By Dr. David R. Reagan
What has the revival of the Hebrew language meant to the world today?
Ben-Yehuda’s wife, Hemda, and her son, Ehud, worked together with linguistic experts to complete the dictionary. It ran a total of 17 volumes and was not completed until 1958, seven years after her death in 1951 at the age of 78.69
In the process of compiling his dictionary, Ben-Yehuda had realized there was a need for a group of linguistic experts to help him form new words and to serve as a monitor for the usage of the language. Also, there would be a need to keep his dictionary updated. He therefore formed a group in 1890 which he called The Hebrew Language Committee.70 It continues to operate to this day as the Academy of the Hebrew Language of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It averages the creation of 2,000 new Hebrew words each year.71
Also during his lifetime, Ben-Yehuda had developed an intensive method of teaching Hebrew in which only Hebrew was used. It was so effective that his second wife became proficient in the language in only six months.72 That method is still used today in what are called “ulpan schools.” There are approximately 220 of these schools in Israel today teaching over 25,000 students, most of them new immigrants.73
There are nearly 200 book publishers in Israel today, and each of them is releasing between 5 and 150 new Hebrew language books per year.74 An Israeli writer, S. Y. Agnon (1887-1970) was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1966 for his Hebrew language novels.75 As of 2013, there were about 9 million Hebrew speakers worldwide, of whom 7 million spoke it fluently.76
Ben-Yehuda’s grave is situated on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The words on his tombstone read:77
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, reviver of the Hebrew tongue and composer of the great dictionary. Dead in Jerusalem on the 26th day of Kislev in the sixth year of the Balfour Declaration.
Looking back on his life, the greatest miracle may not have been his revival of Hebrew as a spoken language. Rather, it may well have been God’s preservation of his life for 41 years after he was told he had only six months to live.
What is without doubt is that his accomplishment is proof positive that the Bible is the Word of God, that God is in control of history, and that we are living in the season of the Messiah’s return.
In addition to numerous articles on the Internet, this article is based primarily on three books:
1) Ben-Yehuda, Eliezer, Fulfillment of Prophecy: The Life of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda 1858-1922 (Privately printed, 2008), 377 pages. The author of this book is Ben-Yehuda’s grandson who has the same name as his grandfather. Based on letters, family remembrances and unpublished autobiographical segments written by Ben-Yehuda about his early life.
2) Drucker, Malka, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda: The Father of Modern Hebrew (New York: Lodestar Books, 1987), 81 pages. A brief but very insightful biography. Particularly valuable with regard to insights about the Hebrew language.
3) St. John, Robert, The Life Story of Ben-Yehuda: Tongue of the Prophets (Noble, OK: Balfour Books, 2013), 393 pages. This book was originally published in 1952. Based on conversations with Ben-Yehuda’s second wife, Hemda, and a biography she wrote about her husband in Hebrew. Also, based on interviews with friends and scholars who knew him personally.
Since the beginning of this ministry in 1980, we have stocked and sold copies of Robert St. John’s outstanding biography. It has recently been re-published by Balfour Books in a beautiful new edition, with a foreword by Israel expert Jim Fletcher.
Visit the Lamb & Lion Ministries’ website for a list of references.