BACKGROUND AND HISTORY OF HEBREW

Written and spoken Hebrew has been around since (at least) 1350 BCE and yet it is a living, dynamic, modern language.It belongs to the Semitic family of languages and its "relatives" are Aramaic, Akkadian, Arabic and Amharic. Hebrew is the language of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the forefathers of the Jewish people and of the Bible (The Old Testament). Hebrew is both logical and terse. But it has proven versatile, flexible and rich as much as or more than most languages. Some of the most magnificent literary works were written in Hebrew, among them are the writings of Prophets, Psalms, Songs of Songs, Proverbs and Ecclesiastics.


The earliest physical evidence of Hebrew inscriptions was found in the El-Amarna letters, a diplomatic correspondence between Canaanite Kings and the Egyptian Pharaohs of the mid 14th century BCE. After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans (70 C.E.) and the failure of the Bar-Kokhba revolt against the Romans (135 C.E.), Hebrew gradually ceased to be a spoken language. But Hebrew served as the vehicle for philosophical, romantic, scientific and theological works as well as splendid poetry by Judah Alharizi, Judah Halevi, and Maimonides during the Middle Ages.


The Haskalah (Enlightenment), started in the late eighteenth century, brought about modern Hebrew literature. Eliezer ben-Yehuda provided the ideological fervor, sense of mission, and the first modern dictionary. His son , Itamar, was the first child in modern history to speak Hebrew from birth. In 1921 Hebrew became one of the official languages of the British mandate of Palestine (together with English and Arabic). After the establishment of the State of Israel it became the main spoken and written language. S.Y. Agnon became the first Hebrew writer to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. Many young contemporary writers, such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, Yehuda Amichai and David Grossman have responded to the challenge and keep the flame going.

As a living language, Hebrew continues to grow. It draws on Yiddish, Ladino, English, and Arabic, among many other external influences. Today Hebrew is used in all walks of life, on radio and television, in kindergardens, schools and universities, in scientific institutions, shops and warehouses, theaters, songs, books, journals and daily newspapers.