From the Publisher
"Resurrecting Hebrew is exciting and penetrating. This story will be read with deep interest by all those who are fascinated by the renaissance of an ancient language."
"Ilan Stavan's personal search to discover his relationship with Hebrew leads him to explore the unlikely quest of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda to revive the language of the Bible, a language not spoken outside of the synagogue for two thousand years, as a spoken language. This quixotic, Borgesian undertaking, as unlikely as reviving Latin as the language of everyday Italians, somehow miraculously succeeded. Resurrecting Hebrew reveals, in a fascinating and informative way, how this impossibility became a reality. Written with commendable clarity and vitality, it is a brief, unforgettable masterpiece."
Howard Schwartz, author of Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism
"There are fewer than eight thousand distinct words in the Hebrew Bible, yet a lone zealot and ragged refugees from every corner of the globe transformed the ancient Jewish tongue into the spoken language of millions. It is a story too fantastic for fiction, and Ilan Stavans tells it with erudition, charm, and a barely contained sense of astonishment."
Aaron Lansky, president, National Yiddish Book Center and author of Outwitting History
In this short, poignant, and thoroughly engaging memoir, Amherst professor and Latin American literary studies scholar Stavans takes us on his own personal journey to understand the reemergence of Hebrew as a vital and necessary step in his own intellectual and emotional development, as well as an important milestone in the origins of the modern state of Israel. His journey is also a quest to understand better the secularist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who at the end of the 19th century sought to revive Hebrew, engaging in a "linguistic resurrection." Stavans's intellectual journey parallels his search for concrete traces of Ben-Yehuda in Israel, ending with a visit to his gravestone. This personal memoir is supplemented with an informative acknowledgments section that will enable readers to find the sources for Stavans's immense knowledge of Ben-Yehuda's life and the history and development of Hebrew, Zionism, and the interrelationships with other languages and cultures. While an index of terms and names would have been helpful, the abbreviated chronology is a welcome addition. Recommended.-Herbert E. Shapiro, Empire State Coll. of the State Univ. of New York, Rochester
A personal and intellectual search for the history of modern Hebrew. Haunted by a cryptic dream, Stavans (Dictionary Days, 2005, etc.) journeyed to Israel to learn everything he could about the revival of vernacular Hebrew in the 19th and 20th centuries. His complicated linguistic background as a Spanish- and Hebrew-speaking Jewish man in Mexico engendered a passionate curiosity in all things Hebrew, especially a man named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the amateur lexicographer who set about in the late 1800s to resuscitate and reinvent the ancient language in the service of solidifying a Jewish political state in Israel. This project met with vehement resistance from Orthodox Jews, many of whom believed, and still believe, that Hebrew, as the language of God and of creation, should be reserved for holy matters only, not brought to street level to be used by anyone who would claim it. The search for Ben-Yehuda's legacy proved much more complicated than the author had expected. He was not widely celebrated as the resuscitator of modern Hebrew in Israel; only a handful of his neologisms survive; and the scholars and experts interviewed by Stavans expressed, at best, ambivalence toward his life's work. Instead of Ben-Yehuda's vision of a single, unified Jewish language, Stavans found that spoken Hebrew in Israel is infused with the political and cultural workings of several languages, including Arabic, English, Yiddish and, increasingly, Russian, among others. Throughout the book, Stavans nimbly interweaves popular and scholarly references to Hebrew's evolution among Israeli citizens, including Palestinians, but he writes for an audience with a working knowledge of the language, pausing onlyoccasionally to translate words and cultural practices for the uninitiated. In cerebral yet clear prose, he imbues the book with his passion for the Semitic languages in all their manifestations. The resulting text is more scholarly than the average memoir and more personal than a purely academic work-an amalgam of the author's experiences and encounters. A gem for readers interested in Hebrew and the politics of language.