With 32 wondrous paths of Wisdom engraved Yah, the Lord of Hosts, [God of Israel, the Living God, King of the Universe, Almighty God, merciful and gracious, High and Exalted, dwelling in eternity, whose name is Holy], and created His universe with three books, with text [book] (Sepher), with number (Sephar), and with narrative [story] (Sippur).

[The 32 wondrous paths of Wisdom are composed of]

1:2 Ten Sefirot of Nothingness (eser sefirot belima) plus twenty two letters of foundation (twenty two otiyot yesod): …
1:5 Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: Their measure is ten which have no end. A depth of beginning, a depth of end; a depth of good, a depth of evil; a depth of above, a depth below; a depth east, a depth west; a depth north, a depth south. The singular Master, God faithful King, dominates them all from His holy dwelling until eternity of eternities.
1:6 Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: Their vision is like the "appearance of lightening" their limit has no end. His Word is in them, "running and returning to and fro". They rush to His saying like a whirlwind, and before His throne, they prostrate themselves.
1:7 Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: Their end is embedded in their beginning, and their beginning in their end, like a flame in a burning coal. For the Master is singular, He has no second. Moreover, before One, what can you count?
1:8 Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: Bridle your mouth from speaking and your heart from thinking. And if your heart runs, return to the place, as it is written, "The Creatures running and returningto and fro " (Ezekizl 1:14). Regarding this covenant was made.
1:9 Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: One is the Breath of the Living God, blessed and benedicted be the Name of the Life of worlds. Voice, Breath [spirit] and Speech. This is the Holy Breath [spirit] (Ruach HaKodesh).[5]

According to the Jewish mystical tradition, only God, angels and human beings alone, share among all living beings, the divine language, consisting of letters and numbers, voice, inspiration, spirit, thought, speech, creative power, encoding and decoding endless meanings and combinations, movement and transformation. Only these three share verbal expression, written memory and speaking capacity, as well as the endless possibilities of writing and reading, combining and deciphering with letters and numbers. Every word of the holy language, derived from the creative and enlivening speech of the divine creator, engraved in the creation, and written in the Holy Scriptures, could be read as containing infinite meanings beyond the literal fixed letters.

*The central socio-religious role of the Holy Language.

The holy Hebrew language became the foundation of Jewish religious-cultural history, as well as the foundation of all Jewish communal ritual memory and unique mystical and liturgical traditions. The formation of Jewish history, as well as the formation of Jewish Law and Jewish culture, and the consolidation of the Jewish community as a distinct cultural unit in the traditional world in late antiquity, until the end of the nineteen century, was utterly dependent on the Hebrew Language. This distinct socio-religious identity was always associated with the mandatory use of Hebrew in communal education, in prayer and study in the synagogue, in daily blessings and nearly in all forms of cultural communication and ritual memory based on reading and writing, on communal liturgy and public ritual.

Every traditional Jewish community from antiquity to the present, insisted that all its male members, from age of three to the age of thirteen, should be concerned on a daily basis with letters and numbers of the holy language. The male adults were expected to try to do so for the rest of their life. The divine command in Deuteronomy 11: 18-21, as stated in Hebrewwas the basis of the stern assertion of the sages:

"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your sons, talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth".

The sages interpreted the above-mentioned verse:

"And teach them to your sons, to talk about them - your sons and not your daughters…:

From here they said; when the little child begins to speak, his father speaks to him in the holy language and teaches him Torah,

If he does not speak the Holy Tongue with him and does not teach him Torah, it is appropriate for him [to the father] to bury him [his child]; as it says:

And you have taught your sons to speak and to study; If you have taught your sons to speak, your days and their days will be long

If not, if you did not teach them the holy language, your dayswill be shortened". (Sifrei 11: 19).

All Jewish males in the traditional world, understood clearly what they had to do as fathers and sons, and the Jewish community enforced all its male members, with no exception, to fulfil this divine commandment pertaining to all fathers and all sons. The common norm was that every male child would spend ten years, approximately between the age of three to 13, in order to acquire the Hebrew language as a foremost tool for communal cultural literacy and as a precondition for fulfilment of religious duties, as well as acquiring fluent reading capacity in Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew. The reading material for the young students taught only about the biblical past and its divine hero, the speaking God. Gradually the child will acquire the capacity to participate in the Divine Liturgy in the synagogue, pertaining to the world of the angels (kedusha/Sanctus) and to the divine presence known in various names such as Shekinah, Makom and The Holy One blessed be He. In their prayers, the Hebrew readers were expressing apocalyptic hopes relating to the messianic future and concerning the direct connection between heaven and earth in time of redemption. They were praying for the restoration of the biblical past reflected in the returning of the Shekinah (divine presence) to Zion, (The Temple Mount or Jerusalem), for the establishment of the biblical kingdom of the house of David in Jerusalem and the re-building of the Temple on Mount Zion or the Temple-Mount in Jerusalem. The Holy language focused on the mythical and historical written past as recorded in the Biblical narrative and its post-biblical exegetical deliberations, and on the messianic-angelic future, devoted to the expected redemption, the Shekinah and the Messiah, described in the prayers and in the mystical, poetical and apocalyptic literature. Hebrew, which emerged from its very inception as a divine written language that transcended borders between heaven and earth, ancient past and meta-historic future, the concealed and the revealed, rarely served as a practical spoken language of communication for everyday life, that which usually is concerned with the mundane challenges of the presentand daily existential obligations.

*The Hebrew language – "the language of the creation" in the mystical tradition.

The holy origin of the Hebrew language was mentioned for the first time in an ancient priestly text known as The Book of Jubilees that was found in Hebrew among the Dead Sea Scrolls and was known previously in translation from thePseudepigrapha.

The Book of Jubilees, written in Jewish priestly circles in the mid second century BCE in the Land of Israel, relates in an angelic narrative, how the first historical Hebrew speaker, Abraham, learned to read and speak in Hebrew from his teacher, the Angel of the Presence. The angel is described as the new narrator of the plot of the Book of Genesis with priestly and angelic amendments. The angel is telling Moses on Mount Sinai, in the course of the 40 days that Moses had spent on the mountain, after he had been given the Ten Commandments, that which had transpired before his time, when God spoke to Abraham. In this conversation, recorded in Jubilees 12: 24-27, we find for the first time a direct reference to the Hebrew language, which is defined by the Angel of the Presence, in a remarkable name: "Hebrew … the language of the creation":

1.And I will be a God to thee and thy son, and to thy son's son, and to all thy seed: fear not, from henceforth and unto all generations of the earth I am thy God.'

2.In addition, the Lord God said; 'Open his mouth and his ears that he may hear and speak with his mouth, with the language which has been revealed'; for it had ceased from the mouths of all the children of men from the day of the overthrow (of the tower of Babel).

3.In addition, I opened his mouth, and his ears and his lips, and I began to speak with him in Hebrew in the language of the creation.

4.In addition, he took the books of his fathers, and these were written in Hebrew, and he transcribed them, and he began from henceforth to study them, and I made known to him that which he could not (understand), and he studied them during the six rainy months.

