Hebraismus Militans (1913)
(translated by Rabbi Mark W. Kiel for Class Struggle and the Jewish Nation: Selected Essays in Marxist Zionism, by Ber Borochov; Mitchell Cohen, ed.)
Hebraists are at war. Among whom is obvious. For more than 120 years they have battled against Yiddish-speaking Jewry. It will soon be 125 years since Mendelsohns disciple, David Friedlander, came out with his impassioned proclamation against Yiddish, in 1788. No measures were spared against the despised mame loshn (mother tongue)! Thus Euchel, editor of Hameasef and one of the first Hebraists, thrashed the mame loshn in trashy satire; Tuvia Feder tried the same precisely 100 years ago, through mudslinging and pasquanade. His good friends and disciples in Germany, Bohemia, Poland, and Russia treacherously resorted to that old Jewish stratagem of informing the nobles.
The case against Yiddish is so old and well known that in the past 125 years the militant Hebraists have not presented one new argument. Meanwhile Yiddish, together with its people, came a long way, changing its appearance, casting off the caftan for the work shirt, sprucing up with collar and gloves, and stepping out in tails and décolletage. In the last century Yiddish also changed its battle stations and tactics. Previously diffident and fearful, wanting only to be left to itself, harming no one, Yiddish begged to grasp its last breath in peace. Lately, however, the servant girl rose up against the mistress, declaring herself a national language and sovereign of the peoples spirit. But the Hebraists are still up to their old tricks. Ahad Haam battles with pasquanades, more refined though they may be. But in this Tuvia Feder was certainly more skillful. Mr. Frug hurls satiric insults and others try to stifle the "Jargon" through ponderous sermons. Denunciations occur as well. Teachers at the Jaffa Hebrew gymnasium know their business as well as did their grandfathers in Prague and Breslau.
Gentlemen Hebraists! Best to change your ways. Your old methods, as you plainly see, just do not work. On the contrary, the "loathsome Jargon" became more "harmful," more "impudent," more "loathsome." Is not a new unheard of strategy due? Because, while you resort to your old hosannas, Jargon will"heaven forbid"occupy newer, more dangerous positions. Yiddish will also"heaven forbid"seize its place in the modern folk school.
Quickly! Pay heed to Mr. Jabotinskys warning: "If Jargon becomes the language of instruction in Jewish folk schools, this will be the end of Hebrew." Take no consolation in the fact that Yiddish, during all its 700 or 800 years of existence, was the language of the heder, of yeshiva pilpuland nonetheless nothing ever happened in Hebrew. Nor can you rely on the international value of Hebrew which, for the two thousand years since the Jews ceased instructing their children in the tongue of the prophets, kept it from dying. No, one dare not rely on Hebrews history or vitality. You should do nothing but follow and act according to Mr. Jabotinskys plan. Follow these plans and adopt resolutions; that is how you will save Hebrew. Think of new strategiesthe ghosts of Wessely, Euchel, and Friedlander have waited anxiously for 125 years for this new tactic, the almighty resolution.
Hebraists wage war against whom? With verve and devotion they wage war against Hebrew. Not Jargon, but loshn kodesh (the holy tongue) and modern Hebrew are the real targets of their arrows. In the process the Hebraists make an ugly laughingstock of themselves, turning the peoples hearts from the very language before which the Hebraists bow. The masses do not grasp fine distinctions. Even those most conscious are only human and not strangers to anger and grief. When the Hebraists holler in the name of Hebrew it is natural for their audience to assume that they have the sanction of loshn kodesh to speak its name. We must therefore protest that the Hebraists dig a grave for Hebrew with their own hands, through their deeds and calumnies. We are left with but one consolation: Hebrew has already withstood much distress as its zealots besmirch its integrity. Yet Hebrew remains refined and august and strikes even deeper roots in the new styles of Jewishness that emerge. Hebrew will also overcome this nuisance known as Hebraism.
What the Hebraists have given us that is positive is the idea of a language revivified. Hebrew has begun to live again in the mouths of a new generation, exhibiting further evidence of its vitality. Indeed, this is to the credit of the HebraistsBut which ones? And where has this success been achieved? Hebrew has been revived in Palestine, although not entirely. This has been accomplished, not by those Hebraists who fight mame loshn here and heap scorn on loshn kodesh, but by those who practice what they preach. Since the new yishuv in Eretz Israel began, conditions there became favorable to the revival of Hebrew. Till now, everything that is being done in Palestine bears the mark of a more or less artificially made and maintained experiment. It is also possible to experiment with Hebrew. I believe in this kind of experimentation, but should we experiment here in the Galut? This is just inappropriate for Zionists and those dead set against the Galut. After all, it is they who claim that no national accomplishment in the Galut is durable. If so, what is there to Mr. Jabotinskys latest plans for Hebrew publishing houses, a new childrens literature in Hebrew, and folk schools with Hebrew as the language of instructionin the Galut?
Since it is possible to obtain a few teachers for a progressive heder and some rubles for a publishing house, would not good sense dictate directing the work and money of the Hebraists to Palestine, where they could do some good and the effort would not be wasted? Or perhaps Mr. Jabotinsky imagined when he was in Palestine that all Jews there already spoke Hebrew, that no Jewish children attended missionary schools, and that there was nothing left to do? But the Galut Hebraists are determined to conduct their experiments heretheir anti-Galut notions notwithstanding. Mr. Jabotinsky is among their most intelligent journalists. When an intelligent man spites his own good sense, what is there left to say?
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