Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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4 5
K
lau sn er
— E
liezer
B
en
Y
ehu d a i i
lations. Thus he managed to bring Hebrew down to earth from
the lofty peaks of abstruse philosophizing. He tore off the dark
veil of widowhood from an old and respectable, but useless,
matron, and converted her into a young, ebullient maiden who
consorted with the common folk and catered to their every
linguistic need.
It is understandable that he should lapse into an excess of zeal.
It is also self-evident that it was not he alone who effected this
revolution in Hebrew style. Without the aid of Gordon, Mendele,
Bialik, Tchernikhovsky, Pines, Yaavets, Ahad Ha'am and others,
he may well have been unable to infuse new life into the emaci-
ated body of our language. But he was the prime instrumentality
in the fomenting of the modern revolution in style which affected
Hebrew and which, within some seventy years, revitalized it into
something completely new and almost unrecognizable. For this
contribution, Hebrew literature will never forget the great debt
it owes Ben Yehuda.
Author of the “Complete Hebrew Dictionary”
Ben Yehuda’s great
Mi lon ha-lvri
is closely bound up with the
development of the new style in conversational Hebrew. When-
ever pressed for new words, he would search for them in our
ancient literature, and if this source proved fruitless he would
invent wholly new words. The words he ferreted out from
ancient Hebrew literature and those he newly coined were as-
sembled into numerous lists of notes, and these became the
foundation for a new Hebrew dictionary.
The
Mi lon
was, in fact, novel in content as well as in name.
Before Ben Yehuda’s time there was no single unified Hebrew
dictionary. There was a Biblical and also a Talmudic dictionary.
Medieval Hebrew was completely ignored; it was regarded as
nothing more than an imitation of Biblical and Talmudic
Hebrew. The two separate dictionaries had never been com-
bined, since it was their function to serve the ancient books
rather than the Hebrew language. For this reason the Biblical
dictionary included all the Aramaic words in the books of
Nehemiah and Ezra, and the Talmudic dictionary contained
thousands of Aramaic, Persian, Greek and Latin words which
did not properly belong in the Hebrew vocabulary. Thus, as
late as fifty years ago, we had no Hebrew dictionary, let alone a
comprehensive one.
Ben Yehuda was the first to attempt to present the Hebrew
language in the full scope of its evolution of more than three
thousand years. But ironically, those very books which preserved
long forgotten terms and phrases pertaining to everyday life,
were held in low regard by the Jews in the Middle Ages. Even
in our own day their cultural and philological worth has not
received its due from most scholars. This is evidenced by the