Other than the first historical reference to the Hebrew language by its specific name, and the original understanding of its uniqueness as "the language of the creation", first mentioned in the book of Jubilees, there is one more unexpected point in this chapter. The Angel of the Presence describes Abraham as a scholar who has a library, and not as a wandering shepherd, as he commonly appears in the biblical narrative.

On the very interesting question, what are "the books of his father's [that] were written in Hebrew", the book of Jubilees offers a very interesting answer in chapter 4, where the history of the first ten generations of the world is recorded in a schematic way, with one exception, as noted in the parallel biblical text in Genesis 5: 21-24.

The Book of Jubilees 4: 16-26 relates the following on the chosen member of the seventh generation, Enoch son of Jared:

  1. And in the eleventh jubilee [512-18 A.M.] Jared took to himself a wife, and her name was Baraka, the daughter of Râsûjâl, a daughter of his father's brother, in the fourth week of this jubilee, [522 A.M.] and she bare him a son in the fifth week, in the fourth year of the jubilee, and he called his name Enoch.
  2. And he was the first among men that are born on earth who learnt writing and knowledge and wisdom and who wrote down the signs of heaven according to the order of their months in a book, that men might know the seasons of the years according to the order of their separate months.
  3. And he was the first to write a testimony. And he testified to the sons of men among the generations of the earth, and recounted the weeks of the jubilees, and made known to them the days of the years, and set in order the months and recounted the Sabbaths of the years as we [the angels] made (them), known to him.
  4. And what was and what will be he saw in a vision of his sleep, as it will happen to the children of men throughout their generations until the day of judgment; he saw and understood everything, and wrote his testimony, and placed the testimony on earth for all the children of men and for their generations.
  5. And in the twelfth jubilee, [582-88] in the seventh week thereof, he took to himself a wife, and her name was Edna, the daughter of Danel, the daughter of his father's brother, and in the sixth year in this week [587 A.M.] she bares him a son and he called his name Methuselah.
  6. And he was moreover with the angels of God these six jubilees of years, and they showed him everything which is on earth and in the heavens, the rule of the sun, and he wrote down everything.
  7. ….
  8. And he was taken from amongst the children of men, and we conducted him into the Garden of Eden in majesty and honor, and behold there he writes down the condemnation and judgment of the world, and all the wickedness of the children of men.
  9. ….
  10. And he burnt the incense of the sanctuary, sweet spices acceptable before the Lord on the Mount.
  11. For the Lord has four places on the earth, the Garden of Eden, and the Mount of the East, and this mountain on which thou [Moses] art this day, Mount Sinai, and Mount Zion (which) will be sanctified in the new creation for a sanctification of the earth. Through it, the earth will be sanctified from all (its) guilt and its uncleanness throughout the generations of the world.[6]

This foundational priestly-mystical narrative reflects the writing of authors who were primarily interested in seven sacred issues. In holy time in heaven and on earth, monitored and guarded by angels and priests. In holy place, guarded by priests and Levites; in holy language, learned from the angels; in Holy Scriptures, originated in heaven; in holy memory, recorded by angels and priests; in holy covenants and holy ritual, shared by angels and priests, known from the Pentateuch, the book of Jubilees and the Songs of the Sabbat Sacrifice. We need here to focus only on one subject – on the first human reader and writer of the Holy language, Enoch (Gen. 5:21-24). Enoch, who did not die like all other human beings, had been transported from earth to heaven (cf. ibid 5: 24), in order to learn in heaven to read and write and calculate in Hebrew from the angels. Enoch son of Jared, the first Hebrew reader and the first Hebrew writer and calculator, was the first human being who wrote in the Hebrew language, that he learned to read and write and calculate from the angels. He wrote and read numerous books on all what he had learned in heaven. His major subject of study was the eternal divisions of cycles of visible time, divided to twelve months, four seasons, and recurrent years of 364 days. The name of these visible eternal universal time cycles granted by God to all creation is "the heavenly chariots" (I Enoch 72). First, Enoch had learned from the angels on the eternal universal heavenly cycles of unending visible time. Secondly, he learned from them, the calculation of the sevenfold holy appointed times of the Lord, which are eternal audible time cycles of rest and freedom, known as Moadei dror or "appointed times of liberty", which are commanded only upon the Jewish people as part of the eternal covenant.

Those seven fold cycles of freedom and rest include the following four divisions. Shabbat every seven days. Seven biblically appointed times of the Lord in the first seven months of the biblical year commencing in the spring. A year of rest known as Shemita (the fallow year) (occurring every 7 years). And a year of Jubilee (every 49 years), those which are marked as"re-counted the weeks of the jubilees, and made known to them the days of the years, and set in order the months and re-counted the Sabbaths of the years as we [the angels] made (them), known to him". These calendrical calculations, based on recurrent counting of days and Sabbaths, on divisions of 12 months, seven festivals, years of 364 days and 52 Sabbath, 4 seasons composed of three months each, fallow years and Jubilee years - that were all synchronized by the priestly custodians in the Jerusalem Temple - were the books that Abraham had read when he was taught to read " in Hebrew in the language of the creation".

Numbers reckoned or calculated in Hebrew, pertaining to holy time, and counted in the holy language, are divine, eternal, angelic, permanent and holy. This numbers are not changeable nor negotiable in the priestly lore, because they are the foundation of the covenant based on eternal cycles of holy times, commemorated by letters and numbers. These numbers pertaining to the weeks (52), the months (12), the four seasons (91 days each) and the years (364 days). The numerical cycles commemorated in the holy tongue relating to fallow years(every seventh year) and Jubilees, (every 49 years) are calculated in relation to a solar year commencing in the spring, on Wednesday the 1 of the first month, the month of spring , Nisan. Every year has 364 days, four parallel seasons of 91 days, and 52 Sabbaths. Shabatot, Moadim, shemitot and yovlim are the names of the eternal seven fold cycles.[7]

In the Babylonian Talmud, we find a new reflection on the language of creation. The narrator is describing Bezalel the son of Uri (exodus 31: 1-11), the gifted builder of the Holy Place, known as the "tent of meeting" in the desert in the book of Exodus: "Bezalel knew how to join together letters in which heaven and earth were created. (Bavli, Berachot 50a).

The holy tongue (leshon ha-Kodesh), was associated from late antiquity onwards with holy appointed times of the Lord (Moadei Kodesh), (Lev. 23, 25), with Holy Scriptures (the Hebrew Bible) (kitvei ha-Kodesh), and with holy community learning Hebrew (Kehilat Kodesh). It was further connected with the holy land (Eretz ha-Kodesh), with the holy city (Ir haKodesh; Jerusalem) with holy angels (Malakhei Kodesh), with holy covenant (Brit Kodesh), with holy worship (Avodat haKodesh) and with holy reading convocations (Mikraei Kodesh). Each one of these holy concepts was a subject of an ongoing elaboration, exegesis, interpretation and deliberation in reading and writing, in studying and interpreting, in law and judgement, and in ritual and liturgy. Since the Jewish people lived in different continents along two millennia of exile, and did not have a central authoritative leadership, every Jewish man who learned to read Hebrew, could have participated in the cycles of the readers and writers, the interpreters or the poets, in his respective Hebrew reading and writing Jewish community.

