Sunday, October 25, 2015

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Thank you for visiting The Muqata






An Important Message from Jameel at the Muqata

Hi All –

It has been a very crazy past few weeks, and we welcome many new followers from all over the Globe.  Over 36,000 people currently follow the Muqata on Facebook, over 7,500 on twitter, and a few hundred are using our Android mobile application.

We are currently followed from the following countries (and more):

USA, Israel, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, India, France, Philippines, Mexico, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Indonesia, Argentina, Malaysia, Iraq, Norway, Gibraltar, Greece, Czech Republic, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Ireland, Egypt, New Zealand (special shout out to our readers in NZ!), Portugal, Russia, Austria, Colombia, Chile, Panama, Denmark, and others.

We have large fan bases in the following cities (and more):

New York, NY; Jerusalem, Israel; Brooklyn, NY; Tel Aviv, Israel; London, England, United Kingdom; Melbourne, VIC, Australia; Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa; Los Angeles, CA; Toronto, ON, Canada; Chicago, IL; Bet Shemesh, Israel; Modi`in, Central District, Israel; Teaneck, NJ; Baltimore, MD; Sydney, NSW, Australia; Ra'anana, Central District, Israel; Efrat, , Israel ; Montreal, QC, Canada ; Miami, FL; Manchester, England, United Kingdom; Atlanta, GA; Giv`at Shmuel, Central District, Israel; Woodmere, NY; Philadelphia, PA ; Monsey, NY; Beit-Shemesh, Israel ; Boca Raton, FL ; Haifa, Israel ; Ma'ale Adummim,  Israel; Lakewood, NJ, Cleveland, OH; Passaic, NJ ; Pittsburgh, PA ; Silver Spring, MD ; West Hempstead, NY ; Houston, TX ; Boston, MA; Queens, NY ; Skokie, IL ; Bergenfield, NJ; Thornhill, ON, Canada ; Washington DC; San Diego, CA ; Miami Beach, FL ; Great Neck, NY and many other cities.

Our news service about Israel is purely volunteer and not for profit.  We anonymously volunteer around the clock to provide news from Israel in the hope that it will further connect people to the Land of Israel in the spirit of the ingathering of the exile.  Please help us keep our anonymity – if you know who we happen to be, please don’t spread the word.

There are many costs which we pay for out of pocket – webhosting, DNS, internal development to provide posting and editing on all social media platforms for staff, and our development for the android app and hopefully soon for an IOS/iPhone solution as well.  We thank those of you who have donated computer equipment, phones, and money to help us along the way.

Until we get a more formal fundraising process in place (Muqata t-shirts, cooking aprons, Muqata blue and white anti-terrorist umbrellas, Muqata coffee mugs, and other impressive apparel), we are turning to our fan base and asking for donations to help us cover our costs and to offer token appreciated to our computer and news staff.  There is a PayPal link here, which sends donations directly to us -- and we appreciate any donation, small or large.

While tensions are running very high in Israel, and we are trying hard as a society to maintain a semblance of normalcy – comments left here need to be “toned down”.  We will not tolerate blatant incitement.  When Israel haters screen-snapshot some of our comment threads to show the “hatred of Israel”, it doesn’t bring the Muqata any honor.  Yes, we know where the incitement comes from, yes we know where the hatred is taught, yes we know about all the daily lies coming from Arab leaders and their apologists around the world – but we don’t want to see comments that say “Death to Arabs…etc.”  We simply do not have the resources to screen comments, and we do not want to be shut down by Facebook for “not adhering to their social community standards” – no matter how hypocritical it may be that Arabic FB pages outright call for the destruction of Israel, and are not banned. 

We remind our readers that we adhere to the rules of the IDF military censor.  While news may be posted by foreign news services, we will not post any news stories that conflict with the censor.  Last night, rumors abounded of “IDF soldiers or officers or even senior officers who were kidnapped by Syria….IAF pilots taken hostage by ISIS” and many others.  Yet during the first hours of the incident last night, when the IDF had not yet ascertained the identity of the hang glider person who flew into Syria, there was a serious gag order to prevent additional news focus on the area of the search.  Had it been a Jewish Israeli who accidentally flew into Syria – the news blackout was essential for Israel to operate as quickly and quietly as possible. 

Lastly, when there are victims of terror, or fallen IDF soldiers or from other Israeli security services – we will not release names until they are cleared for publication.  Too many times in recent years, families of victims have found out via social media, whatsapp or SMS messages, of the death of their loved ones, instead of from professional and official sources. Until names are made public officially, do not post names, occupations, locations, or any information that can identify them.  We will ban people from the Muqata blog if they do.

