Revolutionizing Judaism . . . With a Dictionary

June 10 2016

Testifying to the agenda of the Haskalah, the 18th-century Jewish Enlightenment, a rare dictionary provides translations of Hebrew words into German, written in Hebrew characters:

[T]his “German”-Hebrew dictionary was, in its time, a bold statement. . . . The express purpose of Netiv Lashon Ivrit (“Path of the Hebrew Language”), [as the dictionary was titled], was to teach Jewish children Hebrew. The anonymous author imagined the book being put to use in Jewish schools. There is no year of publication noted but it is believed that this book was printed in Dyhernfurth, Prussia (present-day Brzeg Dolny, in southwestern Poland) in the late 18th century. The town had a long tradition of Jewish printing. The dictionary only goes up to letter g and it isn’t known if any additional volumes were ever published. . . .

The Maskilim (proponents of the Haskalah) sought a new emphasis on the Hebrew Bible [over the Talmud], whose universal human values, [they believed], were a link between Jews and the wider world. Knowing Hebrew was a key to being able to read this text unmediated by rabbinic authorities.

Hebrew was considered a noble language and a link to the glorious Jewish past. The Maskilim, by and large, disdained Yiddish as a worthless jargon, a non-language. They promoted not only Hebrew but also the acquisition of elite European languages such as German and Russian. German in Hebrew characters, sometimes referred to as Jüdisch-Deutsch, was seen as a way to wean Jews away from Yiddish. It might look like Yiddish but, in fact, was a type of “anti-Yiddish.” For readers in the Russian Empire, where this copy of the book ended up, [it] provided an opportunity to learn both German and Hebrew.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at YIVO

More about: Haskalah, Hebrew, History & Ideas, Language, Yiddish

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Commentary

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times