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Hebrew: The Eternal Language

by William Chomsky

Bibliographic information

TitleHebrew: The Eternal Language
AuthorWilliam Chomsky
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001
SubjectGeneral Jewish-Interest Literature
Pages343


Description 

Of the ancient languages spoken in the Near Eastern cradle of civilization, Hebrew alone has survived and has a history to the present day. The extraordinary story of the Hebrew language is the subject of this book. Dr. Chomsky takes his readers on an intellectual journey from man's early attempts at communication, through the biblical and post-biblical literature, the Middle Ages, the 19th century Enlightment and into the era of the return to Palestine. This stimulating and informative volume is meant primarily for the layman whose curiosity about the Hebrew language may have been aroused by its revival in the twentieth century.



About the Author 

William Chomsky ---

Dr. William Chomsky holds an eminent place in the world of Jewish scholarship. He has written both learnedly and in a popular vein on various aspects of Jewish literature and general education. William Chomsky described by friends as a “very warm, gentle, and engaging individual,” is the father of Noam Chomsky, who is seen as one of the most significant and influential linguists of the twentieth century.




Contents 

INTRODUCTION – The Role of Hebrew in Jewish Life

PART I – How the Language Began to Be Spoken

CHAPTER 1 – Hebrew and the Languages of Mankind

CHAPTER 2 – How the Hebrew Language Began

CHAPTER 3 – The Early Non-Biblical Sources of Hebrew

PART II – How the Written Language Took Form

CHAPTER 4 – How the Hebrew Alphabet Originated

CHAPTER 5 – How Did the Vowel-System Evolve?

CHAPTER 6 – How the Study of Hebrew Grammar Began and Developed

CHAPTER 7 – How Was the Text of the Hebrew Bible Preserved?

PART III – How the Language Was Preserved

CHAPTER 8 – How Did the Hebrew Language Grow?

CHAPTER 9 – How the Hebrew Language Has Kept Abreast of Changing Needs

CHAPTER 10 – How Hebrew Evolved as a Modern Vernacular

CHAPTER 11 – Did Hebrew Ever Die?

PART IV – How the Language Meets Modern Needs

CHAPTER 12 – The Struggle for Revival

CHAPTER 13 – Hebrew in America

EPILOGUE – Hebrew for American Jews

Notes and Bibliography

Index



Excerpt 

What is true of language in relation to individual growth is equally true in the case of the cultural growth and development of a people. Indeed, students of language have come to recognize that the experiences of a group, its mental and emotional habits, its models of thought and attitudes are registered and reflected in the words and idioms of the group”s language. Thus, for example, the word shalom, usually rendered by “piece,” has in effect little in common with its English equivalent. Shalom does not have the passive, even negative, connotation of the word “piece.” It does not mean merely the absence of strife. It is pregnant with positive, active and energetic meaning and association. It connotes totality, health, wholesomeness, harmony, success, the completeness and richness of living in an integrated social milieu. When people meet or part they wish each other shalom, or they inquire about each other"s shalom.

Similarly, the Hebrew words ruah (spirit) and nefesh (soul) do not have the implications of a disembodiment, such as are indicated by their English equivalents. There is no dichotomy in the Hebrew mind between body and spirit or soul. One is not the antithesis of the other. These Hebrew words have dynamic, life-giving and motor-urgent connotations. Every living being has ruah, even the beast possesses ruah (Ecclesiastes 3.21). The same is true of the synonym nefesh, which is generally rendered by “soul.” But nefesh, too, is the property of all living beings (Job 12.10), including the beast (Proverbs 12.10). Even the netherworld has a nefesh (Isaiah 5.14). Furthermore, every living creature, and as well animal, is designated as nefesh (Genesis 1.20, 21, 24, 12.5, 14.21, etc.). Both nefesh and ruah often signify strength and vigor, both in a material and a spiritual sense. Voracious dogs are said to possess a strong nefesh (Isaiah 56.11); and the horses of Egypt, the prophet warns, are weak: they are “flesh and no ruah” often (ibid., 31.3).

There is likewise a far cry between the Hebrew word tzedakah (from the stem tzadak, to be just or rigorous), with its implications of social justice, and the English word “charity.” In the case of “charity” the recipient sees himself beholden to the donor, whose action is voluntary. Tzedakah, on the other hand, has to be performed as a matter of obligation and the recipient is in no way indebted to the donor. The needy have a right to tzedakah, while those possessing means have a duty to give it. Indeed, even a poor person who receives tzedakah must in turn give tzedakah (Gittin 7b).

There is, likewise, a wide semantic gulf between the Hebrew rahamim or rahmanut and the English equivalent “pity” or “mercy.” The Hebrew word connotes love, family feeling (see Genesis 43.30, etc.), even motherliness, since it is related to rehem (mother"s womb) of the same stem. None of these connotations is implied in the English equivalents. Similarly, the richly meaningful and historically hallowed implications of the Hebrew torah are totally absent in the English equivalent “law.” The Hebrew term torah embraces the totality of Jewish creative labor throughout the ages. Just as inadequate is the English translation “commandment” for the Hebrew mitzvah.




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