Thank you again for your friendship and camaraderie – looking forward to sharing good news as well.

Sincerely,

Jameel @ The Muqata 
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Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Muqata Update - Summer 2015


Hi Muqata Readers.

It's been over 10 years since we started the Muqata Blog.  We've informed, conserved and entertained tens of thousands of readers over the past decade via millions of page views.  Over the past 3 years, we've gradually moved our current event live-news reporting to our Facebook and Twitter feeds.


Currently, we are excited to report that we are beta testing a Muqata Android smartphone application which will receive (user-configurable) push notifications of breaking news, news, opinion, life in Israel, and Color Red rocket alerts in real time.  Also in development is an IOS (Apple iPhone) version which we hope to start beta testing soon.

As soon as the apps are deployed we plan on ensuring that all posts also appear here on the blog, so that all our social media platforms will be in sync (blog website, muqata smartphone apps, facebook, twitter and email notifications).

We thank you for your support, friendship and community over the past decade and we hope to continue to an even more exciting future over the next ten years.  Nothing is more exciting than seeing fans, friends and readers make aliya to Israel and we are thankful to have met many of you.

I would like to thank our dedicated development staff at Muqata Development Labs led by senior developer -- Clint Eastwood, our beta testers, our graphic designers, the Muqata news staff,  our news partners at the Jewish Press Internet Edition, and our fans and readers from around the planet.

As we enter the 9 days period of mourning the destruction of the Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, we pray to merit the rebuilding of the Third Temple, along with the ingathering of the Jewish people to our homeland in the Land of Israel.

From the rolling hills of the Shomron,

Jameel Rashid
The Muqata



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Monday, February 16, 2015

A Personal Reflection on MK Uri Orbach z’l

A Personal Reflection on MK Uri Orbach z’l
By Jameel @ The Muqata

Despite the title above, I never met Uri Orbach personally. I read his many books, read his children books to my children and laughed with my kids at his clever poems, rhymes, stories and wit, while we smiled at the outstanding illustrations from Shay Charka (who partnered with Orbach on many books). His books and newspaper articles for adults were witty, funny, introspective and always brought out a smile.

So how did I know him so well – in addition to his books and articles, he co-hosted “The Last Word” daily radio show on IDF radio. Uri was the right-leaning, kippa-wearing host and opposite him was the left-leaning, secular Irit Linor. Their cheerful daily banter on politics and religion was a breath of fresh air in Israel’s strident media – showing that 2 sides of the spectrum could intelligently disagree on issues of major importance with humor and respect. If you wanted to see how Israel’s diverse mosaic of citizens could get along with each other, Uri was a great representative for religious Zionism. He could get his message across without yelling, without insulting, without making someone feel uncomfortable – yet with a kindness and humor that was infectious and left you wanting to hear more.

I looked through my blog for tidbits about Uri from over the years and it brought a smile to my face (nor did it surprise me at all) that he was on the jury for deciding the great Efrat Cholent competition in 2011.

Uri entered politics and represented the “Bayit Yehudi” party and his background was a living example of the party; raised and educated with the values of religious Zionism, he attended the Nechalim religious high school and then the hesder Yeshiva in Kiryat Shmona (a 5 year program of yeshiva studies and IDF combat service).

Uri brought a unique value to the Knesset of togetherness that rarely exists in Israel’s spectrum. Orbach had no “bitter political enemies” in the Knesset, and while he had his direction, ideology and opinions, Orbach was a rare common denominator that all could agree upon – he was a mentsch, a leader, and a friend. Uri was a cabinet member in the current government responsible for senior citizen services and you can still hear his influence in the gently comical ads on the radio, advertising improved services for the elderly.

It is hard to succinctly summarize the life of someone who wrote so much, communicated via radio, TV, internet, newspapers, social media, and touched the lives of so many in Israel during his short lifetime of 54 years. I hope we can continue his legacy of finding some common ground between us to continue the dream of building the State of Israel, together.

May his memory be a blessing.


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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Herzl's Switzerland Plan


Theodore Herzl founded the Zionist political movement in the late 19th century, aimed at creating a safe haven for the Jewish people.  Besides Israel, he considered various options to serve as the Jewish national homeland: First Argentina, and then later on, Uganda.

