Singing to victory Learn the Meaning of the Hebrew Text

The battle won without lifting one sword

The Unlikely Response to an Existential Threat
In the face of fierce enemy armies, King Jehoshaphat chose a seemingly suicidal response: sending Levite singers into battle ahead of his warriors. The amazing thing is that this tactic worked above and beyond any normal military response: “As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the Ammonites, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed” (2 Chronicles 20:22).

The Amazing Double Meaning
“Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2). This verse, quoted later by Jesus, contains a fascinating play on words. The word דע ('Oz) – translated as “bulwark” here – has the primary meaning of strength and valor, with a secondary meaning of praise. This one Hebrew word captures the essence of the entire story of the army that won by singing.

Explore the Fascinating Meanings of Hebrew Words
Sometimes understanding one word is like reading an entire story. Discovering the meanings of Hebrew words in their context can unearth surprising and inspiring insights. Learning the language through our live online lessons will equip you to explore this incredible world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of your desire to learn biblical Hebrew.

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Revival of the Hebrew language The revival of the Hebrew language was a process that took place in Europe and Palestine toward the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, through which the language's usage changed from the sacred language of Judaism to a spoken and written language used for daily life in Israel. The process began as Jews started arriving in Palestine in the first half of the nineteenth century and used Hebrew as a lingua franca.[1] However, a parallel development in Europe changed Hebrew from primarily a sacred liturgical language into a literary language[2] which played a key role in the development of nationalist educational programs.[3] Modern Hebrew, along with Modern Arabic, has been an official language in Israel since the British Mandate of Palestine, a situation that continued after the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. More than purely a linguistic process, the revival of Hebrew was utilized by Jewish modernization and political movements, and became a tenet of the ideology associated with settlement of the land, Zionism[4] and Israeli policy.

The process of Hebrew's return to regular usage is unique; there are no other examples of a natural language without any native speakers subsequently acquiring several million such native speakers, and no other examples of a sacred language becoming a national language with millions of "first language" speakers.

The language's revival eventually brought linguistic additions with it. While the initial leaders of the process insisted they were only continuing "from the place where [Hebrew's] vitality was ended", what was created represented a broader basis of language acceptance; it includes characteristics derived from all periods of Hebrew language, as well as from the non-Hebrew languages used by the long-established European, North African, and Middle Eastern Jewish communities, with Yiddish (the European variant) being predominant.

The existence of Hebrew is attested from the 10th century BCE[citation needed] to the late Second Temple period (lasting to c. 70 CE), after which the language developed into Mishnaic Hebrew. (From about the 6th century BCE until the Middle Ages, many Jews spoke the related Semitic Aramaic language.) From the 2nd century CE until the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language circa 1880, Hebrew was employed as a literary and official language and the language of prayer.[5] Ever since the spoken usage of Mishnaic Hebrew ended in the 2nd century CE, Hebrew had not been spoken as a mother tongue.

Even so, during the Middle Ages, the language was used by Jews in a wide variety of disciplines. This usage kept alive a substantial portion of the traits characteristic of Hebrew. First and foremost, Classical Hebrew was preserved in full through well-recognized sources, chiefly the Tanakh (especially those portions used liturgically like the Torah, Haftarot, Megilot, and the Book of Psalms) and the Mishnah. Apart from these, Hebrew was known through hymns, prayers, midrashim, and the like.

During the Middle Ages, Hebrew was used as a written language in Rabbinical literature, including in judgments of Halakha, Responsa, and books of meditation. In most cases, certainly in the base of Hebrew's revival, 18th- and 19th-century Europe, the use of Hebrew was not at all natural, but heavy in flowery language and quotations, non-grammatical forms, and mixing-in of other languages, especially Aramaic.

Hebrew was used not only in written form but also as an articulated language, in synagogues and in batei midrash. Thus, Hebrew phonology and the pronunciation of vowels and consonants were preserved. Despite this, in the region the influence of foreign tongues caused many changes, leading to the development of different forms of pronunciation.

The linguistic situation against which the background the revival process occurred was one of diglossia, when two languages—one of prestige and class and another of the masses—exist within one culture. In Europe, this phenomenon has waned, starting with English in the 16th century, but there were still differences between spoken street language and written language... In Europe, the situation mirrored that of the general population, but with Yiddish as the spoken language, the language of the broader culture (depending on the country) used for secular speech and writing, and Hebrew for liturgical purposes. In the Arab Middle East, Ladino and Colloquial Arabic were the spoken languages most prevalent in Jewish communities (with Ladino more prevalent in the Mediterranean and Arabic, Aramaic, Kurdish, and Persian more widely spoken by Jews in the East), while Classical Arabic was used for secular writing, and Hebrew used for religious purposes (though some Jewish scholars from the Arab world, such as Maimonedes, wrote primarily in Arabic).

