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Some people insist that Hebrew and Lashon HaKodesh are two different languages. Is the assertion correct and is the motivation behind making this assertion commendable?

 

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Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

This is an obvious and somewhat incomprehensible mistake, as can be attested to by the Mishnah (Sotah 7:2), which states that certain passages must be recited in Lashon HaKodesh, among them Mikra Bikurim and Birkat Kohanim.

Clearly, Lashon HaKodesh in these contexts – and every other one – means Hebrew. This requirement is in contrast with the rules concerning other parts of our liturgy, which can be recited in any language, such as tefillah.

Last I checked, the Torah was given in Hebrew, and the Kuzari (2:68) underscores that Avraham spoke Aramaic for mundane matters but reserved Hebrew – Lashon HaKodesh – for holy endeavors.

The Rambam, in his commentary on the Mishnah (Avot 2:1), characterizes the study of Lashon HaKodesh as a mitzvah kallah, a simple commandment that should nevertheless not be trivialized. Of course, he meant Hebrew, and in his Moreh Nevuchim (3:8) he explains why Hebrew is called Lashon HaKodesh.

Is it a positive development that Hebrew has been restored as a living, spoken tongue in the modern era? Of course, and it is miraculous, unprecedented in history, and a sign of the wondrous times in which we are living. We should appreciate it and learn Hebrew.

— Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the Israel regional
vice president for the Coalition for Jewish Values

 

* * * * *

Rabbi Simon Jacobson

When Modern Hebrew (Ivrit) was introduced as a common pedestrian language, Torah authorities were opposed to it, arguing that Lashon HaKodesh – as per its name – is a holy language, only meant to be used to express Torah and sacred matters, not for mundane (or worse) matters.

The halachic and hashkafic basis for this argument is presented in a lengthy letter from the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rashab (in his Igros Kodesh, vol. 2, pp. 816), citing many sources. One interesting one is the Yerushalmi (Shabbos 1:2):

Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai said that if he were at Mt. Sinai, he would have asked for Jews to have two mouths – one to talk about one’s needs and one with which to learn Torah.

Some Torah leaders argued that it’s actually good that Modern Hebrew has absorbed so many non-Lashon HaKodesh words because now it can be considered another language.

One can thus argue that modern Ivrit is not Lashon HaKodesh and can therefore be used as a common language, as it is indeed used by a large number of Torah scholars and observant Jews in Eretz Yisrael.

Some people, however, refrain from using any words from Lashon HaKodesh for speaking non-Torah related issues.

This issue runs deeper than just language. A fundamental concept in Judaism is havdalah – “separating the holy from the mundane” (l’havdil bein kodesh l’chol). It emphasizes the importance of priorities and healthy boundaries. It’s a central theme in Torah that impacts every aspect of our lives. Sanctify yourself, be holy for I am holy, you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.

In order to sanctify our lives, it is vital to be sensitive to the difference – and distinguish – between the mundane and the holy, including in the way we speak and communicate.

— Rabbi Simon Jacobson, renowned
Lubavitch author and lecturer

 

* * * * *

Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier

Modern Hebrew has many words that don’t exist in Lashon HaKodesh, but I’m not sure I see the relevance of whether it’s the same language or not.

The bottom line is that if a person takes the time to learn Modern Hebrew, he will be able to learn Chumash better, he will be able to daven better, and he’ll be able to do so many other things as a Jew more properly.

In addition, a large portion of our people speak Modern Hebrew as their first language, so I would highly encourage a person to learn it and to become as fluent in it as possible.

— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz

 

* * * * *

Chazal tell us that the world was created in Lashon HaKodesh. But over time, extraneous tongue got mixed up in our tongue: Aramaic, Greek, etc.

So the Hebrew we have today is definitely an offshoot. It has, for example, many words that could not exist in earlier times since many modern inventions weren’t around. Many of these new words were coined by Eliezer ben Yehudah, to whom we have to give a lot of credit.

Centuries ago, we took German and made it into a sprach that we call Yiddish. But Yiddish is waning today, and many yeshivas in Eretz Yisrael are now learning Torah in Hebrew. So if the whole Am Yisrael is using a language, I think it develops a certain kedushah. It certainly doesn’t make sense to consider Yiddish more holy than Ivrit.

So to say that Ivrit does not have an element of kedushah… of course it does. Is it the original Hebrew? Of course it’s not… just like Yiddish is not the original German and Ladino is not the original Spanish.

— Rabbi Yaakov Klass, Torah Editor
of The Jewish Press

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