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.”