DOI link for Hebrew linguistics
Hebrew linguistics book
A prudent scholar will be reluctant to generalize in regard to the attitude of 'Jews', or that allegedly integral to 'Judaism', towards most subjects: but it is perhaps less hazardous to use broad strokes when describing Jewish ideas as to the nature, function, and role of the Hebrew language. On the one hand, a markedly conservative approach transcended chronological periods from late antiquity until approximately 1879 (the date of the publication of E. BenYehuda's seminal article She'elah Nikhbadah ('A Matter of Moment')),l and had itself been retrojected by tradition into the culture and the purported religious notions of biblical Israel. And on the other, the revised evaluation of Hebrew that has emerged over the last hundred years has - despite some initial opposition, still sustained in exiguous pockets - come to enjoy well-nigh universal Jewish endorsement. At the time when the conventional picture was taking shape, that is during the formative period of rabbinic Judaism or approximately the four centuries 200 BCE to 200 CE, Hebrew was certainly intelligible to Palestinian Jewry, for many of whom it was still their vernacular: but at the latest by the turn of the eras the Jewish diaspora, which in Mesopotamia spoke Aramaic and from Egypt westwards spoke Greek, was overtaking Palestine demographically,2 and in the West Jewish familiarity with Hebrew was rapidly shrinking to token liturgical proportions. In such a situation even literary bilingualism, to say nothing of complete bilingualism, was the characteristic of a learned elite; but this did not modify the popular estimation of the religious and indeed the metaphysical quality deemed to be inherent in the * See beginning of Notes.