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Eliezer Ben‑Yehuda (there is a a song about him)( , 7 January 1858–16 December 1922) was a Jewish activist who was a key figure in the revival of the Hebrew language. Ben-Yehuda regarded Hebrew and Zionism as symbiotic: "The Hebrew language can live only if we revive the nation and return it to the fatherland," he wrote.


Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was born Eliezer Yitzhak Perlman (Yiddish אליעזר יצחק פערלמאן), in Luzhki (Belarusian Лужкі (Łužki), Polish Łużki), Vilna Governorate of the Russian Empiremarker (now Vitsebsk Voblast, Belarusmarker). He attended cheder where he studied Hebrew and the Bible from the age of three, as was customary among the Jews of Eastern Europe. By the age of twelve, he had been studying in Hebrew for nine years and had read large portions of the Torah, Mishna, and Talmud. His parents hoped he would become a rabbi, and sent him to a yeshiva. There, he continued to study ancient Hebrew and was also exposed to the Hebrew of the enlightenment, including secular writings. Later, he learned French, German, and Russian, and was sent to Dünaburgmarker for more education. Reading the Hebrew language newspaper HaShahar, he became acquainted with Zionism and concluded that the revival of Hebrew language in the Land of Israel could unite all Jews worldwide.

Ben Yehuda was married twice, to two sisters. His first wife, Devora (née Jonas), died in 1891 of tuberculosis, leaving him with five small children. Her final wish was that Eliezer marry her younger sister, Paula Beila. Soon after his Devora's death, three of his children died of diphtheria within a period of 10 days. Six months later, he married Paula, who took the Hebrew name "Hemda".

Study in Paris

Upon graduation he went to Parismarker to study at the Sorbonne Universitymarker. Among the subjects he studied there were history and politics of the Middle East, but the one that had the most lasting effect was Hebrew - specifically, his advanced Hebrew classes taught in Hebrew. It was this use of Hebrew in a spoken form that convinced him fully that the revival of Hebrew as the language of a nation was practical. Ben-Yehuda spent four years in Paris.

Move to Jerusalem

In 1881 Ben-Yehuda traveled to Jerusalem, then ruled by the Ottoman Empire. He found a job teaching at the Alliance Israelite Universelle school. Motivated by the surrounding ideals of renovation and rejection of the diaspora lifestyle, Ben‑Yehuda set out to develop a new language that could replace Yiddish and other regional dialects as a means of everyday communication between Jews who made aliyah from various regions of the world.

Ben-Yehuda and wife Hemda, 1912
Ben‑Yehuda raised his son, Ben‑Zion Ben‑Yehuda (the first name meaning "son of Zion"), entirely through Hebrew. He refused to let his son be exposed to other languages during childhood. It is said he once reprimanded his wife, after he caught her singing a Russian lullaby to the child. His son Ben‑Zion was the first native speaker of modern Hebrew.

Journalistic career

Ben-Yehuda was the editor of several Hebrew-language newspapers: HaZvi, Hashkafa and HaOr. HaZvi was closed down for a year in the wake of opposition from Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community, which fiercely objected to the use of Hebrew, the holy tongue, for everyday conversation.


Ben-Yehuda was the driving spirit behind the establishment of the Committee of the Hebrew Language, later the Academy of the Hebrew Language, an organization that still exists today. He was the author of the first modern Hebrew dictionary and became known as the "reviver" of the Hebrew language, despite opposition to some of the words he coined. Many of these words have become part and parcel of the language but others - some 2,000 words - never caught on. His word for "tomato," for instance, was badura, but Hebrew speakers today use the word agvania.

Death and commemoration

In December 1922, Ben Yehuda, 64, died of tuberculosis, from which he suffered most of his life. He was buried on the Mount of Olivesmarker in Jerusalem. His funeral was attended by 30,000 people.

Ben Yehuda built a house for his family in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem, but died three months before it was completed. His wife Hemda lived there for close to thirty years. Ten years after her death, her son Ehud transferred the title of the house to the Jerusalem municipality for the purpose of creating a museum and study center. Eventually it was leased to a church group from Germany who established a center there for young German volunteers. The house is now a conference center and guesthouse run by the German organization Action Reconciliation Service for Peace , which organizes workshops, seminars and Hebrew language ulpan programs.

See also


  1. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922)
  2. Mount of Olives - Jerusalem
  3. Beit Ben-Yehuda
  4. Beit Ben Yehuda, International Meeting Center in Jerusalem


  • Fellman, Jack (1973). The revival of a classical tongue: Eliezer Ben Yehuda and the modern Hebrew language. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton ISBN 90-279-2495-3
  • Robert St. John. Tongue of the Prophets, Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York, 1952. ISBN 0-8371-2631-2
  • Yosef Lang. The Life of Eliezer Ben Yehuda. Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, 2 volumes, (Hebrew)
  • Ilan Stavans, Resurrecting Hebrew (2008)

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