Herzl thought that the situation was so dire, that (even temporarily) Jews would be willing to forego Israel as their homeland.  In doing so, however, he showed ignorance of the eternal and ongoing bond of Jews to the  Land of Israel.  Israel was not just a dream, it was and is the core and essence of Judaism.

But Herzl also didn't realize how much Jews were connected to the Hebrew language. In his book, Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), published in 1896, he suggested the Switzerland plan:
It might be suggested that our want of a common current language would present difficulties. We cannot converse with one another in Hebrew. Who amongst us has a sufficient acquaintance with Hebrew to ask for a railway ticket in that language? Such a thing cannot be done. Yet the difficulty is very easily circumvented. Every man can preserve the language in which his thoughts are at home. Switzerland affords a conclusive proof of the possibility of a federation of tongues. We shall remain in the new country what we now are here, and we shall never cease to cherish with sadness the memory of the native land out of which we have been driven. 
We shall give up using those miserable stunted jargons, those Ghetto languages which we still employ, for these were the stealthy tongues of prisoners. Our national teachers will give due attention to this matter; and the language which proves itself to be of greatest utility for general intercourse will be adopted without compulsion as our national tongue. Our community of race is peculiar and unique, for we are bound together only by the faith of our fathers.”

Herzl did not realize that the Jewish nation is bound both by a common tongue (Hebrew) and by a common land (Israel).

But Herzl quickly realized his mistake.  Michael Berkowitz, Der Judenstaat's Hebrew translator, wrote in his foreword 'to the Hebrew readers' that Herzl asked him to erase that section.

In a later edition of the book, he retells the tale:
"When [Herzl] entered the Zionist circle and came to know the eastern Hovevei Zion group − their demands and aspirations and the state of their Hebrew education − he realized that there are among us many readers of Hebrew, not only of books but also of newspapers. And when he gave me permission to translate his book into Hebrew, he found in this very fact − that Hebrew readers would read his book − proof that this language can and will be rejuvenated as the national language and that it must be the sole dominant language in the Jewish state.  And then he asked me to erase from my translation the entire chapter which talks about the 'language of the land'.  But, for the literary truth, I chose to present the book with its original content and format, since even the German original didn't change in the newer editions, though the author had already changed his mind as to some details."

כשנכנס לחוג הציוניים והכיר את חובבי ציון המזרחיים, דרישותיהם ושאיפותיהם, ומצב השכלתם העברית, נודע לו, כי יש בקרבינו הרבה קוראים, לא רק לספרים אלא גם לעתונים יומיים, בעברית; וכשנתן לי הרשות לתרגם את ספרו לעברית מצא בעובדה זו עצמה, שקוראים עברים יקראו את ספרו, ראייה, כי שפה זו יכולה ועתידה לחדש נעוריה בתור שפה לאומית, וצריכה היא להיות השפה השלטת היחידה במדינת היהודים, ואז מלא את ידי למחוק בתרגומי את כל הפרק המדבר על אודות ״שפת הארץ״. אולם, למען האמת הספרותית, בחרתי לתת את הספר בתכנו הראשון ובצורתו המקורית, יען כי גם המקור האשכנזי לא נשתנה במהדורות החדשות, אף-על־פי שבכמה פרטים נשתנו כבר אז דעתו ומחשבתו של המחבר.


The 'details' in question were: Israel as the national homeland and Hebrew as the national tongue.

Herzl wrote his book in 1896, more than 15 years after Eliezer Ben-Yehuda launched his 'revival of Hebrew', but apparently nobody bothered to inform Herzl.  Herzl did not realize that Jews had been reading newspapers in Hebrew even before he was born.  He did not know that Jews met and conversed in Hebrew.  He was completely unaware that Hebrew was still living and breathing, just as he was unaware that the Land of Israel was still living and breathing.

And so Berkowitz translated the book, including the paragraph about 'nobody being able to order a train-ticket in Hebrew', in Hebrew.
  הן לא נוכל היום לדבר עברית, כי מאתנו יש לאל ידו לדרוש פתקא למסעו במסלת הברזל בשפת עבר? אבל גם הדבר הזה פשוט הוא מאד. 

It's interesting to note that though the modern words for 'ticket' and 'train'  (כרטיס and רכבת) had already been invented many years previously - 'ticket' by Yehuda Leib Gordon and 'train' by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda - Berkowitz used the more antiquated words.

In fact, those 'new' words weren't really needed.  Hebrew was a living lanugage, and Hebrew speakers and writers could communicate quite well about the most mundane matters even before Ben-Yehuda appeared.  It is true that we were missing some vocabulary, but many newly coined words replaced existing words .   For example, using one-word nouns instead of compound nouns.

