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The Three-Year-Old Child Who Became Hebrew’s First Native Speaker after a Two-Thousand-Year Hiatus

Sept. 7 2017

Hebrew ceased to be anyone’s native tongue around the 2nd century CE. In 19th-century Europe, Jews attempted to revive Hebrew as a modern language, but only as a literary one. It was the quixotic and determined Eliezer Ben-Yehudah who first envisioned bringing the language fully back to life. Lewis Glinert, author of the recently published The Story of Hebrew, explains what this entailed:

In a Jewish section of Jerusalem, in 1885, Ben-Yehudah and his wife Dvorah were fearful for their child: they were rearing him in Hebrew, an unheard-of idea. They had taken in a wet-nurse, a dog, and a cat; the nurse agreed to coo in Hebrew, while the dog and the cat—one male, the other female—would give the infant Itamar an opportunity to hear Hebrew adjectives and verbs inflected for gender. All other languages were to be silenced.

When Itamar turned three, however, he had still not uttered a word. Family friends protested. Surely this mother-tongue experiment would produce an imbecile. And then, the story goes, Itamar’s father marched in and upon finding the boy’s mother singing him a lullaby in Russian, flew into a rage. But then he fell silent, as the child was screaming: “Abba, Abba!” (Daddy, Daddy!). Frightened little Itamar had just begun the reawakening of Hebrew as a mother tongue. . . .

Speaking Hebrew was actually nothing new in itself; it had long been a lingua franca among Yiddish-, Ladino-, and Arabic-speaking Jewish traders (and refugees). The markets of the Holy Land had resonated with Hebrew for hundreds of years. But a pidgin is not a mother tongue. Ben-Yehudah was a born philologist; he plucked words from ancient texts and coined his own, hoping one day to launch Hebrew’s answer to the Oxford English Dictionary. The birth of Itamar gave him an opportunity to put his experiment with Hebrew to the test. Could they rear the boy in Hebrew? Could they shield him from hearing other tongues? And, just as critically, could the family be a model for others?

Read more at Aeon

More about: Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Hebrew, History & Ideas, Modern Hebrew, Zionism

In Dealing with Iran, the U.S. Can Learn from Ronald Reagan

When Ronald Reagan arrived at the White House in 1981, the consensus was that, with regard to the Soviet Union, two responsible policy choices presented themselves: détente, or a return to the Truman-era policy of containment. Reagan, however, insisted that the USSR’s influence could not just be checked but rolled back, and without massive bloodshed. A decade later, the Soviet empire collapsed entirely. In crafting a policy toward the Islamic Republic today, David Ignatius urges the current president to draw on Reagan’s success:

A serious strategy to roll back Iran would begin with Syria. The U.S. would maintain the strong military position it has established east of the Euphrates and enhance its garrison at Tanf and other points in southern Syria. Trump’s public comments suggest, however, that he wants to pull these troops out, the sooner the better. This would all but assure continued Iranian power in Syria.

Iraq is another key pressure point. The victory of militant Iraqi nationalist Moqtada al-Sadr in [last week’s] elections should worry Tehran as much as Washington. Sadr has quietly developed good relations with Saudi Arabia, and his movement may offer the best chance of maintaining an Arab Iraq as opposed to a Persian-dominated one. But again, that’s assuming that Washington is serious about backing the Saudis in checking Iran’s regional ambitions. . . .

The Arabs, [however], want the U.S. (or Israel) to do the fighting this time. That’s a bad idea for America, for many reasons, but the biggest is that there’s no U.S. political support for a war against Iran. . . .

Rolling back an aggressive rival seems impossible, until someone dares to try it.

Read more at RealClear Politics

More about: Cold War, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Ronald Reagan, U.S. Foreign policy