Great Leaders of our People
Eliezer ben-Yehuda is
considered the “father of modern Hebrew.” His great achievement was that
he restored a language that had been forced by history out of the category
of a spoken language to that of a language that existed and was in fact
used widely by the Jewish People – but only in the realms of prayer and
Torah study – to become again the spoken language of the People in its
Eliezer ben-Yehuda was born Eliezer Yitzchak Perelman in the Lithuanian
village of Luzhky on January 7, 1858. Like most Jewish boys of this
period, he was given intensive training in Talmud, in the hope that he
would become a rabbi. But like many of his young peers, he became more
interested in secular studies, and abandoned the yeshiva for the Russian
This was a time of national revivals, and he became convinced that the
time had come for the Jewish People as well to reclaim their homeland and,
in particular, their spoken language: Hebrew. In 1881, ben-Yehuda arrived
in Palestine and settled in Jerusalem. He began at once to put into action
his plan for the restoration of Hebrew in the Holy Land. It was a
three-part program: 1) Hebrew in the Home 2) Hebrew in the School 3)
Development of New Words.
He began to implement the “Hebrew in the Home” part of his program in his
own home. He made his wife promise that their son, Ben-Zion ben-Yehuda
would be brought up as the first exclusively Hebrew speaking child in
modern history. The son wrote later that his father carried this policy to
the extent that whenever a non-Hebrew speaking guest would visit their
house, he would be sent to bed, so as not to have to listen to the
“foreign” language. He laments that he was not even allowed to listen to
the “chirping of birds and the neighing of horses” because those animals
weren’t using Hebrew.
Ben-Yehuda also attempted to root the “Hebrew in the School” aspect of his
program by influencing all teachers, whether of religious or secular
subjects, to use only Hebrew in their lessons.
In order to create the words that a modern state needs to function in a
modern society, he began work on a new Hebrew dictionary and founded the
Hebrew Language Council, whose mission it was to create words, patterned
closely on the model of the three-letter root-based ancient language, for
use in all situations of modern life. Major lists of words were created
for the fields of medicine, psychology, physics and all the arts and
So complete was the restoration of Hebrew in Eretz Yisrael that the
language permeates the society at all levels, restoring the status of the
language to what it was in Biblical times.
The above graphic includes photographs that were provided by VERAfilm archives.