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During the third century, Jews did not speak Hebrew anywhere, and it essentially died out.
However, about a millennium later, it somehow sprung into existence, becoming known as one of the only languages that literary movements successfully revived.
Hebrew is a part of the Canaanite language, and it is the only one that survived, in contrast with Aramaic, which died out.
These Canaanite languages belonged originally to the Afro-Asiatic language family, which people used to derive several other languages spoken in Northern Africa and Western Asia to this day.
Jews do speak Hebrew, and it is considered a holy language that is primarily reserved for religious purposes but sometimes spoken in daily conversations.
Let’s explore the history of Hebrew and whether Jews speak the language.
A History of Hebrew
Some languages derived from the Afro-Asiatic language family, which are still spoken today, include Arabic and Somali.
One of the earliest writing samples discovered and determined to be Hebrew was dated around 3000 years ago. However, a more accurate description would be to call it a proto-Canaanite language.
This is because people had not yet distinguished the kinds of languages derived from the Canaanite language family. Still, the script seemingly indicated that it would change into Classical Hebrew eventually.
The language was referred to as Classical Hebrew between the 10th century and 1st century, and this particular language includes all of Biblical Hebrew.
As Hebrew evolved and changed, it also began to die out slowly as the times changed to CE.
Aramaic gained some popularity when the Babylonian Empire overtook Jerusalem.
As the 2nd Century reached its end, Hebrew was considered to be a dead language.
However, Medieval Hebrew still existed and continued in its usage over the next few centuries, being known as an important academic and religious language while playing a crucial role in the development of Judaism.
During a literary revival in the 19th century, Hebrew began evolving in different directions and started absorbing certain words and qualities from many languages.
Medieval Hebrew was considered to be a dead language during this time because people didn’t even use it to communicate with each other.
During the 19th century, a movement began to revive the language and return it to the present world.
As many Jews from across the world began moving into Jerusalem, the region quickly became a place containing various languages.
These languages included some Hebrew-influenced languages like Yiddish or others, including Russian.
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was a Jewish activist who played a crucial role in modernizing Hebrew, which has seen significant growth and evolved into what it is today in Israel.
Do Jews Speak Hebrew?
Hebrew became the main language of Israel in 1922, and a vast majority of Jews speak Hebrew.
It is spoken primarily by most of Israel’s residents (8 million).
Hebrew is considered the first language by only half of the residents of Israel, and it is fairly common and spread across the country.
Due to the various movements of immigration that have occurred, the remaining half of the population speaks other languages such as Yiddish, English, Arabic, and others.
Roughly one million people living outside Israel also speak Hebrew, and Poland considers it a language of minorities.
Differences Between Hebrew And Yiddish
Hebrew is essentially a subgroup of Afro-Asiatic languages, fairly common in the Middle East. In contrast, Yiddish is a mixture of German, Hebrew, Aramaic, and others.
It is true that Yiddish has some similarities to Hebrew and uses the Hebrew alphabet; however, it is closer and more similar to German and Slavic languages than Hebrew.
Both of these languages are spoken by Jewish folk, but Hebrew conjures up Israel and the Middle East images. In contrast, Yiddish has a touch of Europe and Jewish communities residing in the continent of Europe.
This particular reason is due to Hebrew being a Middle Eastern language whose origins can be traced back to three millennia ago, whereas Yiddish mainly originated in Europe about 8 centuries ago.
Yiddish came into existence in the area of Rhineland, which is situated in Western Germany, and eventually reached areas of eastern and central Europe.
Hebrew is considered to be a holy tongue and typically reserved for prayer but not spoken excessively to communicate.
Yiddish, however, is considered to be a mother tongue, mainly because it is the primary language used by Jews to communicate at home and as a business language.
In the current era, Hebrew is spoken globally by roughly 10 million people and is considered Israel’s first language. It is mainly used in prayer and for religious purposes but also used by some Jews to converse about daily matters.
Before the Holocaust, you’d expect anywhere from 11 and 13 million Jews to speak Yiddish out of 17 million Jews globally.
However, since the Holocaust, the language has seen a dramatic drop in speakers, but it is far from being a dead language.
Yiddish is used for purposes of academia but not exclusively reserved for it.
The United Kingdom is home to thousands of Jewish children who speak Yiddish, and roughly 15000 Jews in Montreal, Canada, use it as a conversational language.
Many Jews speak both Yiddish and Hebrew, where Hebrew is reserved for more religious purposes, and Yiddish is more conversational.
Hebrew almost died out by the 3rd century CE but saw a revival following certain literary movements that made it more common among the Jewish communities worldwide.
A language starts to die out when it becomes reserved for a specific purpose such as religion and isn’t spoken daily.
Many Jews, to this day, speak Hebrew as their first tongue and as a second language, with up to 10 million Jews being fluent in Hebrew worldwide.