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

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.

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