The response of Jewish Orthodox press to the “Language War” in 1913-14

Hebrew’s status as the Holy Language is supposedly obvious in Jewish tradition. Nevertheless, in the early 20th century, the Orthodoxy in both Europe and Palestine was embarrassed by its modern uses by nationalist and Zionist Jews, particularly as part of the modernization of Jewish education.

The meeting presented the Jewish Orthodox press’s dilemma in the fact of the so-called “Language War” waged in the Haifa Technion in 1913. This was the name given to the intense public debate between the supporters of Hebrew as the language of instruction and other reforms they promoted in traditional education, and the supporters of German, presented by their detractors as national “traitors”. In the press articles in Hebrew, German, and Yiddish presented to the participants, we identified the surprising absence of any fundamental position regarding the status and role of Hebrew in the modern era. Indeed, the Orthodox representatives in the debate focused, instead, on local political arguments for and against Zionist activities in Palestine. Following the lecture, the group members discussed the role of grammar as an instrument for the democratization of language and the knowledge embedded in it, and the gap between the stated linguistic ideology and class instruction practices. We also referred to subsequent attempts to formulate a theological position with regard to the Hebrew language by such thinkers as Franz Rosenzweig and Yitzhak Breuer, whose writings may address the gap in this area.

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