World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Eliezer Ben‑Yehuda (Hebrew: אליעזר בן־יהודה‎‎ pronounced ; 7 January 1858 – 16 December 1922) was a Litvak lexicographer and newspaper editor. He was the driving spirit behind the revival of the Hebrew language in the modern era.


  • Biography 1
  • Journalistic career 2
  • Lexicography 3
  • Death and commemoration 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Ben-Yehuda and wife Hemda, 1912

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was born Eliezer Yitzhak Perlman (Yiddish אליעזר יצחק פערלמאן), in Luzhki (Belarusian Лужкі (Lužki), Polish Łużki), Vilna Governorate of the Russian Empire (now Vitebsk Oblast, Belarus). He attended cheder where he studied Hebrew and the Bible from the age of three, as was customary among the Jews of Eastern Europe. By the age of twelve, he had read large portions of the Torah, Mishna, and Talmud. His parents hoped he would become a rabbi, and sent him to a yeshiva. There he was exposed to the Hebrew of the enlightenment which included some secular writings.[1] Later, he learned French, German, and Russian, and was sent to Dünaburg for further education. Reading the Hebrew language newspaper HaShahar, he became acquainted with the early movement of Zionism and concluded that the revival of the Hebrew language in the Land of Israel could unite all Jews worldwide.

Upon graduation he went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne University. Among the subjects he studied there were history and politics of the Middle East. While he was in Paris he met a Jew from Jerusalem, who spoke Hebrew with him. It was this use of Hebrew in a spoken form that convinced him that the revival of Hebrew as the language of a nation was feasible. Ben-Yehuda spent four years in Paris.[2]

In 1881 Ben-Yehuda immigrated to Palestine, then ruled by the Ottoman Empire, and settled in Jerusalem. He found a job teaching at the Alliance Israelite Universelle school.[3] Motivated by the surrounding ideals of renovation and rejection of the diaspora lifestyle, Ben‑Yehuda set out to develop a new language that could replace Yiddish and other regional dialects as a means of everyday communication between Jews who made aliyah from various regions of the world. Ben-Yehuda regarded Hebrew and Zionism as symbiotic: "The Hebrew language can live only if we revive the nation and return it to the fatherland," he wrote.[3]

To accomplish the task, Ben-Yehuda insisted with the Committee of the Hebrew Language that, to quote the Committee records, "In order to supplement the deficiencies of the Hebrew language, the Committee coins words according to the rules of grammar and linguistic analogy from Semitic roots: Aramaic and especially from Arabic roots" (Joshua Blau, page 33).

Ben Yehuda was married twice, to two sisters.[4] His first wife, Devora (née Jonas), died in 1891 of tuberculosis, leaving him with five small children.[5] Her final wish[6] was that Eliezer marry her younger sister, Paula Beila. Soon after his wife Devora's death, three of his children died of diphtheria within a period of 10 days. Six months later, he married Paula,[2] who took the Hebrew name "Hemda".[7]

Ben‑Yehuda raised his son, Ben-Zion Ben-Yehuda (the first name meaning "son of Zion"), entirely through Hebrew. He refused to let his son be exposed to other languages during childhood. He even once yelled at his wife, after he caught her singing a Russian lullaby to the child. His son Ben-Zion was the first native speaker of modern Hebrew.

Journalistic career

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda while working on his dictionary.

Ben-Yehuda was the editor of several Hebrew-language newspapers: "HaZvi," "Hashkafa" and "HaOr." "HaZvi" was closed down for a year in the wake of opposition from Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community, which fiercely objected to the use of Hebrew, their holy tongue, for everyday conversation.[2]


Ben-Yehuda was a major figure in the establishment of the Committee of the Hebrew Language (Va'ad HaLashon), later the [2] Many of these words have become part of the language but others — some 2,000 words — never caught on. His word for "tomato," for instance, was badura, but Hebrew speakers today use the word agvania.[3]

Ancient languages and modern Standard Arabic were major sources for Ben-Yehuda and the Committee. According to Joshua Blau, quoting the criteria insisted on by Ben-Yehuda: "In order to supplement the deficiencies of the Hebrew language, the Committee coins words according to the rules of grammar and linguistic analogy from Semitic roots: Aramaic, Canaanite, Egyptian [sic] ones and especially from Arabic roots." Concerning Arabic, Ben-Yehuda maintained, inaccurately according to Blau and historical evidence, that Arabic roots are "ours": "the roots of Arabic were once a part of the Hebrew language . . . lost, and now we have found them again"! (Blau, page 32).

Death and commemoration

Ben-Yehuda home on Ethiopia St., Jerusalem

In December 1922, Ben Yehuda, 64, died of tuberculosis, from which he suffered most of his life. He was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.[8] His funeral was attended by 30,000 people.[3]

Ben Yehuda built a house for his family in the ulpan programs.[10]

In his book Was Hebrew Ever a Dead Language, Cecil Roth summed up Ben-Yehuda's contribution to the Hebrew language: "Before Ben‑Yehuda, Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, they did."

See also


  1. ^ "Young Ben-Yehuda". 
  2. ^ a b c d Naor, Mordechai. "Flesh-and-Blood Prophet".  
  3. ^ a b c d Balint, Benjamin. "Confessions of a polyglot".  
  4. ^ St. John 1952.
  5. ^ St. John 1952, p. 125.
  6. ^ St. John 1952, p. 149.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Mount of Olives - Jerusalem". 
  9. ^ "Ben-Yehuda Home". 
  10. ^ "Beit Ben Yehuda - International Meeting Center in Jerusalem". 


  • Blau, Joshua The Renaissance of Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. 1981.
  • Fellman, Jack (1973). The Revival of a Classical Tongue: Eliezer Ben Yehuda and the Modern Hebrew Language. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton. 1973. ISBN 90-279-2495-3
  • Lang, Yosef . The Life of Eliezer Ben Yehuda. Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, 2 volumes, (Hebrew).
  • Ilan Stavans, Resurrecting Hebrew. (2008).

External links

  • The personal papers of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda are kept at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. The notation of the record group is A43
  • An interview with Dola Ben-Yehuda Wittmann (Eliezer Ben-Yehuda's daughter) at the Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive
  • Works by or about Eliezer Ben-Yehuda at Internet Archive
  • Works by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.