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The Jewish and Irish Debates Over a ?National Language?

by Norman Berdichevsky (April 2009)


Israel
succeeded in reviving and modernizing an ancient language by linking it to its historic past, a goal sought, but not as well achieved, by the Irish national movement. In the State of Israel, independence was recreated along with a cultural rebirth in the face of great odds and massive doubts regarding the viability of both modern nationhood and the language. Even Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist vision that launched the political efforts to create a Jewish state, skeptically asked at the time of the First Zionist Congress in 1897, “Who among us can as much as ask for a train ticket in Hebrew?” His skepticism was shared by many European Jews who felt that reviving the language was an impossible task (or a profane or even a sacrilegious one). In Herzl’s romantic, utopian novel of a future idealized modern Jewish state, Altneuland (Old-New Land), Jews are pictured as cosmopolitan multilingual speakers of major European languages. Neither Yiddish nor Hebrew is mentioned.
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