Though Berkowitz  preferred to retain the language issue in the Hebrew version of Der Judenstaat, he published a letter in the most popular Hebrew-language newspaper of the time, Hamagid, informing readers that Herzl had realized his mistake.





Berkowitz later served as Herzl’s Hebrew-language secretary. Herzl needed to know how the Zionist movement was portrayed in the Hebrew press, and needed somebody to assist him answering all the Hebrew letters he received…


See here for an archive of articles about our history in Israel.


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Thursday, January 08, 2015

What Convinced Ben-Yehuda That Hebrew Could Be Revived?


During the past millennium and a half, Hebrew was used by Jews mainly as a literary language (and, in fact, as the sole literary language).  However, Jews did use Hebrew in speech as well, when it was necessary to communicate with other Jews.

Linguist Chaim Rabin points out that since every Jewish man had to know Hebrew on some level, Hebrew was the natural candidate for the inter-Jewish 'lingua franca' - the common language.

As we'll see, Israel was the one place where Hebrew was consistently in use. Both because Israel is the birthplace of Hebrew and traditions remained for generations, and because Israel was the place where Jews from all over the world converged. And they usually shared only one language: Hebrew.

Since this use of language was anecdotal, all evidence is also anecdotal. This article does not intend to be complete - there are many more examples, from all over, of Jews speaking Hebrew.


Rabbi Saadia Gaon, of the 10th century, wrote the first Hebrew-language dictionary, where he explains: I've seen that many Jews aren't using our language properly, even on its simple level; and so of-course they aren't familiar with its more difficult words. And when they speak, they use many words erroneously."

"ראיתי שרבים מבני-ישראל אינם בקיאים בצחות לשוננו הפשוטה, ועל אחת כמה וכמה במלים הקשות שלה. וכאשר הם מדברים, הרי מלים רבות בשגיאות."

The dictionary was written mostly for poets, but Rav Saadia Gaon points out that the book it also intended to help Jews speak with God, wherever they go, in their business dealings, in the privacy of their homes, and to their children.

"שוח ישיחו בו עם אלהינו , בצאתם ובבואם , ובכל משלח ידם , ובחדרי משכבם, ואל עולליהם."


We have a few pieces of anecdotal evidence regarding 10th century Jews speaking Hebrew in Tiberias. Eli ben Yehudah ha-Nazir, a Hebrew grammarian, writes (in his Arabic book on the Hebrew language): "I would sit long hours in the town squares of Tiberias and its villages, listening to the speech of the simple and common folk, and studying the language and its foundations, and what they pronounced in the Hebrew language, and the Syriac language and its kinds, that is, the language of the Targum and the rest, for it is close to the Hebrew language..."

Aharon Ben Moshe Ben Asher, a grammarian as well, writes that a certain Hebrew pronunciation was common in Tiberias, "whether they read from the Torah or speak in conversation: men, women and children".

Jacob Mann, the great researcher of the Cairo Genizah, wrote that those documents show that Hebrew might have been spoken during the 10th-12th centuries, and that they supply material for study "on Hebrew in speech and in writing throughout the centuries both in Palestine and in the countries of the Diaspora."

Writing about a 12th century woman's letter, written in fluent and poetic Hebrew, he points out that she came from a learned family and that it "would not be unusual for her to have possessed a good knowledge of the Hebrew language".

The ability to write personal letters - which we can find Jews doing throughout the generations - shows that Jews had the vocabulary and capability to handle a Hebrew-language conversation. If you can write your friend what you did today, then, theoretically, you can also speak to him about it.

Rabbi Shlomo Parhon, a 12th-century North African scholar, wrote a lexicon in Hebrew called "Mahberet He’arukh" (מחברת הערוך). At the time, Sephardi linguists wrote their books in Arabic, which meant they were inaccessible to Ashkenazi Jews. Rabbi Shlomo Parhon wanted to introduce Ashkenazi Jews to the advances of Hebrew grammar by the Sephardi linguists.

In the introduction he apologizes for his bad Hebrew. Unlike European Jews, he says, he wasn't very experienced in speaking Hebrew.

"Because those who live here were not so accustomed to speaking the holy tongue, because all the places in Muslim lands share the same language, and all the visitors who come to them are familiar with their language, so that they had no need to use the holy tongue or to be accustomed to it. But each of the Christian lands has a different language, and when visitors come to them they don’t understand what they are saying, and they had to speak to them in the holy tongue, and therefore are more accustomed to it."


