Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s Business Card
This is the business card of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, editor of HaTzvi. The HaTzvi newspaper was one of the first Hebrew-language newspapers to be printed in Israel. It was first published in 1884 and was then printed intermittently until 1915. In the newspaper, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda gave his opinions on a range of issues, such as his objection to the Halukka, the collection and distribution of funds by Diaspora Jews to sustain the people of Jerusalem and the importance of working and establishing settlements in the Land of Israel. Ben-Yehuda, who was the driving force behind the revival of the modern Hebrew language, often published his new words in HaTzvi. The newspaper was initially printed on a weekly basis, but in 1908 it became the first daily newspaper in Israel. The name HaTzvi (the deer) derived from the name of the newspaper’s license holder, Itzhak Hirschenson (hirsch is Yiddish for deer).
The newspaper was subjected to a year’s closure in 1894 due to the ultra-orthodox population’s opposition to the everyday use of Hebrew, which they considered Lashon HaKodesh (the Holy Language), the language of prayer and study. Jews in Israel and throughout the world communicated in a multitude of languages including Jewish languages such as Yiddish and Ladino. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda immigrated to Israel in 1881 from Lithuania. Motivated by Zionist ideals, he was determined to revitalise the Hebrew language as the language of the land: “The Hebrew language will go from the synagogue to the house of study, and from the house of study to the school, and from the school it will come into the home and... become a living language.” Accordingly, in Ben-Yehuda’s household, only Hebrew was spoken, even if this meant that his son, Ben-Zion, was mostly alone with no Hebrew-speaking playmates.
Transforming the ancient Hebrew language into a language that could be used in the modern world was no simple feat. For this reason, Ben-Yehuda “invented” many new words, usually based on biblical, Aramaic, or even Arabic roots. He established the Hebrew Language Committee (Va’ad HaLashon) in 1890, which later became the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which exists to this very day. Ben-Yehuda wrote the first modern Hebrew dictionary and has gone down in history as the progenitor of the modern Hebrew language. Thanks to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s work and persistence, Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel, and there are more than nine million Hebrew speakers around the world.
Hebrew teachers can use this business card to discuss the rebirth of the Hebrew language under the leadership of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.
This resource can also be shown in Jewish History lessons when discussing the Jewish population in Israel and Jerusalem at the end of the nineteenth century and the dispute between the Old Yishuv, who led an ultra-orthodox life, depended on charity, and refused to speak Hebrew, and the new Zionist immigrants who wished to create a new country with original ideals and lifestyles and a self-sufficient Hebrew-speaking people.
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Reading Between the Lines
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Eliezer Ben-Yehuda struggled for many years to keep the HaTzvi newspaper in print.
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The text in the middle of this card reads Eliezer Ben Yehuda, editor of the newspaper HaTzvi.