Postcard with Two Portraits of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda
This postcard shows two different pictures of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. The photograph on the left was taken in 1885, when he was in his twenties. The photograph on the right was taken twenty five years later. His signature is underneath the photos. The background shows a pile of books and an inkwell and pen.
Ben-Yehuda, known as the father of Modern Hebrew, moved to Israel from Russia with his wife in 1881. He worked as a journalist and editor. At the same time, he worked tirelessly to create a comprehensive Hebrew language dictionary. He believed that Hebrew was the original language of the Jews and the only language fit for unifying Jews arriving from all over the world, and he devoted his life to promoting Hebrew as the official language of the growing state.
Ben-Yehuda was the editor of the Hebrew-language newspaper HaTzvi which was published in Jerusalem from 1884 to 1914. HaTzvi was the source of much controversy between the Old and New Yishuv and, in particular, the Ultra-Orthodox community, which objected strongly to the everyday use of Hebrew, the holy tongue. A few years after the first photo was taken, in 1893, Shlomo Naftali Hertz Jonas published an article in the newspaper "HaTzvi" in which he called for the celebration of Hanukah as a holiday of Jewish strength. Ben Yehuda's detractors from the Ultra-Orthodox community used the article to inform on him to the Turkish authorities, as they interpreted a specific sentence as a plot to revolt against the Turks, when it meant nothing of the sort. This was the climax of the feud between the "Old Yishuv" in Jerusalem and Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the driving spirit behind the revival of the Hebrew language. Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the editor of the "Hatzvi", was arrested as a traitor to the crown and was sentenced to a year in prison.
By 1910, Ben Yehuda was beginning to win the war, and although the war of languages was yet to reach its climax, most members of the Yishuv had been convinced of the centrality of the Hebrew language to the Jewish homeland.
This postcard can be used in Jewish History classes to discuss Ben-Yehuda’s work and his contribution to the Hebrew language. It is also interesting to discuss Ben Yehuda when learning about the Jewish population in Israel at the end of the Turkish Empire when most of the Jews lived on charity donated from the diaspora – the Haluka funds. Ben Yehuda, together with other new immigrants to Israel at the time, protested against the lifestyle of the "Old Yishuv" and strove to create a new society that supported itself, had a modern Jewish identity and spoke in the native Jewish language – Hebrew.
Hebrew teachers can use the postcard to discuss Ben-Yehuda and the founding of Modern Hebrew.
Sociology and Civics teachers could use this postcard when discussing the role of national languages.
Describe the postcard.
Who is featured?
In what year were these photographs taken?
What is in the background?
Reading Between the Lines
Who was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda?
What were his main achievements?
Why do you think this postcard was made?
Why do you think two pictures were featured?
Why was a picture of a quill and book included in the backdrop?
Why is Ben-Yehuda one of the most famous figures in twentieth-century Israeli history?
Ben-Yehuda also established the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which still exists today. What is its purpose?
How is Ben-Yehuda remembered today in Israel? Are there any things or places in the modern state which bear his name?
Do you learn Hebrew?
Why do you (or your parents or teachers) think that it is important for you to learn Hebrew?
Ben-Yehuda brought Hebrew into the modern world by inventing hundreds of words. Hebrew words are still being invented today.
Read about some creative Hebrew words. Which is your favourite and why? Create a poster illustrating your word, and explain where the word comes from.