"Sefer Hasidim", written in Germany in the early 13th century, also mentions spoken Hebrew .

In one story, an elderly man is asked what he did to deserve such long life. He answers: "Because I had guests in my home and they did not understand my language and spoke Hebrew to me while I was in the bathhouse, and I never spoke [Hebrew] in the bathhouse or toilet, also for secular matters, even though it's allowed. And because I was strict [about the sanctity of Hebrew], I was awarded with long life."

Notice that the man spoke Hebrew, and could do for both religious and secular matters, but refrained from speaking it when he was in the bath or toilet.

Another story describes a Jew who was taken captive in a distant land. One day a group passed by, and the captive identified them as Jews, as they spoke Hebrew amongst themselves.

Sefer Hasidim also gives advice to those who don't speak Hebrew well. "If somebody comes to you who doesn't understand Hebrew and wants to focus in his prayers, or if a woman comes to you, tell them to learn the prayers in a language they can understand."

Obviously, not everybody could understand or speak Hebrew. Women, for example, weren't even expected to in that era. But most men were expected to pray in Hebrew and understand what they were saying.


Another example of Hebrew speech doesn't even involve Jews. Bertrandon de la Broquière, a French nobleman, visited Israel in the early 15th century and wanted to return to Europe overland, a very risky venture at the time for a Christian. In Damascus, he approached a Muslim, Kodja Barqouq, who was going towards Bulgaria and asked to join him. Barqouq who was concerned about whether Broquière could pass himself off as a local, asked him whether he could understand Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, the vulgar tongue or Greek.

In the late 15th century, a German traveler by the name of Arnold von Harff visited Jerusalem and wrote down a few words and sentences he learned from a few local German Jews. The accent, as he wrote it down, is very much Ashkenazi, and there are some mistakes, but they even gave him an example of a short conversation:  "Are you Jewish? Yes."

"יהודי אתה? כן דיברת!"


Towards the end of the 16th century, in 1597, Rabbi Yosef ben Elchanan Halperin wrote a grammar textbook for children called "Em Hayeled" (The Child's Mother). This book was meant to teach Hebrew verb conjugation to seven-year olds. As the author explains: it's meant to teach children to speak properly and to write Hebrew, so that when a father asks his child a word, the child could respond without hesitation and without confusing tenses etc.

A year later, Rabbi Morderchai Yaffe wrote of his own experience: "I've heard the author's seven-year-old students with my own ears and they knew all the verb forms."






Rabbi Isaiah Horovitz, the Shelah, came to Israel in the early 17th century. He passed through Aleppo, where he gave a sermon. He tells about it in his letter to his family (written in Hebrew): "They only speak Hebrew, and whenever I gave a sermon there, I did so in Hebrew."

"וכל לשונם לשון הקודש, ובכל עת שדרשתי שם, דרשתי בלשון הקודש באר היטב"


Obviously, the Jews of Aleppo did not only speak Hebrew. But they could communicate with a rabbi who came from afar and did not know Arabic.

This is just one example of many. Many Jews were sent by the Israeli community to collect money abroad. They too often spoke Hebrew with their Jewish hosts.


In the mid-17th century, Rabbi Nathan Nata Hannover wrote a Hebrew-Latin-German-Italian dictionary meant to teach Jews how to speak other languages ("to teach you to speak to kings and dukes"). The premise, of course, is that Jews knew Hebrew fluently enough and that it was possible to teach regular speech in another language, using Hebrew.

One chapter is dedicated to talking business, or in other words: a conversational guide. Here's part of the conversation he brings, discussing going to the market: "We'll get there first, then we can choose the better and cheaper produce. After that, a lot of traders come to the fair, and they raise the prices."




The dictionary was quite popular and was reprinted several times throughout the 18th century. A later printer added French and more conversations, this time of a general nature (such as visiting friends).


Back to Israel. The early 18th century German Franciscan Monk, Friar Elzearius Horn, reports from Jerusalem that the Europeans mostly speak Italian, the Orientals speak Arabic or Turkish, and the Jews speak Hebrew.

Stephan Schultz, a German Protestant missionary, visited Israel in the mid-18th century. He tells of his meeting with Jews in a yeshiva in Tiberias, "which they, after that of Safed, hold to be the biggest in the Orient. Here I found about 20 youngsters who were studying the Talmud; some of them were from Poland, others from Italy and elsewhere. One among their teachers still knew some Yiddish, but the others, however, because they had left their fatherland very young, spoke Portuguese or Spanish and Arabic. I had to speak Hebrew therefore, which they understood best, but were not used to speaking."


