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September 28, 2016 / 25 Elul, 5776
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Jews Who Can’t Speak Hebrew

Rashi writes that a parent who doesn’t speak in the Holy Tongue to his children is considered as if he is burying them.

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Jewish Identity Quiz #2

אמרנו בעבר שכל ילד פורטוריקני בארה”ב יודע לדבר ספרדית בנוסף לאנגלית אף על פי שלא נולד בפורטוריקו. גם כל ילד סיני או קוראני באמריקה יודע לדבר בשפת אבותיו. רק היהודים לא דוברים בשפתם המקורית. אינני יודע למה. כנראה יש סיבה פסיכולוגית עמוקה מאד. אם לאחד ממכם יש את התשובה אשמח לשמוע.

Did you have trouble reading the Hebrew? That’s exactly my point. Some readers say that I’m a crazy fanatic when I say that Diaspora Jews suffer from schizophrenia when it comes to their Jewish identity. For example, even though they are Jewish, many don’t know more than a few simple words in Hebrew. After all, Hebrew is the language of the Jewish People, not English, or German, or Russian, or Yiddish.

Let me ask you, how many Puerto Ricans kids in New York don’t know how to speak Spanish? And look at the Koreans and Chinese in America. All of their kids speak Korean and Chinese as if they were still in Korea and China. And what Moslem kid in America, France, or England doesn’t know how to speak Arabic from the crib? But when it comes to Diaspora Jews, most of their kids hardly know any Hebrew at all. I know this, because we host a lot of Birthright youth at our home in Yerushalayim for Shabbat meals, and almost none of them know Hebrew at all! They are bright, university students, but when it comes to a knowledge of Hebrew, Yiddishkeit, Jewish history, or what’s going on in Israel, they are complete ignoramuses. Totally empty! Isn’t this strange? How can you explain this?

Certainly, Jewish kids aren’t less intelligent than Puerto Ricans and Arabs who have no trouble learning their own languages. Could it be that Diaspora Jews feel so compelled to prove that they are just like their gentile neighbors that they don’t learn Hebrew? Could it be that they are so afraid to have dual identities that they don’t want to learn a strange tongue? Or is it because they have been so long in exile that they don’t see any reason to learn the language of their Forefathers and pass it on to their children for the generations to come?

No wonder assimilation is such a great problem! First you give up wearing Israeli sandals, then you give up eating falafel, then you stop teaching your children Hebrew and tell them that they are Americans like everyone else – and then you’re surprised when Johnny comes home with a Protestant girl for Thanksgiving vacation. It’s as simple as one plus one equals two.

If a child speaks in English, he’ll grow up thinking that he’s English. If he speaks in French, he’ll grow up thinking that he’s French. So why not marry a French girl like everyone else? That’s why Rashi writes that a parent who doesn’t speak in the Holy Tongue to his children is considered as if he is burying them, G-d forbid (Devarim, 11:19). He buries them in a foreign culture which waters down, or cuts them off completely from Torah and their true Jewish roots.

In Israel, thank G-d, all of the children speak Hebrew. Even kids of the Olim, who insist on speaking Diaspora languages at home, learn to speak fluent Hebrew at school. And while there are readers who always cry out that Israelis marry Arabs – the truth is that it isn’t even one percent of the population, compared with the 60%+ assimilation in America and most every other place in the world.

You can get angry at me if you like and continue to keep your heads in the sand. But the writing on the wall is clear. The Diaspora is on the way out. The only future for our children is Israel.

Tzvi Fishman

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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