The Power of the Tongue ביד הלשון
Hebrew is often called the “holy tongue” because it is the language of the Hebrew Bible, most synagogue worship, and, according to ancient tradition, Creation itself. It is also the language of daily life in the modern State of Israel, largely because of the efforts of pioneering figures who led the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in the early twentieth century. Yet Hebrew is not the only language of the Jews, nor are Jews the only ones to have cultivated its usage. Christian scholars also regarded Hebrew as a holy tongue, giving rise to renowned circles of Christian Hebraists in Renaissance Italy and Reformation England, and a steady stream of Hebrew grammars and dictionaries. Throughout the ages, Hebrew has existed side by side with other languages in a constantly shifting relationship. In some places, Jews used specifically Jewish languages at home such as Yiddish or Ladino. They reserved Hebrew for the synagogue and the local, non-Jewish language for the working environment. In other places, and at the opposite end of the linguistic spectrum, some Jews used the local, non-Jewish language in every sphere of life, including the synagogue. These and other factors—geographic, ideological, and political—have created a complex and ever-changing linguistic landscape throughout Jewish history.
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