And now we get to the 19th century, and to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. In his article "The Dream and its Realization" (החלום ושברו) (*), he explains that he believed Hebrew could be revived as a spoken language, because he met Jews who spoke Hebrew.

The first person Ben-Yehuda met who spoke conversational Hebrew was George (Getzel) Selikovitch - a Russian Jew who spent some time in North Africa. It was also the first time Ben-Yehuda heard the Sephardi accent. Selikovitsch told Ben-Yehuda that, until he learned Arabic, he spoke to the North African Jews in Hebrew. Ben-Yehuda summed up his meeting: "The question of the revival of spoken Hebrew was immediately solved".

Ben-Yehuda met M. Zundelman, an Israeli teacher, in Paris, where they sat at a cafe, and spoke in Hebrew for a couple of hours about Ben-Yehuda's plans. This was Ben-Yehuda’s first long, serious conversation in Hebrew, which wasn't aimed at 'speaking Hebrew', but rather to discuss the topic at hand.

Ben-Yehuda, who for the first time felt that he spoke Hebrew as if it was his natural language, realized how difficult it would be to use this language in day-to-day life and that he needed to make a list of words. He therefore coined his first new word: מילון ("milon", dictionary).

[Though Rabbi Saadia Gaon already coined a perfectly good word for it: אגרון - agron.  Today this word developed to 'egron', meaning 'theasaurus']

In 1875, Ben-Yehuda was hospitalized in Paris, and there he met Avraham Moshe Luntz, who came from Jerusalem and spoke Hebrew fluently.  All of Ben-Yehuda’s conversations with Luntz were in Hebrew, and he started getting used to the Israeli (ie, Sephardi) accent. Luntz told Ben-Yehuda that all the Jewish communities of Jerusalem spoke amongst themselves in their own tongue, but the only language they all shared was Hebrew, which they spoke with a Sephardi accent.

Ben Yehuda wrote that these conversations strengthened his belief that Hebrew could be revived in Israel.

It's interesting to note that by this time, the situation had completely changed from Parhon's time. Ashkenazi Jews all spoke a common tongue (Yiddish), while different Sephardi communities spoke different languages and could not understand each other. Therefore Sephardi Jews were more used to speaking Hebrew.

Ben-Yehuda could speak to people in Hebrew almost immediately when he got to Israel. When he spoke Hebrew to the landlord of his inn in Jaffa, the man was surprised, but answered him in Hebrew. Ben-Yehuda then went out for a stroll. The city was mostly Arab at the time, but there were a few Jewish merchants. He stopped by a Jewish money-changer, and conducted his first business deal in Hebrew. The man's easy Hebrew was like a 'salve to a sore soul, and the revival of the language shined again before my eyes."

"ויהי לי הדבר הזה באמת כצרי לנפש העגומה.  תחיית הלשון הבריקה שוב לפני עיני."

Ben-Yehuda took a wagon to Jerusalem. Ben-Yehuda asked the driver if he knew Hebrew. The driver answered 'a little', and though he stuttered, he was able to speak it in light conversation.

In Jerusalem he was met by Dov Frumkin, his boss at the Hebrew-language Havatzelet newspaper, who spoke to him in Hebrew. While he was by Frumkin, Ben-Yehuda had time to observe the many guests who came by. The Sephardi Jews spoke Hebrew, while the Ashkenazi Jews spoke Yiddish, though they also spoke a bit of Hebrew, in honor of Ben-Yehuda.

Ben-Yehuda also met with Yehiel Michael Pines, with which he spoke Hebrew.  Ben-Yehuda noted that Pines' wife could understand some of that conversation. However, Ben-Yehuda was critical of Pines, who always spoke Hebrew with him, but not with his family and friends.

Because Ashkenazi Jews continued to speak Yiddish to each other, though they could speak Hebrew to Sephardi Jews, later on Ben-Yehuda took to dressing up like a Sephardi Jew. That way Ashkenazi Jews didn’t feel uncomfortable speaking Hebrew to him.


Throughout the generations, Jews spoke Hebrew.  They did not use Hebrew in regular speech, but they could, when they needed to.

Hebrew is the only language in the world today to have been "revived", but that's because it was never dead.  Ben-Yehuda did not start from scratch, and as he himself recognized, that was a most significant factor in the revival of spoken Hebrew.


