War of the Languages, early 1900s
The board of governors of the Technikum in Berlin decided that all of the general science subjects at the Reali School in the Technikum in Haifa should not be taught in Hebrew but in a foreign language. This decision is an attack on the soul of the Hebrew nation and we see it as a national disaster.
We have no objection to the teaching of any foreign languages in the Hebrew schools of Eretz Israel, but the foreign language may not take the place of the language of instruction, as would be the case in other nations.
An entire generation worked for the revival of our language as the language of instruction and of everyday life, and we will not agree to giving up our language, just as we would not agree to give up our religion.
The language is the soul of the nation. The revival of our language is the necessary foundation for the revival of our nation.
In order for others to accept our right to a language, it is necessary for the people of Israel to protect the language of Israel and to give it complete authority in all schools in the Land of Israel.
The Hebrew language is the natural connection between all of our people and must be the language of study in all of our schools, both Haredi and non-Haredi.
The Hebrew language is holy to us and we will fight for it as our forefathers fought throughout history for all things holy to our nation.
Teacher Coordinator – Dr. Y. Luria
Language Committee – E. Ben-Yehuda
This is a placard containing a strongly worded statement against schools and other academic institutions teaching in languages other than Hebrew.
The text begins by protesting that the decision made in Berlin to teach in both the Reali school and the Technikum in German was an “attack on the soul of the Hebrew nation” and a “national disaster.” The document goes on to give a number of reasons for the importance of teaching in Hebrew. The first reason given is that the Hebrew language is a Zionist value and symbol that cannot be replaced by a foreign language. The writers emphasise this in the poetic statement:“The language is the soul of the nation. The revival of our language is the necessary foundation for the revival of our nation.” A second reason given is that Hebrew is a language that connects different parts of the nation and a holy language for the Jewish people.
Among the signatories on the statement are Dr. Yosef Lurie, one of the leading educators in Israel at the beginning of the twentieth century and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the driving force behind the modern revival of the Hebrew.
In the spring of 1913, “the war of the languages” broke out among the members of the Yishuv (the Jewish community of pre-state Israel) . The controversy broke out in light of the decision made by the Technion's (then known as the Technikum) board of trustees on October 26, 1913 that its language of instruction would be German. The Technion was the Yishuv’s first institute of higher education, established in Haifa in 1914. This decision was also relevant to the Reali High School that was to be opened in cooperation with the Technion. The board of trustees had been appointed by Ezra – a German-Jewish organisation and the most prominent organisation in the field of education in the Yishuv. Ezra believed that as the bulk of the prospective students spoke German, they should be taught in German, a language that would help them succeed at a time when German culture was highly respected around the world. The Hebrew language revival was only in its early stages, and many words and terms needed for academia were missing.
The Zionist population in Israel refused to accept this decision, which they saw as an insult to Hebrew, and fought for its cancellation. All strata of Yishuv society joined the fight: students, teachers, writers, intellectuals, public figures, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, city people and farmers, workers and the middle class, political parties and social and educational organisations. Writers and Hebrew journalists from Eastern Europe also supported the struggle.
In January 1914, the board of trustees retracted their decision and on February 22, 1914, they agreed that the Technion’s primary language of instruction would be Hebrew.
This placard can be used in Jewish Studies and Jewish History lessons to explore the controversies that took place in the early years of the Yishuv about the values and symbols of the Jews in their homeland. Jewish History teachers can also use this when teaching about the origins of Zionism and the creation of Israel’s cultural infrastructure.
It can also be used in Sociology lessons to explore the role and significance of a national language.
Hebrew teachers can use this source when discussing the history of the Hebrew language, its revival, and the work of figures such as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.
What is this document?
Who was the intended audience?
What language is it written in?
Who was it written by?
What is the main message of this text?
What are the authors’ main justifications for their point of view?
Who signed this document?
Reading Between the Lines
What were the arguments in favour of Hebrew as the language of instruction?
What were the arguments in favour of German?
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was one of the people responsible for this protest.
Find out more about Eliezer Ben-Yehuda here.
What was his role in reviving the Hebrew language?
What were some of his successes? What were some of his failures?
What was the outcome of the war of the languages? How did it reach this resolution?
What is the main language of instruction used in Israel today?
What do you think of this?
Do you think it’s important that schools only teach in Hebrew?
Haim Nachman Bialik and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda were the driving forces behind the attempt to make Hebrew the national language. Choose one of these personalities and discover how they helped to promote Hebrew language.
Today most Israelis learn a second language, usually English or Arabic.
Do you think it’s important to learn a second language? Why or why not?
Is it more important for Israelis to learn a second language than people living in other countries?
Do you learn Hebrew?
If yes, why do you (or your parents or teachers) think that it is important for you to learn Hebrew?
Write a letter to the dean of the Technion explaining why you think Hebrew should the official language of instruction.
*Optional: Have some students write a letter in favour ofEnglish as the language of instruction.
Read this article about the creation of a National Hebrew Day in Israel. If you were marking this day outside of Israel, how would you celebrate?