The Birth — and Demise — of Shebrew

It happened one day not long ago in Jerusalem when the writer, a veteran immigrant of English origin, who had long wrestled none too successfully with the intricacies and refinements of the modern Hebrew language known as Ivrit, woke one day early after a troubled night with a revolutionary idea which could eventually change the whole course of the Hebrew language. In a nutshell, the idea was the following: Hebrew, as its name indicates, is a language for men. So why not a language for women called – SHEBREW!! You may well say that this is wrong, even criminal, to even suggest that women should have their own Hebrew tongue. Haven’t they managed long enough and well enough with the normal Hebrew which, despite its male-gendered English name is in fact called Ivrit which is the feminine form. Therefore, this proves that the women of Israel are not being hard done by or victimised, and that they share a common tongue quite happily with the menfolk, and have done so since Biblical times, as proven by the Bible and by archaeology that Jewish men and women of yore and Israeli men and women of modern times have no discernible problem in understanding each other.

And yet the writer could not rid himself of the idea, in fact became quite obsessed by it. Just think, he reasoned, just imagine what the possible implications could be. Modern Israeli women, who, in any case, complain that in many spheres of daily life they are discriminated against by men, could develop their own feminine dialect of Hebrew, thus greatly enriching the language and simultaneously striking a blow for women’s rights. They could even evolve a sense of superiority over their male counterparts who would either have to master Shebrew or fail to understand the gist of what was being said.

The writer fully realized that, in launching Shebrew on an unsuspecting world, he would be treading in the footsteps, but also treading on the toes of the late great reviver of the Modern Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben Yehuda who would never countenance a rival to his language revival. Actually, the writer was quite tickled by the thought of being spoken of in the same breath as Ben Yehuda. In a sense he saw himself as being as great or even greater, since he would be creating a new language, whereas Ben Yehuda had simply revived an ancient, long dormant tongue.

Thus inflated and inflamed with a sense of historical self-importance, our  writer wasted no time, and throwing caution to the winds ran off a 10,000 word article couched in humble terms but essentially lauding the creator of the Shebrew language “the feminine language answer to male-dominated Hebrew,” and even modestly styling himself “the 21st century Ben Yehuda.”

After careful consideration of all the possible implications of this unprecedented oped article, the editors of the Jewish press,, although uncertain whether to  take it seriously, said “What the hell!” and published the entire piece together with a striking photo of the writer.

And then, to their amazement, all hell broke loose and they were inundated with furious and venomous letters, on the one hand from outraged male defenders of Hebrew, and on the other hand from mainly female readers, who applauded  the writer for his foresight and vision and striking a massive blow for women’s rights in Israel.

However, what our intrepid and ever-inventive founder of the new Shebrew tongue had overlooked in his quite understandable and even forgivable enthusiasm and pride, was the undeniable and irreversible fact that Hebrew and Shebrew are actually English forms, and that no comparable pairing is countenanced in Hebrew where the name Ivrit rules supreme. Thus, despite the world-wide uproar occasioned by his bold  and innovative creation, in the end it had no impact whatever on the Hebrew language itself, and the proud “twenty-first century Ben Yehuda” sank into a regrettably early decline and oblivion from which he never recovered.

About the Author
London-born David Herman came on aliyah in 1966 after graduating from Cambridge University. In the 1960s, he founded the Good Times Publishing Company specializing in publishing newspapers in simplified English, French and Arabic for the Israeli school system. David currenty works as a translator, and is also very active in the field of songwriting and performing under the musical name, David Ben Reuven.