(*) Ironically, in modern Hebrew the phrase is used to mean "a dream and it's dissolution”.


See here for an archive of articles about our history in Israel.


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Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hebrew Firsts

A few 'firsts' in Hebrew. All stories mentioned here took place between the 3rd and 20th century, when Hebrew was (supposedly) 'dead'.


If you know of earlier examples, I’d be glad to know.


First medical treatise


The first medical book in Hebrew is Sefer Harefuot (ספר הרפואות) - the Book of Medicines, written by Assaf ben Berechiah.  He was also known as Assaf Harofe (Doctor Assaf), and is commemorated by the Israeli hospital of that name.


He lived in Israel around the 3rd-7th century, as can be seen (among other things) by the purity of his Hebrew and by the fact that he was influenced by Talmudic and Greek knowledge, but not by Arabic medicine.


The book expects physicians to uphold a high moral standard. It discusses illnesses, treatments and prevention and prescribes exercise, healthy food and sanitation. It also describes around 100 medicinal herbs and stresses cheap medicines which can also be afforded by the poor.


The book also describes Israel's climate, waters and natural resources.


The book was known in France in the 9th century, and later in Italy as well.


In the introduction Assaf brings an oath and prayer for Jewish physicians.


It begins as follows:



זאת הברית, אשר כרת אסף בן ברכיהו ויוחנן בן זבדא עם תלמידיהם, וישביעום בדברי האלה: אל תצודו (תצדו) להמית כל נפש במשתה העקר

"This is the pact which Asaph ben Berakhyahu and Yohanan ben Zabda made with their pupils, and they adjured them with the following words: Do not attempt to kill any soul by means of a potion of herbs”



Full oath here in Hebrew and English.



First poem written by a woman


The first Hebrew poem (that we know of) that was written by a woman, was written by Mrs. Donash Labrat, who lived in 10th century Spain.


Her poem was discovered in the Cairo Genizah, in an exchange of letters with her husband, the famous grammarian and poet.


In this poem Mrs. Donash chastises her beloved for leaving her and the family while he traveled to far-off lands.

הֲיִזְכּוֹר יַעֲלַת הַחֵן יְדִידָהּ 

בְּיוֹם פֵּירוּד וּבִזְרוֹעָהּ יְחִידָהּ 

וְשָׂם חוֹתַם יְמִינוֹ עַל שְׂמֹאלָהּ
 וּבִזְרוֹעוֹ הֲלֹא שָׂמָה צְמִידָהּ 

בְּיוֹם לָקְחָה לְזִכָּרוֹן רְדִידוֹ
 וְהוּא לָקַח לְזִכָּרוֹן רְדִידָהּ – 

הֲיִשָּׁאֵר בְּכָל אֶרֶץ סְפָרַד
 וְלוּ לָקַח חֲצִי מַלְכוּת נְגִידָהּ?
 
And will her love recall his graceful doe 
Cradling her son and left alone?

Who set his right hand’s seal on her left 
Is not his arm wrapped with her precious stones?

That day she made a keepsake of his cloak 
And he made hers a keepsake of his own

Would he remain in all the land of Spain 
If he’d been given half her prince’s throne?


Original and translation via Soul and Gone.


The only other Hebrew poetess of the medieval era that we know of is Merecina from Gerona, who lived in the 14th-15th century and wrote a piyyut which begins: "מי ברוך נורא ואדיר" ("Blessed, Majestic, and Terrible").


First BDS manual


Samuel Vivas was born in Israel in 1550. He served as a rabbi in Safed, then practiced medicine in Cairo, then he moved to Istanbul and finally to Italy. In 1593 he converted to Christianity and changed his name to Domenico Gerosolimitano (Domenico of Jerusalem).


Then he got a new job - censoring Jewish books. In fact, many Hebrew-speaking Jewish converts worked as censors for the Church, and so Samuel/Domenico wrote a helpful instruction manual for them, which he named Sefer Hazikkuk (ספר הזיקוק), the Book of Censorship.


The book lists general rules for censoring Jewish books and discusses specifically 426 Hebrew books.


Some examples of these rules:


כל שם משומד, כשאינו מדובר על דבר מה לחרפה לו, ימחק ויכתב במקומו: עכו"ם. אמנם אם הוא יזכר לחרפה לו ימחק לגמרי


כל שבח שמשבח אומה ישראלית, אשר ימשך ממנו חרמה לנו ויובן בזמן הזה, ימחק כל הענין כולו


All mentions of the term משומד (apostate) which are not insulting should be replaced by עכו"ם, but if it is insulting it should be erased entirely. 

