Friday, April 08, 2011

The Tie That Binds


I am intrigued by the Hebrew language, by the fact that a seemingly dead language is once again the language of a modern people. Hebrew, unlike Latin, had been used continuously for religious purposes, but for centuries the vocabulary was limited to the words in the Hebrew Bible.

Hebrew was the one thing that tied together our recent experience in Israel and Poland with our life back here in the US. The week before we departed we had a Shabbat service, which was filled with Hebrew prayers set to music. The next Friday night in Poland, we heard familiar melodies with those same words. Our last Friday in Israel, yet again the traditional Hebrew prayers. The language was indeed a strong tie binding these three Shabbat experiences.

Interestingly, the early Reform movement of Judaism of which we are a part almost eliminated the use of Hebrew in the prayerbook, choosing instead to use the vernacular languages. But today this pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.

The trip caused me to ask lots of questions about Hebrew and its history as a spoken language. I wanted to know how and when it came into common usage. I wanted to know how new words were added. I found this article answering many of those questions.

But most of all, I realized how much I wanted to master this language that is so integrally a part of my religion. I have a very limited Hebrew vocabulary, consisting mainly of words I encounter reading the Torah and the prayerbook.

Israelis are masters of teaching their language to new immigrants since Israel is such a melting pot. They use the Ulpan method, which involves complete immersion with accelerated instruction over a short period of time. I’m giving serious thought to committing to such study.

But for now I will sing the Shabbat prayers with the knowledge that people literally around the globe are singing the same words each week. This knowledge reminds me of a song title from my previous religious life “Blessed be the tie that binds.”

4 Comments:

Blogger Angela said...

Thank you for this, Barbara. I will copy the signs and try to learn them. I always wanted. All I could once write was tohu wa bohu. From right to left, of course. My daughter was twice in Israel lately, and thought it was all most amazing.

6:45 AM  
OpenID dsquared said...

The question is whether we'll really do this. Each time I come back from Israel (5 times) I make a vow that the next time I'm there, I'll really be able to converse in Hebrew vs. my extremely rudimentary Hebrew today. I hope we really do it this time.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Gary said...

Welcome home!

I am told that Catholic mass used to be conducted in Latin so that wherever one attended services (U.S.A., Italy, etc.) participation was ensured because of the common language. That practice was done away with and now services are conducted in the local language. I have Catholic friends who embrace the change and others who feel the Latin brought a deeper sense of meaning to the experience. From your post I gather that this pressure was averted in Judaism and Hebrew proved triumphant.

I recognize a few of these symbols from playing dreidel. Go for it! Throwing yourself into new studies is always a healthy endeavor.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting! And the article's mention of multiple linguistic interpretations of the texts is in my view a good argument against fundamentalist/orthodox adherence in any religion. The amount of spiritual energy that gets dissipated in such argument (Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, whatever) is staggering to me...

Anyway! I love the idea of a common language threading through your travels. I know you love to dive enthusiastically in (me too!), so enjoy your learning! I'd never heard of Ulpan, and looked it up. What a cool idea!! I see that other countries, including Scotland and Wales, have been inspired by the Israeli model to create their own version of Ulpan. I'm about half Scot, and am having fantasies of learning Gaelic...

F.

12:40 PM  

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