The Sins of HaZvi, HaZvi, 1887
The Sins of HaZvi
The elders of Jerusalem can testify that they have never seen such a serious cherem (excommunication) as the cherem that we have been granted this time, and it is no surprise. Since, according to the Sefardi sages, such sinners as us, have never been before…
… and later we demanded that they distanced themselves from their beloved friends the inciting doctors…
…. and we also dared demand from them that they degrade themselves so that they will provide an account of all the money that they received, just like the Ashkenazi Kolel. Are we causing by this, the destruction of the Kolel (yeshiva). Indeed if they provide a detailed account of all of the money, and the philanthropists from the diaspora will see that anonymous masters or bankers take a fat portion of what is due for the glory people of Israel, and they might find this not for the glory of Israel but the shame of Israel….
… and what will be, if God forbid, these philanthropists will be insolent like this certain philanthropist and heaven forbid, might change their minds and decide to give money to the poor….
… they use it [the donations] as if they were their own, so who knows, maybe the philanthropists will decide not to bother the sages in distributing the money and will search for other channels to convey the "water of their donations" to the poor….
… the sin is heavy, according to the Sephardi sages, there has never been like us. And for this reason, no-one has ever been excommunicated, only the editor of HaZvi…
This is an article published by Eliezer ben Yehuda in the Hatzvi newspaper on July 15, 1887. In his sarcastic essay, Ben Yehuda expressed his opinion about the boycott imposed upon him by Sephardic leaders.
Under the heading "Hatzat Hatzvi," literally meaning the sinner of the tzvi, Ben Yehuda sarcastically explains why his opposers excommunicated him. In his article he says, that that the Sefardi sages acted against him since he dared to demanded that they should act like the heads of the Ashkenazic Kolel (Yeshiva), and be accountable for the donations they receive. He hinted at corruption in the fundraising system for the Hallukah funds that were a significant source of funding in the old Yishuv at the time.
Later on in the article, Ben Yehuda referred to the fact that the Sephardi rabbis were the successors of the great sages of Israel, among them Maimonides, Shmuel HaNagid, Ibn Ezra, Yehuda Halevi and others, but ruled that they could not escape public accountability because they serve the public.
Ben-Yehuda claimed that if the benefactors would know that their money also went to the gabbai of the community and did not reach the poor, then they might not have contributed. Ben Yehuda says that the fact that he and his supporters have asked about the use of the distribution funds does not make them guilty and that there is no justification for the boycott.
An excommunication (cherem), in Jewish law means removing a person from the public. A excommunication is imposed on a person who has committed a deliberate prohibition and is imposed by a court.
Eliezer Ben Yehuda, was the driving force behind the revival of the Hebrew language in modern times. Ben Yehuda, who immigrated to Israel in 1881, settled in Jerusalem. There he began to develop the new language believing the reviving the Jewish people will only be possible if the Jewish language will be revived. Ben Yehuda's family were the first to adapt Hebrew as an everyday modern language, and his son Ben Tzion (Itamar) was known as the "first Hebrew child". To promote his ideas, Eliezer Ben Yehuda wrote a Hebrew dictionary, established the Committee of the Hebrew language and edited a Hebrew language newspaper, HaZvi. Ha-Zvi was well-known for its struggle against the Old Yishuv and the Halluka system on the one hand, and support of the New Yishuv and settlements on the other, as well as for its favourable attitude towards Baron Rothschild, the Hovevei Zion movement (forerunners to the Zionist movement), and later Herzl, and sided with the latter during the Uganda controversy in 1903.
Ben Yehuda managed to enrage the people of the Ashkenazi Old Yishuv who believed that Hebrew should only be a language of Jewish study and prayer. The Old Yishuv also opposed Ben Yehuda's articles attacking their conservative way of life, the Halukkah funds. Despite the fact that Ben Yehuda was closer to the Sephardi population of Jerusalem at the time, he also attacked this community about their use of the Christian mission's health services. These attacks caused the Old Yishuv to excommunicate Ben Yehuda and his family, and this was only lifted at the time of the burial of his first wife, Deborah. Apparently, because of the excommunication, Ben Yehuda abandoned his traditional garb, cut off his beard and stopped observing Jewish laws.
Connection to Parashat Vayikra
Parashat Vayikra is the first section of the third Book of the Torah, Vayikra. This book of the Torah focuses almost entirely on ritual Jewish laws and sacrifices.
This article, refers to a supposed sin of Eliezer Ben Yehuda towards the Sephardi community in Jerusalem. One of the reasons why people gave sacrifices during the time of the Temple was after they had committed an unintentional sin. However, it is clear from Ben Yehuda's article that he did not actually believe he had sinned and his admittance to sin is actually written in sarcasm.
This source can be used in a Jewish History lesson to discuss the character of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, and the tensions created by him during his crusade to re-establish the Hebrew language.
The article also be a good way to demonstrate life in Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century and the tensions in Israel between the secular Zionists and the Old Yishuv.
An Ivrit teacher could use this resource to discuss the use of language by Ben Yehuda, and his sarcastic tome throughout the article.
Who wrote this letter?
In what language is the article written?
Who is the article directed to?
What is Ben Yehuda responding to in his article?
What has he demanded, according to the article?
Reading Between the Lines
Who was Eliezer Ben Yehuda?
What were his achievements?
Ben Yehuda had many disagreements with people of the
What were these about?
What has happened to cause Ben Yehuda to write this article?
Does Eliezer Ben Yehuda really think that he, and his newpaper have sinned?
This article was published in the HaTzvi newspaper.
Does this newspaper still exist?
How successful was Ben Yehuda in his different struggles?
Has Hebrew become the everyday language of the Jewish people?
Do people in Jerusalem still rely on charity for their living?
If you were living at the time of Ben Yehuda, would you have supported his causes?
Why or why not?
Write a letter to a newspaper explaining your position in this matter.