Modern Hebrew by Norman Berdichevsky

Modern Hebrew: The Epic Transformation of a Language

While teaching modern Hebrew in England and the United States, Norman Berdichevsky got a shock. Many of his students, he found, “were unable to utter a sentence in the modern language”—despite having attended Hebrew school at their synagogues for four or five years. “In modern Israel, they would be functionally illiterate,” Berdichevsky says. The experience led him to write a book on the topic, which came out last month: Modern Hebrew: The Past and Future of a Revitalized Language. Stateside, many still equate Hebrew with its rabbinical counterpart, the purview of bar mitzvahs and synagogue prayer. In Israel, the story is different. In the 1880s, early Zionists sought to adopt a modernized version of the ancient biblical language. Most believed it couldn’t be done. Today, Israeli Hebrew has become the most successful language revitalization project in...

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