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What is the difference between modern Hebrew and true Hebrew?


Good afternoon,

I read the content of your site and am astounded! But what shocked me the most is that the modern hebrew language is not the original one! Could you please give me some sort of explanation?

Thank you

Dear Martin,

The Hebrew language created by Eliezer Ben-Yehudah (1858-1922) is based on the original Hebrew, but is molded to fit into the modern world and facilitate easy word-by-word translation to and from European languages such as French and English. Besides the thousands of words borrowed from European languages and then Hebraicized according to the rules of grammar, there are many words whose original meaning was changed so that they corresponded to European words. For example, "rahitim" for furniture, "ishi" for personal, "gil" for age. Other words were taken from holy Jewish sources and applied to mundane concepts. For example, the angelic term "chashmal" was taken from Ezekiel 1:4 and used to mean electricity. The Talmudic term "teiku" meaning an unresolved question was used to mean a tie in a sports event. The pronunciation adopted by the Zionists is a hybrid of the Sephardic vowels and the Ashkenazic consonants, and thus is not the same system used by any Jewish group until that time. We see this appropriation of holy words as a sacrilege and an offense against G-d's Torah.

Let us take the example of electricity. In the Haftarah for the first day of Shavuos we read the vision of Yechezkel, the Maaseh Merkavah, one of the most esoteric and difficult chapters of the Nevi’im. The reason we read it on Shavuos is because Yechezkel’s vision was similar to what the Jewish people saw at the Giving of the Torah at Sinai (Rashi on Megillah 31a). The Mishnah rules that a sage who understands the secrets of Maaseh Merkavah may not teach them even to a single student, unless that student is wise enough to understand it on his own (Chagigah 11b).

Of all the words used by Yechezkel to describe what he saw, perhaps the one most shrouded in mystery is the word “chashmal,” which appears two times in our Haftarah. The Gemara (Chagigah 13a) gives two explanations: angels of fire that speak, or angels that are sometimes silent (chash) and sometimes speak (memalelos). Still, the Gemara makes it clear that the meaning of this word is too deep for a human being to fathom. The Gemara tells of a child who was learning Yechezkel in cheder and understood the meaning of chashmal, whereupon a fire came out from the chashmal and burned him up. After this incident, the Sages felt that the Book of Yechezkel was too dangerous, and they were ready to remove it from the Tanach and hide it away. But Chananya ben Chizkiya said to them, “Not everyone is as wise as this child.”

On the second place where the word occurs (1:27), Rashi says something that he says in no other place: “It is not permitted to think about this verse.”

Yet thanks to the Zionists, every Jewish child and adult who speaks Modern Hebrew uses this holy word many times a day, for the most mundane and common thing. The word that once made every Jew tremble with Yiras Shomayim has become a household term used to refer to lights, radios, ovens and washing machines. When a Jew who has been exposed to the Zionist language studies Yechezkel, he misses the point.

In Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk (v. 4, p. 190) we read that the Brisker Rav once said, “The Zionists’ use of this word from Yechezkel shows that they deny the meaning and existence of that holy concept mentioned by the prophet Yechezkel.”

The Brisker Rav pointed out many other falsifications of the Holy Tongue committed by the Zionists, and his blood would boil with anger whenever he heard someone speak a word or expression of Modern Hebrew. When he spoke to Bnei Torah who did not understand Yiddish, he would speak in Lashon Hakodesh with the Ashkenazic pronunciation, but never in Modern Hebrew. He said, “The motive of those who introduced Modern Hebrew was to create a language barrier between the younger generation and the older generation, so that each one should not understand the other.”

One of the greatest rabbis of the past generation, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, spoke against American Jewish schools that teach Ivrit (modern Hebrew) and said, "There is no doubt that teaching in Ivrit is completely forbidden. It is an assimilation worse than all other assimilations in the world. For the goal of Zionism is to uproot the holy Torah from its source. Assimilation with gentiles is like a gentile idol, which can be nullified; but assimilation with Ivrit is a Jewish idol, which can never be nullified! (See Avodah Zarah 52a.) If you teach in English, that is the language of the country and we have no choice, because we need to know the language to earn a living and so on. This is like teaching one's child a trade. But if we teach in Ivrit here in America, it serves no constructive purpose; it is only to bring the children closer to Zionism. Therefore it is definitely forbidden."