Yes, argued Hayyim N. Bialik, one of the great poets of the early 20th century. He wanted to “reprogram” Hebrew for mundane use by stripping it of the layers of sacred connotation it had acquired over the centuries. Gershom Scholem, the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, held that to do so was impossible, but he also believed that Hebrew was “fraught with danger” because repressed religious meanings could resurface in unexpected ways. According to Jeffrey Saks, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist S. Y. Agnon showed through his works that Hebrew’s sacred reverberations could be channeled without being discarded:
S.Y. Agnon neither feared Hebrew nor considered that it could be neutralized of its embedded values. Agnon’s magisterial use of the language is a distillation of the dialects of [traditional Torah study] throughout the millennia, . . . [replete with] word plays and allusions to the entirety of the Jewish bookshelf. But that is merely on the aesthetic plane. If contemporary linguistic theory . . . is correct that language is not the reflection of a universal human hard-wiring, but far more culturally specific and determined, . . . anyone committed to the role of Jewish learning in Jewish life ought to re-explore and recommit himself to the pursuit of mastering the Holy Tongue.
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