The War of the “Atzias”

I heard the bones creaking. Bialik and Ben-Yehuda in their respective graves were turning over and their muted voices were crying out in unison “ma kara l’safa ha yafah shelanu? What has happened to our beautiful language?

Suddenly, we hear of bureaucratzia, speculatzia, mishpatatzia, democratzia, administratzia, delegatzia,improvatzia and a host of other “atzias.” Indeed, what has happened to our Hebrew language?

We have made a mish-mash of it by adapting jargons and slangs from almost every language of our multi-ethnic citizens.

Once, there was an active Vaad L’Maan Ha Lashon, an Academy of the Hebrew Language, whose defined task was to create a Hebrew vocabulary based upon original roots from biblical or literary sources. I suppose it is easier to say telefon and televizia rather than using the shorashim, the roots from Hebrew.

In my childhood, we used the word “ain” instead of “lo” to indicate a negative… aineni yodaya was more correct than ani lo yodaya. “Chafetz” was more common than “rotseh”. Ani chafetz le-echol (I want to eat) was considered purer than ani rotseh le-echol.

Oh, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda! Where are you or your disciples who can restore to us the purity of our ancient yet modern language?

Would it not be more pleasant to hear MK’s shouting at one another in Mishnaic Hebrew rather than in the bastardization of the language?

I remember a quote that my teachers taught us decades ago. “Ivrit hi sfat ha ooma”.. Hebrew is the language of the nation (or the people). “Eved anochi l’ivrit lanetzach”… I am a servant to the Hebrew language forever.

Ben-Yehuda was assaulted and abused by the Yiddish-speaking religious Jews of Jerusalem when he began to print the first newspaper in Hebrew.

While working tirelessly to produce his multi-volume dictionary of the Hebrew language, he was frequently condemned by the Haredi population for abusing the “lashon ha kodesh”, the holy tongue, for secular purposes.

When his neighbors asked the local greengrocer “vie fiel kostet a halbe kilo kartoffelen,” Ben-Yehuda would inquire “kama oleh chatzi kilo tapuchai ha adamah” (How much is the cost for a half kilo of potatoes?).

In the war over the Hebrew language, ultimately Ben-Yehuda was the winner. When the official language used in classrooms of the Haifa Technion in the 1920s was pure German, the students rebelled and demanded that German be prohibited and insisted on making Hebrew the one and only official language of instruction.

So surely there must be scholars among us who can replace the multi “atzias” with beautiful renditions in beautiful and pure, unadulterated Hebrew. Matai yavo ha yom? When will that day come?

B’karov u’byomainu. Soon and in our time, I hope.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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