Hebrew’s Excellent Adventure

March 30 2017

In The Story of Hebrew, Lewis Glinert traces the history of the holy tongue from pre-biblical times to contemporary Israel, explaining not just how the language evolved but also how it was viewed, preserved, and—against considerable odds—revived. Alan Mintz writes in his review:

[A]fter reading Lewis Glinert’s witty and learned volume, I not only understand why he called it [The Story of Hebrew], I’d be tempted to go him one better and suggest The Adventures of Hebrew. It’s a great story because there is nothing inevitable about it. Whether it was the period of the Bible or the Mishnah or Maimonides, there was always a danger, often the likelihood, that Hebrew would be lost in the break-up of great communities and subsequent migrations. That Hebrew managed to emerge from each crisis enriched is a fact we can appreciate only in retrospect. Each station along the way is, in fact, its own story thick with complications, suspense, and surprise.

The biggest surprise is that we have gotten the shape of the story all wrong. Because of the success of Zionism and Israel, Hebrew is the first language of several million people, and we tend to take that fact as the fulfillment of its destiny. A moribund, bookish tongue was finally given voice and sprang to life, redeemed.

Make no mistake: the revival of Hebrew was indeed a miracle. But Glinert shows that in telling that story, we have radically underestimated the importance of Hebrew as the matrix of Jewish literacy for almost 2,000 years. . . . I thought that I was well-versed in the history of Hebrew, but there was hardly a page in this book from which I didn’t learn something new.

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More about: Hebrew, History & Ideas, Jewish history, Language

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East