Language in Time of Revolution

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This book on culture and consciousness in history concerns the worldwide transformations of Jewish culture and society and the revival of the ancient Hebrew language following the waves of pogroms in Russia in 1881, when large numbers of Jews in Eastern and Central Europe redefined their identity as Jews in a new and baffling world.


"With his customary versatility and lucidity Harshav has given us . . . a host of new and provocative insights into modern Jewish history. . . . This book is an outstanding attempt to juxtapose the revolution in Jewish life with that of the Hebrew language in such a way that each informs our understanding of the other."

—Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi,

Columbia University

"It is no small component of Harshav's success in this altogether fascinating book to have made clear the family resemblance between what is still regularly called 'the almost miraculous revival of the Hebrew language' and the coterie movements of European high modernism in both politics and the arts."


"A wise, original, and stimulating book on the shaping of modern Jewish culture. . . . Humane, deeply erudite, and very satisfying."

—Steven Zipperstein,

Stanford University

"Israeli Hebrew, Angel Sáenz-Badillos has written, 'is not the result of natural evolution but of a process without parallel in the development of any other language.' The precise nature of the process is studied in illuminating detail in Language in Time of Revolution."

London Review of Books

"The crisscrossing among the discourses of literature, ideology, history, and linguistics makes for a heady intellectual experience. . . . Harshav writes with great authority and verve. . . . His discussions are a model of clarity."

—Alan Mintz,

Brandeis University

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“With his customary versatility and lucidity Harshav has given us . . . a host of new and provocative insights into modern Jewish history. . . . This book is an outstanding attempt to juxtapose the revolution in Jewish life with that of the Hebrew language in such a way that each informs our understanding of the other.”—Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Columbia University
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Benjamin Harshav is Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Yale University. Among his many books is The Meaning of Yiddish (Stanford paperback, 1999).

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Table of Contents

A Note to the Reader
Pt. I The Modern Jewish Revolution: An Essay on the History of Culture and Consciousness
1 Transformations: Extrinsic and Intrinsic 3
2 The Internal Response to History 7
3 A New Period in History 10
4 The Centrifugal Movement 14
5 The Force of Negation 17
6 The New Cultural Trends 24
7 The Secular Polysystem 33
8 Assimilation 40
9 A Jewish Century 42
10 The Continuous Rainbow 47
11 The Individual 53
12 Flashback: Collapse and Victory of the Enlightenment 57
13 Politics and Literature 63
14 Consolidation 68
15 Two Endings to one Revolution 70
16 The Age of Modernism 76
Pt. II The Revival of the Hebrew Language: Anatomy of a Social Revolution
17 The Miracle of the Revival of Hebrew 81
18 The Social Existence of Language 89
19 Theory of Twin Systems 93
20 Language as a Unifying Force 97
21 The Pitfalls of Scholarship 101
22 The Beginnings of the Language Revival 104
23 Three Factors in the Revival of the Language 113
24 The Life of "Dead" Hebrew 115
25 The Revival of Written Hebrew 120
26 New Cells of Society in a Social Desert 133
27 Ashkenazi or Sephardi Dialect? 153
28 Remarks on the Nature of Israeli Hebrew 167
29 Principles of the Revolution: A Retrospective Summary 173
30 Remarks Toward a Theory of Social Revolution 177
Pt. III Sources on the Hebrew Language Revival
Rachel Katznelson: Language Insomnia 1918 183
Yitzhak Tabenkin: The Roots 1937 195
Berl Katznelson: On the Question of Languages 1919 205
Yosef Klauzner: Ancient Hebrew and Modern Hebrew 1929 208
Tsvi Shats: Exile of our Classical Poetry 1919 216
References 222
Index 229
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