Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

The father of Modern Hebrew.

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Ben-Yehuda began collecting material for the creation of a Modern Hebrew dictionary when he arrived in Israel, and never ceased expanding the language, frequently spending 18-hour workdays developing new words and writing articles.

Lists of words were published in Hebrew language periodicals, particularly Hatzevi, which Ben-Yehuda founded. In 1910 Ben-Yehuda began publication of his dictionary, but the full 17-volume set of the Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew wasn't completed until well after his death, in 1922.

A Legacy of Language

Ben-Yehuda's life was exemplary because, despite the small successes and failures of his various projects, his dedication to speaking Hebrew and cultivating the language inspired others to do the same. In his later years, he co-founded and established the ruling principles for the Va'ad Halashon, the Language Council. The Council gave way to the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which adopted Ben-Yehuda's rules and took upon itself his life’s work. The Academy, still housed at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, approves new Hebrew words to meet the ever-evolving needs of contemporary Israeli society. The Academy is also in the process of writing the Historical Dictionary of the Hebrew Language.

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda never saw the creation of the State of Israel. He passed away only one month after the British authorities declared Hebrew to be the official language of the Jews of Palestine. Yet his dream of yisrael be'artzo uvilshono, the rebirth of the nation of Israel in its own land, speaking its own language, came to fruition. His efforts are counted among the great language revivals of human history.

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David Saiger

David Saiger, who hails from West Los Angeles, California, is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. Before starting at JTS, he studied philosophy at Emory University and Jewish texts at the Pardes Institute.