Any praise to the people of Israel which implies disgrace for us, and is understood to be referring to the present time, should be entirely erased.





It’s interesting to note that back in those days, self-hating Jews converted.  They didn’t work for the enemy while claiming to still have Jewish interests at heart.


In today’s world, Samuel might have remained Jewish and would have justified to himself that by censoring our most holy books he was just helping Judaism and Jews. Otherwise the nations might hate us and we would bring ruin upon ourselves.



First native speaker in the modern era


In 1866 a man in Minsk by the name of Mordechai Aharon Teomim decided to raise his newborn son in Hebrew, and only Hebrew.


In 1873, when the child was seven years old, he was met by several Maskilim - members of the Haskalah movement.  They were quite impressed with his Hebrew speech: “He speaks whatever he wishes in pure Hebrew, just as people speak in any other language.”


Indeed, they wrote about it in the "Hamagid" newspaper, hoping that other people would follow in his footsteps.



Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was only 15 at the time, so he probably missed it.


See here for an archive of articles about our history in Israel.


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Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wanted: Dead, Alive or Hebrew


As is commonly known, Hebrew was a dead language for close to 2000 years.

As Israeli linguist Chaim Rabin explains:
The speaking of Hebrew ceased about 200 CE (...) Since 1881 Hebrew again became a language spoken by the people.

Note the exact date when Hebrew became a spoken language again.  1881.  Unsurprisingly, this is the same year when the first Zionist aliyah began and when Eliezer Ben Yehuda came to Israel.

So what happened between 200 and 1881?  Hebrew was dead and Jews had no common language, right?

As the Guardian puts it, in their review of Shlomo Sand's book:
In 2009, Shlomo Sand published The Invention of the Jewish People, in which he claimed that Jews have little in common with each other. They had no common "ethnic" lineage owing to the high level of conversion in antiquity. They had no common language, since Hebrew was used only for prayer and was not even spoken at the time of Jesus. Yiddish was, at most, the language of Ashkenazi Jews. So what is left to unite them?

Well, let's go back to what Rabin has to say.
[The Jews] did indeed speak [Hebrew] sometimes, on the Sabbath, or when they desired not to be understood by gentile bystanders, or with Jews from other countries; but this ability to speak occasional Hebrew did not move them to any attempt to speak Hebrew at all times.

He's right.  Jews did not speak Hebrew at all times.  But if Hebrew was a dead language and if Jews did not speak Hebrew, how were they able to speak it occasionally?

The answer is that while Hebrew was not 'alive', it wasn't 'dead' either.

As much as people like Shlomo Sand would like to think otherwise, the Jewish people have had two constants in their history which united them into one nation: a common land and a common language.

And just as there were constant attempts to renew the land, there were constant attempts to renew the language.

It's easy today to dismiss those attempts, because they were not as successful as those of the past century or two, but it is a mistake to do so.  We build on the efforts of those who have come before us.  If the Jews of the 5th, 10th, and 15th century hadn't taken concrete steps to renew Jewish sovereignty in Israel, we wouldn't have been able to do so in the 20th century.

And if the Jews of the 5th, 10th and 15th century hadn't written and used Hebrew and hadn't taught their children to do the same, we wouldn't have been able to do so today.

Other nations today want to emulate us and cannot understand why the Jews were so successful in returning to their land and language and they are not.  They do not realize that keeping your link to your ancient heritage is a lot of hard work.  Once you let it go, it is almost impossible to get it back.

In the years when Hebrew was 'dead', Jews created an impressive body of literature, from religious works to historical narratives, translated works and original creations, poems, plays and personal letters.  In some cases, they also spoke Hebrew.

This article is the first in a series.  In future articles I will discuss the history of our language.

I'll end here with a short quote from Yannai, one of Israel's foremost poets.  This piyyut (hymn) was written about 1500 years ago, when Hebrew was officially 'dead' for over 300 years.  It was part of the prayer for the Torah portion relating to Jacob's return to the land of his ancestors.



In simple, clear language, Yannai draws the parallels between Jacob and his descendants - the Jew standing in prayer - both of whom are named 'Israel'; between returning to the land and returning to God.

Yannai, who lived in Israel, points out that no matter where we go, we will always be strangers in a strange land, and he asks God to return us, in peace and quiet, as sovereigns in our homeland.


See here for an archive of articles about our history in Israel.


Follow the Muqata on Twitter.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד

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