The Holiness of Modern Hebrew


Sponsored by Sharona and Josh Halickman in Honor of their 16th Wedding Anniversary


Living in Israel we get used to speaking Hebrew. After a while, we begin to take the Hebrew language for granted. Of course there is a Hebrew word for bicycle, doll, ice cream and laundry but how many of these words are originally from the Torah?


Let’s take laundry for example. Nobody likes it (except for the Laundromats, Dry Cleaners, appliance stores and detergent companies) but everyone has to do it.


The word for laundry in Hebrew is “kvisa”. Where does the word originate from? Believe it or not the words “yichaves begadav”, “he shall wash his clothing” are mentioned often in the Torah especially in relation to ritual purity.


In Parshat Chukat, Bamidbar 19:7-8 we see that both the Kohen as well as the person who burns the red cow should wash their clothing.


A Laundromat in Modern Hebrew is a Michbasa. Both kvisa and michbasa come from the biblical word “yichaves”.


We have Eliezer Ben Yehuda (1858-1922) to thank for reviving the Hebrew language.


Ben Yehuda felt that whatever words he could find in the Torah he would use for Modern Hebrew and whatever he could not find in the Torah he would create by borrowing words from other languages.


Ben Yehuda insisted on giving his children Hebrew names as well as only speaking Hebrew to them. Although they were first looked at as outcasts (since the religious community felt that he was not being respectful to the Jewish religion by taking words from the Torah), eventually some of his friends joined him in speaking Hebrew and helped him develop Modern Hebrew as we know it today.


One of my students in a Jerusalem senior residence named Adina told me that her father was friends with Eliezer Ben Yehuda. When she was born, her father tried to give her a Modern Hebrew name and when he was called up to the Torah for her naming, the Gabbai insisted that she be named a more traditional name, Sara so she ended up with two names (Adina Sara). Today, thanks to the work that their generation did to develop Modern Hebrew, names like Adina are very common, almost as common as Sara was one hundred years ago and now many Israelis choose to give their children names which are even more modern, actually just words such as Tal (dew) or Shaked (almond).


Thanks to Eiezer Ben Yehuda we were able to revive and continue to revive the Hebrew language. As technology continues to advance, there will always be more words that will need to be created.


When you speak Hebrew, even doing your laundry becomes holy!