Must Hebrew Shed Its Sanctity to Become a Modern Language?

March 3 2015

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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More about: Arts & Culture, Bialik, Gershom Scholem, Language, Modern Hebrew, Modern Hebrew literature, S. Y. Agnon

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times