These priestly books of Enoch and Jubilees, as well as many of the prophetic and priestly Biblical books, established a direct covenantal axis between heaven and earth. The covenant between angels and priests, or between God and his prophetsand priests, took place between the world of the heavenly angels, known as 'the world of the chariot' and the earthly participants in the praying circles in the synagogue, known as 'the small Temple'. The transcendent mystical language in these books - rendered as the beautiful holy language of creation, offering a direct connection between heaven and earth, or between the hidden and the revealed, the mythical and the liturgical - had not been used as a communicative language of daily life of the present. It was used only as a mythical and mythical language telling about the biblical past, from the days of creation. Moreover, the holy language was transmitted as apocalyptic, mystical, ritual, legendary or liturgical language, telling the readers about the heavenly transcendental perspective and the messianic-mystical future.

*The gender perspective of the mystical tradition of holiness

For three thousand years, these concepts of holiness - pertaining to the biblical-mythical written past and to its eternal textual truth, to the holy angels and to the holy community that commemorates its past in ritual calendar and biblical covenant - were associated with the 'holy language' that was reserved for Jewish men alone.Only men were engagedin studying, reading, writing, teaching and praying, ritualizing, analyzing, criticizing, leading and judging.

For everyday life, Jews would have used the profane vernacular oral language of the mothers and not the written holy language of the fathers. Jewish female children did not go out of their house to learn to read Hebrew. They remained at home and learned from their mothers the vernacular language of the mothers, be it Aramaic, Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, or Judeo-Persian, all of which were written only in Hebrew letters, but were used mainly, first and foremost, as a spoken language for daily use and not as written language.

Most young Jewish females never learned Hebrew, which was a strict obligation on all young Jewish males from an early age under close communal supervision. Consequently, before the modern era, most women did not know how to read and write in Hebrew, and many of them did not know to read and write in any other language, until the 20th century.[8] In the traditional world when life expectancy was much shorter, young women were expected to become betrothed at a very early age, usually in the first part of the second decade of their life, and to get married in a the early years of the second part of this decade. Thus, any monetary investment in schooling seemed unreasonable and unnecessary for the young future mothers. There were no public institutions of Jewish study for observant Jewish girls in the eastern Moslem world where the enlightenment did not arrive, until the late part of the 19th century, and in the Polish-Jewish world until 1917. In a community that consecrated literacy for all Jewish men, women, for most parts, were left out of the study circles of students, scholars, readers and writers in the Holy Language. Consequently, they had no share in any communal life in regard of teaching and learning, leading prayer or judging, reading or writing, voting, electing or given a chance to be elected. In the huge library of the Jewish people, that include 100,000 printed books, before the 20th century, there was not a single book that was written in the Hebrew language, by a Jewish woman. This was the situation from antiquity until the very late part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. There is no Hebrew book known to us in manuscript, nor a single Hebrew book that had been printed in the lifetime of its female author while being considered as valuable before the 20th century. There were many social and religious reasons for this patriarchal reality of female illiteracy and women absence from public communal life of the literate male community, that kept strictly the monopoly on knowledge to men alone, but there was one ancient reason that was uncontestable.

The holy language, recorded in the Holy Scriptures, was associated with God, with angels, with eternity and with high degree of purity, from antiquity until the modern era. Writing a Holy Book or a biblical book on parchment scrolls, that could be done only by men, required high degree of purity from the writer, and reading from a Torah scroll was carefully regulated concerning purity and touching. Women, who were considered impure because of their monthly menstrual cycle, were not considered suitable to be present where holy scrolls are kept for public or individual teaching, or public communal reading, and were not considered fit to be present where pure holy angels are present as part of the prayer in the synagogue. The synagogue often served as the study class for male children, taught by male teachers alone.

The Hebrew language was reserved as holy language of creation, divine law and commanded literacy, only for learned Jewish males, who were commanded to observe the 613 written commandments. The holy language of study and prayer was reserved only for those who were interested in the legal tradition, or in the far covenantal past, in the seven fold holy festivals detailed in Leviticus 23 and 25 and their foundations in the book of Genesis. The written language was kept exclusively for men who were interested in the books of Enoch and the book of Jubilees and similar priestly books connected to angels and priests as well as to synagogue ritual angelic liturgy.

In late antiquity, the Aramaic language had been used as a communicative language of the present for the benefit of all the community, and sometimes the Greek language or the Judeo-Persian language, and later on, in the Middle Ages, the Arabic language and later the Judeo-Arabic, the Yiddish and the Ladino.

Those languages were not usually taught from books; they were the spoken language of the different encircling communities that the Jews lived among them, and the mothers, who grew up, mostly, only within the spoken language, spoke them. Most often men would write these languages,in Hebrew letters, if there was a need to write them for commercial reasons, family communication, or for literary and judicial reasons. Only in the German-Jewish communities, from the early modern period, the girls learned to read and write in Yiddish, in order to participate and help in the daily management of the family business, small shops or small banking, loaning and pawning, precious stones or used cloth that usually took place at home.


*The Holy language in the time of the Sages; written law and oral law

After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, in the year 70 CE, and the following rebellion against the Roman army that took place in 132-136 CE, a new cultural-religious reality had been formed by the Sages, who had to consolidate new responses to the various challenges of the termination of the Biblical world. This process had emerged because of the loss of Jerusalem and the demolition of the Temple. It involved the end of the divine worship by the priestly order and the Levitical service that marked the Biblical era, and the cancellation of the priestly calendar that was maintaining the eternal cycle of sacrificial worship in the Temple according to Sabbaths and seven holy festivals.

The Sages, who were first to realize the immense loss of all the tangible Jewish past of the biblical era, after the destruction of the Second Temple and the razing to the ground of Jerusalem, started their reign upon the new era by designating the Biblical Hebrew Language as Leshon ha-Kodesh, Holy Language. They started by a mandatory demanding that every Jewish boy has to learn to read in the holy Hebrew language as it is written in the Torah, as the commemoration of the Jewish past and the foundation of Jewish identity, embedded in a textual reality of divine law and Holy Scriptures. Its next step was to canonize the Torah that every child had to learn in the first and second decades of his life, and to centralize the study of the Torah, the 'Written Law' in a new way. The Sages characterized the new era by the new expression, 'Oral Law', or human sovereignty of free interpretation of the written law, which follow as the next stage of study, after mastering the reading of the literal version of the canonized written law. In the process of canonization, they excluded, censored and marginalized much of the previous angelic–priestly-covenantal written past that they labeled as 'External Books' or apocryphal books. This new world of the 'Sages of the oral law' was based on the 'sealing' of the 'Written Law' known as the Hebrew Bible (24 books), or the canonization of the Holy Scriptures. Inevitably, this process included two major turn points: censorship of the previous priestly literature that could not be incorporated into the canon;[9] Asserting the end of prophecy and any other form of direct divine inspiration through dreams, prophetic visions, or angelic revelation. New course of human sovereignty was developing together with new freedom of interpretation and new type of human authority. This new cultural and religious turn-point created a new layer in the Hebrew language known as the "tongue of the sages" or Leshon Hakhamim.

