ARTICLES

WHAT'S IN A WORD!

BRACHA ERLANGER

Jun 21, 2009
Did you know the USA was once close to making Hebrew its official language? When the first pilgrims (the Puritans) arrived in America fleeing religious persecution, they saw their journey as a re-enactment of the Jewish Exodus: the English king was Pharaoh, the Atlantic was the red sea and they were the Israelites arriving in the promised land. As such, some of the founding blocks of the USA are rooted in the Hebrew Bible and language.
 
Prominent American universities such as Yale, Harvard and Princeton made Hebrew a compulsory part of the curriculum in the 18th century; Many students made their opening speeches in Hebrew and the official university emblems often had a Hebrew phrase (Yale took the words ‘Urim Vetumim’ - referring to the Oracle within the breast plate worn by the high priest). In fact Hebrew was so prevalent that certain members of Congress proposed that "the use of English be formally prohibited in the United States, and Hebrew substituted for it” Imagine!
 
A driving force was the desire to read the bible in its original form, to gain direct access to the root of all languages. Actually we speak Hebrew daily, as many words have been taken directly from Hebrew eg alphabet (Alef-Bet), cinnamon (Kinamon), czar (Sar) and jubilee (Yovel). Others are Hebrew expressions, such as a heavy heart, finding favour, the writing on the wall and even grapes of wrath. And these are but a drop in the bucket (a direct translation of Isaiah 40:15)... In fact Hebrew is so intertwined in other languages that we hardly give it a thought.
 
Hebrew is a vital part in sustaining Jewish unity and spirituality and is an enriching source to world linguistics. On a practical level, knowlege of Hebrew makes prayer much more meaningful.
 
Learn Hebrew, it’s worth the challenge!

TAGS for this article: Hebrew | Language