The revival of Hebrew "is often hailed as one of the greatest feats of the Zionist enterprise; today Hebrew is the first language of millions of Israelis, a loquacious and literary nation that is said to publish an average of 5,500 books a year.
But in a country where self-doubt and insecurity run deep, even a linguistic triumph can be a cause for concern. After such a meteoric comeback, some worry that the common language may already be in decline, popularized to the point where many Israelis can no longer cope with the rich complexities of traditional Hebrew prose.
There is the creeping foreign influence, as urban sophisticates pepper their Hebrew speech with accented English affectations like “please,” “sorry” and “whatever,” along with a noticeable loss of nuance and relative paucity of vocabulary in regular use.
But he [Rosenthal, a popular Hebrew guru] and other Hebrew watchers point to a potentially more disturbing trend: living Hebrew has moved at a fast pace, and in the process, it has become increasingly estranged from its loftier ancient form.
“We used to understand the biblical language better, and our language was closer to it,” said Ronit Gadish, academic secretary of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, the state’s supreme guardian of the national tongue. “Now, what can we do to keep up the continuity?”After reviewing the historical development of the language, the author's conclusion is particularly interesting:
Mr. Birnbaum, like most of the experts, views what is apparently the deterioration of Hebrew as a natural process, if it can be considered degeneration at all. The reality, they say, is not as bad as it sounds. Rather, the anxiety may stem less from the state of Hebrew and more from the Israeli state of mind.
“It comes from a lack of security,” said Mr. Rosenthal, who was born in 1948 and explained the linguistic qualms as part of the collective summing up of the past 60 years. “The state of Israel has no confidence in its continued existence.”
The language may have moved on since the days of the prophets, but perhaps the sense of doom has not.