The new culture of the Sages known also as the Rabbis, that based itself on human sovereignty, freedom of human exegesis and ending divine prophecy, refrained from mentioning angels in its early appearances in the Mishna and the Tosefta, eliminated the place and need of priests and prophets, and prohibited writing new holy books under divine inspiration. The Sages disputed with the priestly memories (the Sages denominated them in a negative way as Sadducees or Zadokim; obscured their original biblical name as 'the priests, the sons of Zadok'), while asserting new human authority and new human freedom of interpretation, applied on the ancient holy written text. The interpretive and exegetical deliberations were conducted orally in Hebrew and Aramaic, in the new 'house of study' or 'beit midrash' house of exegesis and hermeneutics. The later written testimonies on these new interpretive and exegetical deliberations were written down in Hebrew and Aramaic well into the later part of the first millennium CE.[10] The Aramaic that was the spoken language in the Land of Israel and Babylon, gained greater importance in the new oral teachings.

The sages, or the new interpreters of the sacred texts and the new legislators and masters of human hermeneutics, developed two major directions of intellectual activity, Halakha and Agadah.

TheHalakha, derived from the Hebrew word for walking, halikha, focused upon an ongoing analytical comparative study of the previous legal tradition and on its reorganization by new topics, new criterions and new themes. The new teachers engaged in detailed categorization of the texts into ideal principles and practical implementations, alongside divisions into systematic subjects and judicial issues, and analysis of its principles and minute material details. This multivalent judicial process conducted according to human sovereignty and human wisdom, took place in order to constitute a new order by setting clear borders for the Jewish community wherever it may dwell. This process set binding legal authority, based on detailed discussions and final decision of the majority, while recording the opinion of the minority for future discussion of coming generations.

The new teachers known variably as Pharisees, interpreters, Sages, Tanayim (teachers of oral law) and Rabbis, claimed new source of authority: "the [oral] tradition of our fathers that we hold in our hands". The significance of this anonymous source of human authority was anchored in the claim that alongside the ancient holy written tradition of sacred scriptures and the priestly library and ritual memory in the Holy Tongue, there was another unrecognized oral human tradition of great significance. The new oral source was called the 'tradition of the fathers', that will be revealed by the sages in the course of their oral scholarly discussion and legal exegesis. The Pharisees claimed new freedom of interpretation derived from the insightful and analytical study of the divine law in its ideal perception as well as in its earthly implementations. They were further concerned with the question what is the right way to commemorate many commandments which were unavailable anymore after the destruction of the Temple and the termination of the priestly service of the divine worship. All the huge legal library of the Halakha, known as 'oral law' had emerged out of the new source of authority ('oral tradition of our fathers') anchored in human sovereignty (a decision by majority of opinions what is the right interpretation of the law) and the new freedom of human interpretation in regard to the sealed divine law. The relation between the ancient written divine law (tora she-bichtav) and the new human interpretation (tora she-beal-peh) was perceived as a new textile woven out of unchangeable old warp and new creative weft or ancient lengthwise and new crosswise.

Text, textile and texture are all derive from the same Latin verb, texere, to weave. The biblical text was the sealedlengthwise threads and the new halakha was the interwoven crosswise threads woven into it. The binding authoritative biblical text was the fixed lengthwise threads, but the ongoing innovative dynamic human interpretation, including debates, arguments, ongoing exegesis and majority decision, that generated the Halakah, was constantly interwoven into it, creating new texts (new contents) and new textures (new forms), that generated an immense authoritative library and new layers of the Hebrew language.

New human voices in new spoken Hebrew and Aramaic were joining with the ancient written divine voices of God and the angels, priests and prophets that wrote under divine inspiration in the Holy language of biblical Hebrew. Later on, these new voices of the sages, maintained that the 'oral law' as was first introduced by thePharisees, was actually given in Sinai, alongside with the 'written law', and argued that both Torah, the written version and the new oral one, enjoy the same authoritative sacred status.

The Agadah [the legendary imaginative literature] on the other hand, expressed creative freedomand free imagination that were not bound by any previous authoritative text, freedom that created a new literary genre and a new expression of the Hebrew language. The masters of the Agadah, who were mostly the same masters of the Halakha, expressed a strong urge to retell the entire previous tradition in a new fragmentary dialogical way, where new human interpreters, poets and storytellers are retelling the 'sealed' biblical text with innovative insights. The Halacha, or the legal tradition, was written, edited and assembled, in the Late Roman and early Byzantine period,in the first half of the first millennium CE. Unlike the legal tradition that was binding and authoritative in its final reduction in the Mishna and the Talmud, the Agadah that was formulated in the same period, and continuing through a few more centuries, was interested in the freedom of narrating from a new perspective the biblical memory. The process took place by fragmentizing the biblical text and by breaking borders of time and space and adding new voices to the conversation of the generations.

The masters of the Agadah, who claimed no binding authority, were interested in contemplating in depth into all possible readings of the entire biblical corpus in a new manner, focusing on every individual word or any singular sentence, adding new interpretation and new exegesis, not bound by the biblical order or by legal principle commitment or practical implementation. They had conceived an imaginative new legendary layer that responded to the tragedy of the destruction of the Temple and the demolition of Jerusalem, as well as to the loss of national sovereignty and the reality of exile and slavery, which many of the Jewish people had experienced after the rebellion against the Romans in 70 CE and 132-136 CE. The new legends narrated by the masters of the Agadah constituted a new textual reality relating to the past and concerned with the future. The new legendary texts pertained to the hidden reality, that included the heavenly sanctuaries, the invisible Messiah and the holy Shekinah, the sacred angels as part of the heavenly court, presided by God, Elijah the prophet and the various stages of the depths of exile and persecution the hopes for redemption and salvation.

As mentioned above, a completely new manner of expression had been added to the Hebrew language in the course of the first half of the first millennium CE. It was called Leshon Hakhamim, the 'language of the sages' or the 'tongue of the wise', that constituted a new textual reality, adding a new mundane vocabulary to the Holy Language. It recorded diverse human deliberations in the rabbinic schools in The Land of Israel and Babylon, concerned with law and legend, with exegesis and interpretation, in Aramaic written with Hebrew letters and in Hebrew that incorporated Aramaic vocabulary. It included mundane concrete concerns in the legal tradition alongside the ancient divine foundations that were reconstructed anew in the legendary tradition. However, the ancient Priestly and Levitical circles and others that joined them in the course of the generations, continued to teach the small children in every Jewish community, the Holy language alone, so they would be able to read the ancient biblical written tradition. These priestly circles developed a new mystical language and continued to write angelic poetry in Hebrew about their heavenly counterparts, 'the serving angels'. They wrote mystical and martyrological narratives in Hebrew about entrance to Paradise in a vision or a dream or ascending into the seven heavenly sanctuaries of the 'divine chariot' that had replaced in heaven the lost Temple worship on earth.[11]


*Past and Future

In the course of most of the two millennia that had passed between exile and redemption, or between the years 70 CE to 1882, when the first Zionists started to return to the Promised Land, most of the Jewish people had taught all their male children to read Hebrew. They did it at the local Jewish school in the synagogue, at the house of the teacher, or at home, with private teachers, and many of those readers turned to be Hebrew writers. This situation is evident by the fact that thousands of them had created 100,000 books in the Hebrew language. These Hebrew books are collected and preserved in the National Library in Jerusalem, together with 77,000 manuscripts. These books and manuscripts were written in the ancient holy language that incorporated various lingual layers in the traditional world during the course of history. This immense number of books pertain to numerous subjects and many different topics, in a language that was focusing on the ancient biblical past and its interpretation by the Sages. The Jewish community that lived in exile as a persecuted minority under different socio-religious and political circumstances, for the last two thousand years was focusing on conserving a separate identity anchored in the past, based on adhering to separate religion, society and culture that originated in the past. The community managed to keep the presence of the past through preserving the Holy Language in constant teaching of reading and writing, in encouraging communal reading and writing, and by studying, praying and blessing in Hebrew on a daily basis. The Jewish community further focused on the transcendental heavenly world, on the eternal divine law or on the Halakha and Agadah, or on religious philosophy and Kabbalah, or on the mystical-messianic national future that was refuting exile, defying arbitrary destiny, while promising an imagined alternative reality known as national redemption or salvation, through the mystical and the apocalyptic literature.

