Monday, June 8, 2015

Unfailing Hebrew After Living in a World of Languages--A People With Their Language

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                    
Writing in clay tablets 

Jews started off speaking Hebrew as Habirus, a Semitic language of Semites 4,000 years ago, and have returned to their homeland finally where they revived their language as well.  Hebrew, Moabite and Phoenican languages belong to the Canaanite branch of Semitic languages.  People were speaking Hebrew in Canaan before the Israelite conquest.
Ancient style from Babylonian days-Aramaic Hebrew
Before Jews were exiled by the Assyrians in 721 BCE, they were speaking biblical Hebrew which was a standardized literary language with distinct idioms for prose and poetry, full-sounding, rich in vocabulary and rhetorical devices.  It borrowed many words from the surrounding languages of their neighbors.  There seems to have been a slightly different standard language in the northern kingdom of Israel from that of Judah.
Possibly didn't leave spaces between words, no period, either
Nadene Goldfoot
Biblical Hebrew continued to be spoken after the Assyrian exile for over 500 years, but showed many signs of decay and uncertainty in usage.  The reasons were the influence of Aramaic from 539 to 331 BCE, the language of officialdom which was spoken by many Jews then.  Also, mishnaic Hebrew emerged as a new colloquial language from at least 200 BCE..  Mishnaic Hebrew is not derived from biblical Hebrew but was probably from some pre-exilic colloquial dialect.  It became a literary language through the tannaim in the 1st century CE.  Speaking in Mishnaic Hebrew declined after the wars of 66-70 at the fall of Jerusalem and especially after 132-135 when Bar Kokhba's fight to regain Jerusalem ended with his death.
Evolving letter A-aleph
The language became more sober, simple and brief than biblical Hebrew had been and was better suited for more precise expression.  The prayers  composed during the Tannaitic Period combined biblical Hebrew vocabulary with Mishnaic Hebrew grammar.  Almost all later styles mixed the 2 dialects.
Early Aramaic
After the year 200, even the Jews of  Palestine (now named as such by the Romans after 135) stopped using Hebrew and wrote in Aramaic and Greek.  In about  the year 500, a literary revival began which led to the use of Hebrew in its written form throughout the Middle Ages.  Starting in Palestine, writers enriched Hebrew by inventing new words  and made some daring grammatical innovations.  Hebrew again spread throughout all of European Jews.  From 900-1400, Jews of NW Europe wrote only Hebrew.
Dead Sea Scrolls, written around 1st century CE or a little earlier
In Moslem countries including Spain, biblical Hebrew  was used for artistic writing and Arabic for other purposes.  From 1100 to 1400 they were using a strongly arabicized scientific style.  This and biblical Hebrew was found after 1500 in Italy, then Holland.
Eastern European Jews use Aramaic while women and the uneducated wrote in Yiddish.  The Haskalah of 1750-1880 revived the use of biblical Hebrew.  They even wrote modern secular literature in Hebrew.  Jewish nationalism rose by 1880 with the first aliyah returning to Palestine and modern Hebrew was born.

What a trip they've had.  Because of their often time forced migrations, Jews had to pick up many languages, and of course as they coursed through different lands and stayed for a while, had to pick up the vernacular of that land.
Israelites led away by Assyrians from Israel
For many, their first exile was in 722 BCE by the Assyrians.  By continuing their religious practices handed down by Moses, they kept their Hebrew language as everything was said in Hebrew.
When the Talmud was written, they were writing in Aramaic and Targum. There were 2; the Babyloninan Talmud-before 500 CE and the Palestinian Talmud-before 400 CE; records of disussion and administration of the laws

Jews of Persian Azerbaijan, Iraq and Persian Kurdistan kept on speaking an eastern Neo-Aramaic.
Egyptian Jews in 3rd century BCE (300s BCE) were now speaking Greek, but with Hebraisms and Aramaisms.
When Cyrus conquered Jews, they had to speak Persian. in old Persian dialect, even when Persians were speaking Middle Persian/Pehlevi.
Caucasian Mountain Jews spoke a type of Tat-a type of medieval Iranian dialect, or Farsi (spoken today in Iran.
Jews in central Asia spoke Tajaiti, another Iranian dialaect.
Georgian Jews spoke the language of their Gruzinian native population but with Hebrew expressions and forms.
Jews in Arabia by 7th and 8th centuries CE wound up speaking Judeo-Arabic.  Their speech differed from the common speech with Jewish vernaculars and many variations. They produced some of the greatest Jewish works in Arabic.
North African Jews spoke Arabic.
Jews in Iraq and Yemen were speaking Arabic, the language of the land.
Jews in Khazaria would have had to have been multi-lingual speaking many languages since they were traders, business men needing Arabic, Hebrew, and the languages around Russia.
Ethiopian Jews spoke Kuarena and are or were versed in Amharic with religious ceremonies done in a variation of Ge'ez.
Jews of the Western Roman Empire who became Ashkenazis wound up speaking Low Latin which then gave way to Old French to Italian in its various dialects to Provencal, and above all to Spanish in the Castilian form which then dominated all.
1492 Sefer Torah from Spain

 This then gave rise to Ladino, which Jews of Spain spoke.
Portugese Jews moved to Marrano/Anusim colonis in Western Europe and America from 16th to 18th centuries CE.
Jews in South and Central America spoke Spanish.
Ashkenazi Jews spoke German as that was the first country after Rome that they settled in and this turned into Yiddish a mixture of Hebrew and German, starting at end of 9th century.  Yiddish with different accents was then used all over Europe and has been the language of important literature.
American, Canadian  and British Jews  speak English. I must say that when I lived in Israel (1980-1985), there were times that as an American I could hardly understand some of the British Jews with their strong accents.  They used a few different words than we did, as well for certain things.
Russian Jews have tried to move to Israel, but those left still speak Russian
Torah, always in Hebrew-Cohens called up first to read from it
Israelis today again speak Hebrew and frown upon using Yiddish as that was the language of the Diaspora, living outside of the land of Israel.
It was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, a man from Luzhky, Lithuania born in 1858 who decided that returning Jews would speak Hebrew in their re-established state.  He himself, like all Jewish children then learned Hebrew from about the age of 5 as part of their thoroughly religious upbringing in their own schools.  He ended up finishing his education in a Russian gymnasium in 1877 when Russia proclaimed war on the Ottoman Empire to help our their fellow Slavs, the Bulgarians, to regain their independence from the Turks.  Revivals of many older lands were occurring then;  Bulgaria, Greeks in 1829, Italians in 1849 and felt that if the Bulgarians could do it, so could the Jews.  He was really the start of Zionism for he felt that the Jews must return to their land and speak their own language again.
He left Russia in 1878 and came down with Tuberculosis.  That stopped his plans to study medicine to be more useful in Palestine, but went there anyway in 1881.  He had been speaking Hebrew with everyone he met.  He spoke in Hebrew with his wife.  They got off the boat in Jaffa and spoke with everyone in Hebrew.  They spoke only Hebrew with their son in 1882.  Eventually, the whole state was speaking Hebrew by 1948.  .

Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
Letters From Israel by Nadene Goldfoot


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