Hebrew 101

Hebrew (עִבְרִית or עברית‎, ‘Ivrit) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by more than seven million people in Israel and Jewish communities around the world. In Israel, it is the de facto language of the state and the people, as well as being one of the two official languages (together with Arabic), and is spoken by a majority of the population.

The core of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) is written in Classical Hebrew, and much of its present form is specifically the dialect of Biblical Hebrew that scholars believe flourished around the 6th century BCE, near the Babylonian exile. For this reason, Hebrew has been referred to by Jews as Lĕshôn Ha-Kôdesh (לשון הקודש‎), "The Holy Language/Tongue" (Lĕshôn is language and tongue too), since ancient times.

Most linguists agree that after the 6th century BCE when the Neo-Babylonian Empire destroyed Jerusalem and exiled its population to Babylon and the Persian Empire allowed them to return, the Biblical Hebrew dialect prevalent in the Bible came to be replaced in daily use by new dialects of Hebrew and a local version of Aramaic. After the 2nd century CE when the Roman Empire exiled the Jewish population of Jerusalem and parts of the Bar Kokhba State, Hebrew gradually ceased to be a spoken language, but remained a major literary language. Letters, contracts, commerce, science, philosophy, medicine, poetry, and laws were written in Hebrew, which adapted by borrowing and inventing terms.

Hebrew, long nearly extinct outside of Jewish liturgical and scholarly purposes, was revived as a literary and narrative language by the Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement of the mid-19th century. Near the end of that century the Jewish linguist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, owing to the ideology of Zionism, began reviving Hebrew as a modern spoken and written language. Eventually it replaced a score of languages spoken by Jews at that time, such as Ladino (also called Judezmo), Yiddish, Russian, and other languages of the Jewish diaspora.

Because of its large disuse for centuries, Hebrew lacked many modern words. Several were adapted as neologisms from the Hebrew Bible or borrowed from Yiddish and other languages by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Modern Hebrew became an official language in British-ruled Palestine in 1921 (along with English and Arabic), and then in 1948 became an official language of the newly declared State of Israel.

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