*The ancient Jewish tradition in the modern era and the emergence of Zionism

The first turn point of this historical-cultural-religious reality of the traditional Jewish world in exile, anchored in the biblical past, while yearning for a divine national redemption in the future, took place in the footsteps of the emerging enlightenment movement in Europe of the late 18th-19th centuries and the emancipation of the Jews that followed in certain parts of Europe. The enlightenment movement that haled humanism, liberalism and national rights instead of conservative religious duties, demanded equal human rights and liberation from the authority of the church. The movement that criticized the values of the Christian world – church authority, royal supremacy, religious patriarchy, different rights to different social strata's according to the patriarchal feudal order that did not allow equal knowledge and freedom to all men and women – had a great influence on the Jewish community. The literate Jews took great interest in liberal national identity associated with national language, as well as in freedom, equality and free access to knowledge and human rights. Many of the Jews were fascinated by the growing interest in national languages, national literature, national history and memory, national identities, as well as in scientific knowledge and art, free from religious supervision, taught in trans-national imperial language. They were interested in liberal manmade redemption or in better future for free, educated and equal people, and in the role of secular literature as well as in secular history and ideology.

In the late part of the 19th century the Russian Government, which ruled over vast geographical domains where millions of Jews were living between Poland to the Ukraine, Lithuania and Byelorussia, insisted that all children would learn in modern schools under State supervision. The Jews, who resented external supervision on their ancient teaching system, compromised on Hadarim Metukanim, i.e. 'reformed rooms' or revised Jewish elementary schools. The new reformed institutions were established around 1899. By 1903 they included around 934 schools, that taught Hebrew in Hebrew, and not in Yiddish translation. The teachers who taught only in Hebrew focused on the narrative of the biblical stories and not on the traditional legal parts, and taught the daily parts of the prayer book alongside Jewish history, mathematics, Russian and Hebrew as a living language. Secular Zionism was born in these circles of the "enlightened" Jews, those who learned in the "reformed rooms", or those who were affected by the national ideas of the Enlightenment, and studied Hebrew as a living language by private teachers. They grew up in the same time that the Zionist movement had developed. They belonged to those Jews who did not want to continue to live in exile as helpless persecuted religious minority, suffering from growing Anti-Semitism, cultivating hopes for heavenly redemption or divine salvation. They chose to leave the old world who spoke Yiddish and learned in Hebrew, and to return to the ancient holy land, speaking Hebrew as a living language, with new national secular aspirations, connected to the ancient-new language, and with new hopes for human redemption.

In the last two decades of the 19th century, and the first two decades of the 20th century, the Jews - who had lived in exile as a persecuted minority for two millennia, and learned about the Holy Land in the Holy tongue and prayed in Hebrew every day for the return to Zion and on the coming back to Jerusalem - had started gradually to return to The Land of Israel, then governed by Moslem Ottoman rule, since 1517. These new arrivals that were known by the names 'pioneers' (Halutzim) and 'ascending immigrants' (Olim), were affected by the renewal of the spoken Hebrew language in the 'reformed rooms'. They were inspired by the new lingual-nationalistic spirits in Europe of the 'Spring of Nations' that were associated with national language, and by the new secular Hebrew literature emerging in the mid-19th century, all over Europe, that spread the new ideas of the enlightenment and the new liberal nationalism. The Jews enjoyed new equal legal rights as citizens, for the first time, in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, since 1867. They were also much affected by the visionary writings of Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), who wrote in Vienna his visionary books on the Jewish future. They were much influenced by the Dreyfus affair at 1894, and by the recurring pogroms, blood-libels and religious persecutions against the Jews in Russia and the Ukraine, that followed the assassination of Alexander the II (1818-1881), the Tsar of the Russian Empire, that were known as the 'the southern storms'. These pogroms pre-figured the pogroms of 1903-1905, and were culminated by the 1500 separate pogroms and massacres between 1917-1920 in the regime of Symon Petliura (1879-1926) in 1300 Jewish communities in the Ukraine, pogroms that caused loss of several hundred thousand people.[12]

The intense course of the liberal political turn points and judicial events, on one side, accompanied by extreme anti-Semitic aggression and violence against the Jews, on the other side, clarified to them that there was no safe place for the hated "emancipated" Jews in Russia, Poland and the Ukraine or in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Jews, who had experienced a very short opportunity in order to enjoy the benefits of liberal emancipation, before the old waves of Anti-Semites persecutions violently reappeared, those who were saved from the assassinations, decided to run away for their life. They immigrated to the New World in North America and South America, or returned to Zion, their ancient Biblical homeland. Zion and Jerusalem always existed as a vivid textual reality and ritual daily reality and as a central part of Jewish religious and cultural identity for all readers, writers and speakers of the Holy language and for all those who prayed daily in the synagogue or said the daily blessings. They called themselves Zionists and adopted the motto coined by the Zionist-Jewish-English writer, Israel Zangwill: "People without land are returning to Land without people".[13] One may certainly question the punctuality of the second part of this slogan, that one, which was based on observations of 19th century American tourists, and British travelers and writers, but the Jewish people who decided to immigrate to Zion, in the turn of the 20th century, identified with it with no doubts.

Upon the following 66 years, 1882-1948, many individuals and families from many Jewish communities all over the world, approximately 600,000 people, followed the Ukrainian and Russian Jews that returned to Zion in the end of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century. They came to the Land of Israel as remnants of the horrible pogroms and two world wars. Most of the Jewish men knew the Hebrew language from their childhood study. However, most of the women, who did not go to school to study the Hebrew language, before the secular reforms in education in the end of the 19th century in the Russian-Ukraine-Polish commonwealth, did not know Hebrew.

However, the Zionist leaders that many of them knew Hebrew as a spoken language from their childhood studies in the 'reformed rooms', decided at the very beginning of their arrival to the Land of Israel, that they will pursue and advance every effort to have a Hebrew State, a Hebrew Workforce, and a Hebrew Language. [Medina ivrit, Avoda Ivrit ve-Safa Ivrit]. The Hebrew language, old and new, religious and mundane, that was a central part of the new national secular aspirations, that followed the Zionist revolution, was the broad common denominatorfor the new national-secular revival. However, for daily communication Jewish people, men and women alike, always used other Jewish languages, Yiddish, Ladino, Aramaic or Judeo-Arabic, and general European languages like Russian, French, German and Hungarian, in Christian Europe, and local languages in Moslem Africa and Asia, and in the Holy Land.

