Page 100 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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94
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
and in poetic dram a , they ju s t could no t adap t it for philosophical
or linguistic treatises, let alone fo r con temporary educational,
scientific and social issues and ideas. T ra in ed in the medieval
works o f Jewish philosophy and theology (as autodidacts, to be
sure), the
maskilims
natu ra l inclination was to tu rn to medieval
Hebrew for the ir non-belletristic writings.
Ano ther form o f medieval Hebrew writing, th
epiyyut,
however,
became the targe t o f the Haskalah’s criticism. T he poetic licence
on the basis o f which the
paytanim
perm itted themselves to coin
new words, regardless o f grammatical rules, was severely attacked
by the
maskilim.
T he linguistic tension between biblical Hebrew, talmudic idiom
and medieval usage continued to be felt th roughou t the Haskalah
period. It was finally synthesized by Mendele Mokher Sefarim in
the latter period o f Hebrew Enlightenment. Using talmudic,
midrashic and rabbinic Hebrew, Mendele was instrumen ta l in
shaping a natura l style for m odern language in Hebrew litera­
ture.
Haskalah is thus to be credited with making a concerted effo rt
to employ the Hebrew language for “m od e rn” use, on a p a r with
o the r modern languages and o the r m odern literatures.
LINGUISTIC EXPANSION
This was apparen tly the first major effo rt to search fo r ways to
expand the Hebrew language so as to encompass all facets o f
Jewish life. One may go fu r th e r and say tha t the Haskalah’s
experimentations with the Hebrew language were a necessary
preliminary step to transform ing literary language into a ver­
nacular.
T he dom inan t fea tu re o f the Haskalah’s use o f Hebrew was its
a ttem p t to utilize language not only for lofty purposes, bu t also
for the ephemeral, the mundane and the immediate. Not only
were matters related to the in terp re ta tion o f sacred texts dealt
with, but also everyday practical concerns: news, science, inven­
tions, secular knowledge and useful inform ation .3
Language thus served the purposes o f Haskalah ideology,
3 See, for example, the various departments and items devoted to these matters in
Ha-Me’assef,
1783-1797.