Saturday, April 11, 2009


Egyptian journalist, blogger, and human rights activist Wael Abbas has been released from police custody after being detained earlier today. Internationally and in dissident circles, Abbas is respected for his documentation of police brutality, which has forced the prosecution of several former officers. "Wael Abbas is the best and bravest of us all," says fellow blogger Shahnaz Abdel Salem. Last year he declined to meet with U.S President George W. Bush. His work has earned him awards from Human Rights Watch, CNN, and the International Center for Journalists, but also attention from the Egyptian authorities who regard him as a nuisance. Two days ago a police officer broke into Abbas's Cairo home and attacked him. In the past his online accounts have been shut down, he has been (falsely) declared a criminal by the Interior Minister, and been accused of being an apostate and a homosexual, serious labels in conservative Egyptian society.


Bar Kochba said...

Correction: Apostate- not apostle.

I'm going to answer your question about Hebrew and Yiddish. Hebrew was the lingua franca of the Jewish people from the Biblical period until first exile. Then, the Jews in Babylon spoke Aramaic while those who remained or returned to Judea spoke Hebrew. Eventually, in Mishnaic times (Second and post Temple times), Aramaic replaced Hebrew. Hebrew became a ceremonial language. The Jews of Europe spoke Yiddish as their means of communications, which is a mixture of Hebrew and German. This is much the same way as Sephardic (Spanish) Jews spoke Ladino, which is a conglomerate of Spanish and Hebrew.

The large Yiddish speaking communities were mostly wiped out in the Holocaust. The only real significant Yiddish speakers today, besides the elderly, are many ultra-Orthodox Jews. (I speak almost no Yiddish besides a few terms. My grandmother spoke fluent Yiddish though, as my grandfather spoke fluent Ladino).

Hebrew was revived in the 1800s by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who made the first modern Hebrew dictionary. He regarded Hebrew and Zionism as symbiotic and believed that the reborn Jewish nation needed to speak its mother tongue.

Yiddish has a very interesting (and somewhat sad) place in Israeli and Zionist history. Yiddish was associated negatively with the Diaspora, contrary to the "new Jew" that the Zionist leaders were trying to create, and was shunned in Israeli society. It is somewhat tragic that such an important part of our culture has been neglected, although Yiddish is an exile tongue, while Hebrew is the authentic Jewish language.

Young Activist said...

So when Hebrew was revived was the original grammatical structure retained, or just the words? Is Hebrew syntax comparable, or molded on, any other languages?

Bar Kochba said...

Modern Hebrew is two-thirds similar to biblical Hebrew. An Israeli can read the Bible with ease although much of the grammar was modernized. (An amazing feeling for every Hebrew speaker is seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem and being able to clearly read the 2000 year old text.) Words were revived although many new words had to be invented for new concepts. New words were either taken from the Hebrew root (shoresh) or from other languages. For example, electricity is chashmal, which actually comes from the Book of Isaiah, in which the prophet describes a certain type of angel. A computer is called a machshev which comes from the same root as 'thought'. Ben Yehuda, if he had to take words from other languages, preferred to take from Arabic or other semitic languages rather than English or European tongues. However, today there is a big effect of Americanization on the Hebrew language.