*The Secularization of the Holy Language

In September 1889, Eliezer ben Yehuda (1858-1922) and his Zionists friends established in Jerusalem a new cultural association, called "Clear Language" that was devoted to the renewal of the Hebrew language as a language of daily communication, language of the new present, shared by all Jews in the Holy Land. The purpose of the new association was to revive the Hebrew speech in the Land of Israel. The major aim was to connect the Ashkenazim (Jews who came from Europe and spoke Yiddish as their daily language) and the Sephardim (Jews who came from the Balkan, Asia and Africa, who spoke Ladino as their daily language) and the local eastern Jews that spoke Judeo-Arabic or Yiddish as their daily language. The idea was to connect all the Jewish communities in the Land of Israel with one spoken Modern Hebrew language. Many of the new comers from Europe knew Hebrew as a spoken language, after they had learned in one of the 934 'reformed rooms' in the Russian-Polish-Ukrainian Jewish communities, where often boys and girls studied together for the first time. Or they learned together in the higher schools known as Gymnasia "Tarbut" (Hebrew speaking secular educational system in Russia and Poland for the Hebrew speaking students, that was active between the two world wars and taught thousands of Jewish students) and taught modern Hebrew. This lingual and cultural education had great effect on the revival of Hebrew as a modern spoken language for every daily need, in the Land of Israel. The amalgamation between the New Hebrew speakers from the 'reform rooms' and Gymnasia "Tarbut" and the traditional religious students of Hebrew as a Holy Language, did not always work well. The secular new comers, the Zionist 'revivalists', who managed to transform the Holy Language into a modern spoken secular Hebrew, tried to impose the new version of Modern Hebrew as an exclusive national language, on all the Jews in the Land of Israel, while the conservative religious circles struggled against them. One further step that was demanded in the first decades of the second half of the 20th century was that all the other languages that the new immigrants brought with them from their birth-place and home towns, and all the different collective cultural memories that were embedded in them, were pushed aside, marginalized or even forbidden.[14]

The first children that were born in the Land of Israel to the Zionist pioneers of the first immigration (1881-1904), the second immigration (1904-1914), and the third immigration (1919-1923), were not usually taught to speak Hebrew by their mothers. Often the children learned to speak Hebrew from male Hebrew teachers, who knew well not only Modern Hebrew from the 'reformed rooms' and 'Gymnasia Tarbut' in Europe (1917-1939), but also Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic and Midrashim Hebrew. They knew it from their studies in their youth in the Yeshiva, and could use old words from those written corpuses in a new way. The male teachers often worked together with specially trained female kindergarten teachers, some of which grew up in the 'reformed rooms' in Europe and some learned in the teacher's seminars there. The teachers and the kindergarten teachers invented a new spoken Hebrew relating to the new, actual and secular present, for this new first generation of children. They asked the help of experts in the Hebrew language and the assistance of Hebrew writers and poets. They engaged Hebrew teachers and scholars, philologists, librarians and dictionary editors, who were living among the new immigrants or were still living in Europe, to provide them with New Hebrew words pertaining to every secular dimension of actual life, which the holy language did not provide. They required new words for every practical aspect of secular life or for use of the needs of the present, and not for commemoration of the holy past and the religious culture, or for cultivating national messianic hopes for the redemptive-heavenly future.

The teachers and kindergarten teachers of the turn of the 20th century needed secular words for toys, for baby food, for cooking, for children songs, for children cloth, for new kinds of house furniture, for kitchen utensils, for shopping, for daily provisions and for agricultural tools or daily housekeep. Such words and many others were not readily available in the Holy Language, and probably were well known to the mothers in Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian and Ladino, but not in the holy Hebrew language. As noted above, most of the Holy Language of countless generations of readers and writers, focused on vocabulary that pertained to the sacred past, to holy abstract heavenly entities, to sacred covenants or to the holy mystical tradition and to the messianic future, but hardly ever paid attention to the needs of the secular mundane present. The new secular Hebrew language was developing in the Land of Israel in the circles of the pioneers and the new comers, the teachers and the kindergarten teachers. At the same time it developed in the 'reform rooms' in Russia and Poland where the Hebrew language was taught as a spoken language, and little later in the comprehensive Hebrew secular educational system of "Tarbut" in Europe. The new comers integrated new modern secular components to the old Holy language and created a new amalgamation of old religious vocabulary and new innovative secular words.

The secular national revival of the new language and the new secular national identity, was achieved by abandoning significant parts of the previous collective memory that was embedded in the holy language, and created a new library and had generated various lingual initiatives. Many members of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel and in other Jewish communities all over the world, men and women alike, were trying to contribute to the secularization of the Hebrew Language. They participated in the transformative process of converting the ancient holy written language of the fathers, Leshon ha-kodesh, the holy tongue, into a modern spoken secular language of children and mothers, that was called Leshon ha-hol, 'the secular tongue' or the 'mundane vernacular'. Two great contributors among many others to this process were the Jewish national poet, Hayim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934), born in the Ukraine, who invented four hundred new Hebrew words, based on new conjugation of ancient rare words. (Among them, such words as Airplane, Camera, Export and Import, Firefly, Accident, Response, Fertility, Simplicity, Legislation, and Demonstrate). The second one, Eliezer ben Yehuda (1858-1922), the author of the first Modern Hebrew dictionary, invented about three hundred new words, based on adoption of words from other Semitic languages. Among his invention are the New Hebrew words for Ice cream, Doll,Bicycle, Sidewalk, Brush and Train.

This radical process of modern innovation of the Holy Language was involved in secularizing ancient holy idioms. The innovators did not pay attention to the ancient Talmudic instruction: "Things of profane nature are permitted to be said in the holy language, sacred things are forbidden to speak in profane language". (BT, Shabbat 40 a). Few examples will be sufficient to demonstrate the desacralization process of the ancient religious Hebrew. The new invention, electricity, was translated into an ancient rare mystical word Hashmal, found only once in the Bible in the "vision of the chariot" of the priest-prophet Ezekiel (Ez. 1:4). The name of the new building of the Israeli secular parliament is "mishkan", "tabernacle", referring to the biblical name for the sacred residence of the divine presence. The secular daily newspaper Maariv took its name from the priestly evening prayer at the Temple and later in the synagogue. The Merkava (Hebrew: מרכבה,] is a main battle tank used by the Israel Defense Forces. The mystical meaning of its name is "chariot", derived from the divine chariot of the cherubim – Cherub is the name of a winged being mentioned frequently in the Bible (Genesis 3: 24; Ezek. 1: 5-28; 10:1-22). This transformation of many sacred ancient words into secular new words was accomplished by many participants who did not understand the full ramifications of what they were doingwhen they participatedin the modernization and secularization of the ancient holy language.

Many new Hebrew children songs, children books, study books, children newspapers, alongside new local newspapers, new books in the new language for new generation of readers, as well as translations of many books from the world literature, reflected the innovative process of turning the sacred Jewish language into a secular Zionist Hebrew. Naturally, this desacralization process raised a great deal of resentment among the observant Orthodox circles, who could not accept the spoken secularization of the holy written language or the marginalization of the Yiddish, their daily language. The innovation of the ancient language by suppressing parts of its past and secularizing parts of its holy vocabulary raised concerns in secular scholarly circles as well. The scholars were concerned with the harmful consequences of this actualization and secularization of the Holy language in the future.


