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.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Web Yeshiva

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

An Israeli Nonaggression Pact with Sympathetic Arab States Would Be an Important Step on the Road to Peace

Dec. 10 2019

Reportedly, Israel has begun negotiations, mediated by the U.S., to establish a nonaggression pact with Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. This would bring the hardly secret but still covert ties between these countries and Jerusalem into the open. Without involving a complete normalization of diplomatic relations, such a pact would nevertheless constitute a move in that direction. Yoni Ben Menachem comments:

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month

Register

Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Bahrain, Israel diplomacy, Israel-Arab relations, Morocco, Oman, United Arab Emirates