Hebrew and Esperanto

While I was in Jerusalem, I took time to pay a visit to my old Hebrew teacher. A nice Israeli lady who devoted her life to the teaching of Hebrew. I still remember how she used to comment when some of us students were struggling with the intricacies of Hebrew grammar: rules, exceptions, exceptions of exceptions etc. “Ivrit ze lo esperanto”. Hebrew is not Esperanto. As she is an Esperantist, she knows what she is talking about (pun intended).
Esperanto has a very simple grammar, with no exceptions. It was invented by a Jew, who thought that all the violence in human history was due to problems in communication. What a noble dream.
Isn’t like what we Modern, emancipated Jews, would love to do? Apply the same rules, with no exceptions neither discrimination, regarding e.g. gender?
The story goes that Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto, and Eliezer Ben Yehuda, creator of modern Hebrew, met once and that Zamenhoff tried to persuade Ben Yehuda to give up with his dream of making Hebrew a spoken language anew. New people need a new language. How logic it was.
But, as much logic it may look like, and certainly well-meant, it did not work. Hebrew turned to be a much more popular language than Esperanto, and that because of the feelings that the speakers had of being part of the same chain of tradition that goes back to Biblical times.
Now we certainly know it was not true. Such continuity was an ideological construction like happens in every nationalism. It was a myth. A foundation myth for an imagined community. A myth that was never taken seriously by the Orthodox.
Despite that, Hebrew -with all its exceptions and the academic unreliability of its foundation as a modern language- worked better. And it’s the language spoken by many Jews today. Who feel the need to be part of a chain of tradition.
And because it is not Esperanto.



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Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.