*The danger of suppressed religious vocabulary in modern secular language.

The great German –Jewish-Israeli scholar, Gershom Scholem (1897-1982),the founder of the modern scholarship of Jewish Mysticism, who was born in Berlin and immigrated to Jerusalem in 1924, was an eye witness of the process of the secularization of the Holy language. This process took place when the first pioneers realized that every moment in the new-old land is containing in it an intense encounter between the mythical biblical past and its messianic expectations, and the actual secular Zionist experience. That is to say, they understood the inevitable conflict between the ancient infinite religious memory of the Holy Land and its Holy Language, and the new Zionist secular reality and the New Hebrew language that suppressed and reinterpreted the Holy Language.

Nearly hundred years ago, Gershom Scholem wrote in 1926, a famous letter concerning the Hebrew language, to the eminent German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929). Scholem wrote remarkably perceptive observations about the great danger of the process of actualization and secularization of the holy language in the new settlement:

Gershom Scholem

On Our Language: A Confession

-For Franz Rosenzweig. On the occasion of 26 December 1926

This country is a volcano, and language is lodged within it.

People here talk of many things that may lead to our ruin,

and more than ever of the Arabs. However, there is another danger,

much more uncanny than the Arab nation, and it is a

"Actualization" of the Hebrew language? That sacred language

on which we nurture our children, is it not an abyss that must

open up one day? The people certainly don't know what they

are doing. They think they have secularized the Hebrew

language, have done away with its apocalyptic point. But that,

of course, is not true: the secularization of the language is no

more than a manner of speaking, a ready-made expression. It is

impossible to empty the words so bursting with meaning,

unless one sacrifices the language itself. The phantasmagoric

Volapuk spoken in our streets precisely defines the

expressionless linguistic space which alone has permitted the

"secularization" of language. But if we transmit the language

to our children as it was transmitted to us, if we, a generation

of transition, revive the language of the ancient books for

them, that it may reveal itself anew through them, shall not

the religious power of that language explode one day? And

when that explosion occurs, what kind of a generation will

experience it? As for us, we live within that language above an

abyss, most of us with the steadiness of blind men. But when

we regain our sight, we or our descendants, shall we not fall

into that abyss? And we cannot know if the sacrifice of those

who will perish in that fall will be enough to close it again.

The initiators of the Hebrew language renaissance believed

blindly, almost fanatically, in the miraculous power of

language, and that was their good fortune. Because if they

had been clairvoyant, they never would have had the demonic

courage to resuscitate a language destined to become an

Esperanto. Even today, they continue to walk along,

enchanted, above an abyss from which no sound rises; and

they pass on the ancient names and signs to our youth. As for

us, we are seized with fear when, amidst the thoughtless

discourse of a speaker, a religious term suddenly makes us

shudder, though it may even have been meant to console.

This Hebrew is heavy with impending catastrophe. It cannot

and will not remain in its present state: our children have no

other language left, and it is truly they alone who will pay the

price for that meeting we have arranged for them, without

ever having asked them, without asking even ourselves. The

day will come when the language will turn against those who

speak it. There are already moments in our own life when this

happens, unforgettable, stigmatizing moments, when all the

presumptuousness of our enterprise is suddenly revealed.

When that day comes, will there be a young generation able

to withstand the revolt of a sacred tongue?

Language is name. The power of language is enclosed in

the name; the abyss of language is sealed within it. Now that

we have invoked the ancient names day after day, we can no

longer hold off the forces they contain. Once awakened, they

will appear, for we have summoned them with terrible

violence. Indeed, we speak a vestigial, ghostly language. The

names haunt our phrases; writers and journalists play with

them, pretending to believe or to make God believe that all

this is really not important. Yet, out of the spectral

degradation of our language, the force of the holy often

speaks to us. For the names have a life of their own; if they

did not, woe to our children, who would be abandoned,

hopeless, to an empty future.

Hebrew words all that are not neologisms but have been

taken from the treasure-house of our "good old language,"

are full to bursting with meaning. A generation that takes over the most fruitful part of our tradition- its language – cannot,

though it may ardently wish to, live without tradition. When

the day finally comes and the force shored up in the Hebrew

language is unleashed, when the "spoken"' the content of

language, takes form once again, our people will find itself

confronted anew with that sacred tradition, signifying the

choice before them: either to submit or to perish. Because at

the heart of such a language, in which we ceaselessly evoke

God in a thousand ways, thus calling Him back into the reality

of our life, He cannot keep silent. This inevitable revolution

of language, in which the Voice will again become audible, is

the only subject never discussed in this country. Because those

who endeavor to revive the Hebrew language did not truly

believe in the Judgement to which their acts are summoning

us. May the levity that has accompanied us on this apocalyptic

path not lead us to our destruction.

Jerusalem, 7 Tevet 5687.[15]

Scholem's wise, far-sighted and frightful prophecy materialized approximately 40 years later in the political reality in the State of Israel, when Jewish religious messianic national fundamentalism that returned to the Holy Language, emerged in the circle of Rabbi Zevi Yehuda Kook after the victory in the Six day war at 1967. This victory was interpreted as a messianic moment that opened new religious horizons of returning to the Biblical past and paving the way to new unprecedented messianic future. The messianic feelings and the religious yearnings to the biblical past (reinstating the Jerusalem Temple on the Temple-mount, where today the Dome of the Rock is situated, re-establishing the Kingdom of Judea, crowning a king and resuming the Temple sacrifices and the priestly service) further consolidated following the 1973 war of the Day of Atonement. It started when certain extreme sections of the wright-wing national-religious population, known as the "settlers" or as "Gush Emunim",[16] students of Rabbi Cook, adopted the ancient religious priestly language of the Temple Sacrifices and the divine worship of the High Priesthood of the Temple cult. They further revived the messianic language of redemption and beginning of salvation and integrated it forcefully to the political reality of post –war secular Israel. What started as messianic revival attached to the new settlements in the occupied territories, which were perceived as part of the "promised Land" or the biblical land of Israel, had ended in a tragic murder of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995). He wanted to negotiate on peace with the Palestinians in return to giving them back most of the occupied territories, however, the messianic settlers perceived it as treason in Biblical Israel and the apocalyptic horizon and they were determined to stop the peace process that required giving up on biblical territories, in every way. A fundamentalist-messianic religious Jew, who believed that the Prime Minister was endangering the promised messianic revival by his intentions to sign a peace treaty that involved returning of the occupied territories, assassinated Rabin in 1995. The right wing in Israel that supports the settlers or the biblical narrative and the messianic orizon, is in power since 1996. Parties that support the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple and the renewing of the sacrifices are legitimate part of the political discourse.