A preceding process to the revival of literary Hebrew took place during the Haskalah, the Jewish movement paralleling the secular Enlightenment. Members of this movement, called maskilim, who sought to distance themselves from Rabbinic Judaism, decided that Hebrew, specifically Biblical Hebrew, was deserving of fine literature.

Mendele Mocher Sfarim

Mendele (1846–1917), whose given name was Ya'akov Abramovitch, but is often known by the name of his main character, "Mendele Mocher Sfarim" (???? ?????), meaning "bookseller." He began writing in Hebrew as a Haskalah writer and wrote according to all the conventions of Haskalah-era literature. At a certain point, he decided to write in Yiddish and caused a linguistic revolution, which was expressed in the widespread usage of Yiddish in Hebrew literature. After a long break he returned in 1886 to writing in Hebrew, but decided to ignore the rules of biblical Hebrew, and proponents of that style, like Abraham Mapu, and added into the vocabulary a host of words from the Rabbinic Age and the Middle Ages. His new fluid and varied style of Hebrew writing reflected the Yiddish spoken around him, while still retaining all the historical strata of Hebrew. For the purposes of his Hebrew works, some of which were translations of his Yiddish books, Mendele needed a language to represent the vernacular language, which contained linguistic jokes and detailed descriptions. He satisfied this need by discarding the restrictions of the Haskalah's biblical flowery language and using figures of speech and vocabulary from the Rabbinic literature while incorporating characteristics of spoken syntax found in European languages.

Revival of spoken Hebrew

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858–1922) (?????? ?? ?????), is often regarded as the "reviver of the Hebrew language" ("????? ???? ??????"), yet his major contributions were ideological and symbolic; he was the first to raise the concept of reviving Hebrew, to publish articles in newspapers on the topic, and he took part in the project known as the Ben Yehuda Dictionary.[6] He worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the topic, while fighting its opponents. However, what finally brought about the revitalization of Hebrew were not Ben-Yehuda's activities in Jerusalem (at least for the most part), but developments in the Settlements of the First Aliyah and the Second Aliyah. The first Hebrew schools were established in these Settlements, Hebrew increasingly became a spoken language of daily affairs, and finally became a systematic and national language. Yet Ben Yehuda's fame and notoriety stems from his initiation and symbolic leadership of the Hebrew revival.

The revival of spoken Hebrew can be separated into three stages, which are concurrent with (1) the First Aliyah, (2) the Second Aliyah, and (3) the British Mandate Period. In the first period, the activity centered on Hebrew schools in the Settlements and in Ben Yehuda's club; in the second period, Hebrew was used in assembly meetings and public activities; and in the third period, it became the language used by the Yishuv, the Jewish population during the Mandate Period, for general purposes. At this stage, Hebrew possessed both spoken and written forms, and its importance was reflected in the official status of Hebrew during the British Mandate. All of the stages were characterized by the establishment of many organizations that took an active and ideological part in Hebrew activities. This resulted in the establishment of Hebrew high schools (????????), the Hebrew University, the Jewish Legion, the Histadrut labor organization, and in Tel Aviv - the first Hebrew city.

Throughout all periods, Hebrew signified for both its proponents and detractors the antithesis of Yiddish. Against the exilic Yiddish language stood revived Hebrew, the language of Zionism, of grassroots pioneers, and above all, of the transformation of the Jews into a Hebrew nation with its own land. Yiddish was degradingly referred to as a jargon, and its speakers encountered harsh opposition.

Nonetheless, Ghil'ad Zuckermann believes that "Yiddish is a primary contributor to Israeli Hebrew because it was the mother tongue of the vast majority of language revivalists and first pioneers in Eretz Yisrael at the crucial period of the beginning of Israeli Hebrew".[7] According to Zuckermann, although the revivalists wished to speak Hebrew with Semitic grammar and pronunciation, they could not avoid the Ashkenazi mindset arising from their European background.

Send comments to co@dadbyrn.com, Colby Glass, MLIS, Professor Emeritus