Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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4 3
K
la u s ner
— E
li ezer
B
en
Y
e h u d a h
in 1914, when the “battle of languages” reached a climax, he dis-
regarded the fact that he was beholden to Paul Nathan, head of
the German Hilfsverein, who had made it possible for him to
publish his
Milon,
and took no heed that the Dictionary Com-
mittee had its offices in Germany and that his publisher was a
German Christian. He fought the Ezra Association and opposed
the German language tooth and nail, knowingly jeopardizing his
livelihood and his life’s work. He warned and threatened that
blood might flow if the language of instruction at the Technion
would not be Hebrew, and if general secular subjects would be
taught in any language other than Hebrew in the Jewish schools
of Eretz Israel.
Unfortunately, he did not live to see the ultimate triumph of
his vision—Hebrew being spoken by the people in all walks of
life. Even today there are many thousands among us whose
speech is Yiddish, Ladino, Russian, Arabic, Polish, German, Eng-
lish or French. But if all the Jewish schools in Israel are now
conducted in Hebrew; if Hebrew is the natural and regular con-
versational language of hundreds of thousands of children in the
State of Israel; if thousands of infants, too young to enter school,
are uttering their first words in Hebrew; if, despite Arab protests,
Hebrew was recognized as an official language even under the
British mandate; if, when the first census was taken, 81,000 out of
83,000 Jews declared Hebrew to be their national language; then
the root and stimulus for all these achievements may be traced
to Ben Yehuda. They are to be attributed not only to his preach-
ing, but also to his exemplary daily practice, and to that of his
wife, children and intimate students.
It should not be forgotten that conversational Hebrew and the
use of Hebrew as the language of instruction in schools, are vir-
tually the single cultural contribution through which Israel influ-
enced the Diaspora, and not the reverse. And it should be re-
membered that the revival of the dead language into a living
tongue for daily use, is the only historic contribution of the
Jewish people in the new epoch of its national life preceding the
re-establishment of the State of Israel—a feat that prompted man-
kind to marvel.
Creator of the Simple Hebrew Style
The coachman who spoke in Hebrew with Ben Yehuda on the
way from Jaffa to Jerusalem, not only strengthened his faith in
the feasibility of developing Hebrew into an everyday language,
but also inspired him to investigate the nature of the Hebrew
literary tongue. Hebrew had, of course, been widely written even
before his time; it was employed not only in religious and philo-
sophical essays, but also in political articles. It was the language
of fiction and of poetry; monthlies and weeklies were published
in Hebrew. But a natural Hebrew style, a style unpretentious