Hanan Porat (1943-2011), one of the founders of "Gush Emunim", expressed an apt example for this explosive language that tries to renew the holy past, on the expanse of annihilation of the secular Zionist present, in a public statement before the murder. He wrote explicitly about the purpose of the settlements in the occupied territories from the point of view of the messianic right wing who believes in the renewal of the religious biblical past in all cost. He delineated clearly the intentions of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live beyond the Green Line in illegal settlements:

"The ingathering of the exiles, the establishment of the state and its defense are only the first stages.We have other great goals, which are integral part of Zionism: First and foremost, the establishment of "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). The restoration of the Shekinah to Zion, the establishment of the kingdom of the house of David and the building of the Temple - as a key point in "the repair of the world in the kingdom of God ".[17]

This mystical-messianic expression, derived from the Holy Language, that became the foundation for the right-wing national religious party, had been first cultivated in the Land of Israel by the mystical-messianic teacher, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak haCohen Kook (1865-1935), in the first third of the 20th century. His son R. Zevi Yehuda Kook (1891-1982) had promoted this messianic-mystical language uncompromisingly and vigorously within the new political entity of the State of Israel. His devoted students continued to promote the ancient messianic language, the Holy Language, that had been studied for thousands of years as a language of the Biblical past and the messianic future. The religious students uncovered the ancient holy language under the secular modern Hebrew of Israel as democracy, and they integrated it with their biblical territorial aspirations in the third part of the 20th century, after the 1967 War, a position, which has been forcibly integrated into the political discourse until today.[18] The political-religious murder of prime-minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 was profoundly influenced by this very process that integrated ancient messianic hopes with the new settlements in the occupied territories that Israel held after the state victory in the war of 1967. The newly occupied territories were endorsed as a sign of the emergence of the new-old messianic era that was nurtured by the Holy Language for two thousand years. The crisis after the consequences of the war at 1973 generated the religious political activities of the right wing in the occupied territories. Israel today is profoundly divided between two factions, right and left, religious and secular, messianic and democratic. One faction responds to God's voice from Biblical times invested with messianic promises, kept in the Holy Language; the other faction listens to Modern Hebrew and adheres to the 'Declaration of Human Rights and the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The first faction wants to renew the biblical past and its messianic mystical context, as preserved in the ancient Holy Language and the sacred Jewish library- written in a transcendental language in which "every letter is full of worlds, souls and divinity"[19]. The second faction hold to the imminent importance of the secular Zionist project as a homeland to the persecuted Jewish people, and the Modern Hebrew language as the foundation of the new vision of the Jewish-democratic State of Israel, a state of all its citizens.

All Jews share love and respect to the ancient Holy Language, the language of their ancestors. All Jews share love and respect to the common Jewish past and to the sacred ancient library, and most of them who are living in the State of Israel speak Modern Hebrew. However, all Modern Hebrew speakers are profoundly divided between those who are guided by their total commitment to the Holy Language of the past, and its practical instructions, in their political adherence and daily life as observant religious settlers, who wish to revive the Biblical past, and to renew the messianic present and the renewal of the Temple; and between those who refuse to return to Biblical Israel as a living practice in the present and to live within messianic-priestly horizon in the future. The voice of God and the voice of the covenant in the Holy Language is heard loud and clear by half of the population. The other half hears the voice of reason and compromise, the voice of liberal democracy and equal human rights. It seems, currently, that the two parties have no common language in the last fifty years.

[1]Isaiah Berlin, 'The Origins of Israel’ (1953) in: W. Z. Laqueur (ed.) The Middle East in Transition (London: Routledge 1953)

[2] The Mishna, the early stage of rabbinic literature, coined the expression "Leshon ha-Kodesh" or Holy Language, as the only language that an individual Jew may pray. See Mishna Sota 7:1.

[3] Scholars debate the precise date of the 'book of creation'. Some ascribe it to the first century, some to the six-century and others to the 8th-9th centuries. See a recent review of the different opinions: Tzahi Weiss, Sefer Yesirah and its context, Penn Press 2018.

[4] Arie Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah; the Book of Creation in Theory and Practice, San Francisco, Weiser Books. (1997).

[5] See note 4 above.

[6] See J. Charlesworth (ed.) The Old testament Pseudepigrapha, volume II,Doubleday, garden City 1985, The Book of Jubilees. pp. 35-142.

[7] On the priestly calendar see: James Vanderkam, Calendars in the Dead Sea scrolls : measuring time, London 1998; Rachel Elior, The Three Temples : on the emergence of Jewish mysticism, Oxford 2004

[8] See: Rachel Elior, Grandmother did not know to read and write, Jerusalem; Carmel 2018.[Hebrew]

[9]Parts of the ancient priestly literature were preserved in translation in the Christian Bible. They were known later as the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha. Parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were written in Hebrew and Aramaic, correspond to the Apocrypha or the Pseudepigrapha. Other parts of the rich priestly literature, historical, legal, liturgical and mystical, were un-known until they were found in Hebrew and Aramaic between 1947-1956 in the Judean Desert.

[10] See Jacob Suessmann, "Tora shebeal pe, peshuta kemashmaa", [[ oral law literally,[mehkarei talmud [Talmud Sudies] vol. 3, 1 (2005), :209-384.

[11]See Rachel Elior , "From Earthly Temple to Heavenly Shrines – Prayer and Sacred Song in the Hekhalot Literature and its Relation to Temple Traditions", Jewish Studies Quarterly, vol. 4,3 (1997): 217-267.

[12] Henry Abramson, a Prayer for the Government: Ukrainians and Jews in Revolutionary Times, 1917-1920, Harvard University Press, 1999.

[13] See: Adam M. Garfinkle, "the origin of the remark attributed to Zangwill, its uses and abuses", Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4, 1991.

[14] The Zionists perceived the Yiddish language as embodying the Jewish life and culture of Exile, which in their eyes was debased and backward, a language that is negating Zionism in its very essence of submission to life in exile. Yiddish was the mother tongue of most of the Jews who were born in Europe, and therefore in the negation of Yiddish the Zionists embodied the negation of exile. There were struggles on the supremacy of Hebrew, the prohibition of speaking Yiddish, and teaching in German in the new academic institutions during the first three decades of the 20th Century in the Land of Israel and in several Jewish communities in Europe. The ultra-orthodox circles in the four holy communities, Jerusalem Hebron, Tzfat and Teveria, who used Yiddish as their daily language and Hebrew as a holy language, resented forcefully the secularization of the holy tongue.

[15] Translated from the German by Ora Wiskind, published in: History and Memory, Vol. 2, No. 2 (winter, 1990): 97-99.

[16] Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) was an Israeli Orthodox Jewish, messianic, right-wing activist movement, committed to establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights based on the belief that, according to the Torah, God gave it to the Jewish people and the Messiah will come when all the land will be settled.

[17] See: introduction to the book Hagai Huberman, Against all odds; 40 years of settlement in Judea, Samaria, Benjamin and the valley 1967-2007

[18] See: Michae Feige, Settling in the Hearts: Jewish Fundamentalism in the Occupied Territories, Detroit 2009; Motti Inbari , Messianic Religious Zionism Confronts Israeli Territorial Compromises, New York : 2012; Ehud Sprinzak, 'From Messianic Pioneering to Vigilante Terrorism: The Case of the Gush Emunim Underground,' in David C. Rapoport(ed.),Inside Terrorist Organizations, Routledge 2013 pp. 194-215.

[19] as Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism wrote in his 'holy epistle' in 1746.

5th May 2020

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