revival of the
Devora Ben-Yehuda(neé Jonas) (m. 1881; her death 1891)
Hemda Ben-Yehuda(neé Jonas) (m. 1891; his death 1922);
Eliezer Ben‑Yehuda (Hebrew: אליעזר בן־יהודה;
pronounced [eli'ʕezeɾ ben jehu'da]; born Eliezer Yitzhak
Perlman; 7 January 1858 – 16 December 1922) was a Hebrew
lexicographer and newspaper editor. He was the driving spirit behind
the revival of the
Hebrew language in the modern era.
2 Journalistic career
4 Death and commemoration
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Ben-Yehuda and wife Hemda, 1912
Eliezer Yitzhak Perlman (later Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) was born in Luzhki
(Belarusian: Лужкі (Lužki), Polish: Łużki), Vilna Governorate
Russian Empire (now Vitebsk Oblast, Belarus). He attended
cheder where he studied
Hebrew and 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, Mishna, and Talmud. His mother
and uncle hoped he would become a rabbi, and sent him to a yeshiva.
There he was exposed to the
Hebrew of the enlightenment which included
some secular writings. Later, he learned French, German, and
Russian, and was sent to Dünaburg for further education. Reading the
Hebrew language newspaper HaShahar, he became acquainted with the
early movement of
Zionism and concluded that the revival of the Hebrew
language in the
Land of Israel
Land of Israel could unite all
Upon graduation he went to
Paris to study at the Sorbonne University.
Among the subjects he studied there were history and politics of the
Middle East. While he was in
Paris he met a Jew from Jerusalem, who
Hebrew with him. It was this use of
Hebrew in a spoken form that
convinced him that the revival of
Hebrew as the language of a nation
was feasible. Ben-Yehuda spent four years in Paris.
In 1881 Ben-Yehuda immigrated to Palestine, then ruled by the Ottoman
Empire, and settled in Jerusalem. He found a job teaching at the
Alliance Israelite Universelle
Alliance Israelite Universelle school. Motivated by the surrounding
ideals of renovation and rejection of the diaspora lifestyle,
Ben‑Yehuda set out to develop a new language that could replace
Yiddish and other regional dialects as a means of everyday
Jews who made aliyah from various regions of the
world. Ben-Yehuda regarded
Zionism as symbiotic: "The
Hebrew language can live only if we revive the nation and return it to
the fatherland," he wrote.
To accomplish the task, Ben-Yehuda insisted with the Committee of the
Hebrew Language that, to quote the Committee records, "In order to
supplement the deficiencies of the
Hebrew language, the Committee
coins words according to the rules of grammar and linguistic analogy
from Semitic roots: Aramaic and especially from Arabic roots" (Joshua
Blau, page 33).
Ben Yehuda was married twice, to two sisters. His first wife,
Devora (née Jonas), died in 1891 of tuberculosis, 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 within a period of 10 days. Six
months later, he married Paula, who took the
Hemda Ben-Yehuda became an accomplished journalist and
author in her own right, ensuring the completion of the Hebrew
dictionary in the decades after Eliezer's death, as well as mobilising
fundraising and coordinating committees of scholars in both Palestine
Ben‑Yehuda raised his son,
Ben-Zion Ben-Yehuda (the first name
meaning "son of Zion"), entirely in Hebrew. He did not allow his son
to be exposed to other languages during childhood. He even berated his
wife for singing a Russian lullaby. Ben-Zion thus became the first
native speaker of modern
Hebrew as a mother tongue.
Ben-Yehuda was the editor of several Hebrew-language newspapers:
"HaZvi," "Hashkafa" and "HaOr." "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, their holy tongue, for
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda while working on the
Hebrew dictionary, 1912.
Ben-Yehuda was a major figure in the establishment of the Committee of
Hebrew Language (Va'ad HaLashon), later the Academy of the Hebrew
Language, an organization that still exists today. He was the author
of the first modern
Hebrew dictionary and became known as the
"reviver" (המחיה) of the
Hebrew language, despite opposition to
some of the words he coined. Many of these words have become part
of the language but others — some 2,000 words — never
caught on. His word for "tomato," for instance, was bandura, but
Hebrew speakers today use the word agvania.
Ancient languages and modern Standard Arabic were major sources for
Ben-Yehuda and the Committee. According to Joshua Blau, quoting the
criteria insisted on by Ben-Yehuda: "In order to supplement the
deficiencies of the
Hebrew language, the Committee coins words
according to the rules of grammar and linguistic analogy from Semitic
roots: Aramaic, Canaanite, Egyptian [sic] ones and especially from
Arabic roots." Concerning Arabic, Ben-Yehuda maintained, inaccurately
according to Blau and historical evidence, that Arabic roots are
"ours": "the roots of Arabic were once a part of the
Hebrew language .
. . lost, and now we have found them again"! (Blau, page 32).
Death and commemoration
Ben-Yehuda home on Ethiopia St., Jerusalem
In December 1922, Ben Yehuda, 64, died of tuberculosis, from which he
suffered most of his life. He was buried on the
Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives in
Jerusalem. His funeral was attended by 30,000 people.
Ben Yehuda built a house for his family in the
Talpiot 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), which
organizes workshops, seminars and
Hebrew language ulpan programs.
In his book Was
Hebrew Ever a Dead Language,
Cecil Roth summed up
Ben-Yehuda's contribution to the
Hebrew language: "Before
Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, they did."
Eliezer Ben Yehuda's residence
^ "Young Ben-Yehuda". huji.ac.il.
^ a b c d Naor, Mordechai. "Flesh-and-Blood Prophet". Haaretz.
^ a b c d Balint, Benjamin. "Confessions of a polyglot".
^ St. John 1952.
^ St. John 1952, p. 125.
^ St. John 1952, p. 149.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-22. Retrieved
Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives - Jerusalem". trekker.co.il.
^ "Ben-Yehuda Home". fulfillment-of-prophecy.com. Archived from the
original on 2009-03-16.
^ "Beit Ben Yehuda - International Meeting Center in Jerusalem".
Blau, Joshua The Renaissance of Modern
Hebrew and Modern Standard
Arabic. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. 1981.
Fellman, Jack (1973). The Revival of a Classical Tongue: Eliezer Ben
Yehuda and the Modern
Hebrew Language. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton.
1973. ISBN 90-279-2495-3
St. John, Robert (1952). Tongue of the Prophets. The Life Story of
Eliezer Ben Yehuda. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company
Inc. ISBN 0-8371-2631-2.
Lang, Yosef . The Life of Eliezer Ben Yehuda. Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, 2
Ilan Stavans, Resurrecting Hebrew. (2008).
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.
The personal papers of
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda are kept at the Central
Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. The notation of the record group is A43
An interview with
Dola Ben-Yehuda Wittmann (Eliezer Ben-Yehuda's
daughter) at the Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive
Works by or about
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda at Internet Archive
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda at
LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
ISNI: 0000 0001 0905 4572
BNF: cb12131565f (data)