Words Like Sapphire

Hebrew is often called the “holy tongue” because it is the language of the Hebrew Bible, most synagogue worship, and, according to ancient tradition, Creation itself. It is also the language of daily life in the modern State of Israel, largely because of the efforts of pioneering figures who led the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in the early twentieth century. Yet Hebrew is not the only language of the Jews, nor are Jews the only ones to have cultivated its usage. Christian scholars also regarded Hebrew as a holy tongue, giving rise to renowned circles of Christian Hebraists in Renaissance Italy and Reformation England, and a steady stream of Hebrew grammars and dictionaries. Throughout the ages, Hebrew has existed side by side with other languages in a constantly shifting relationship. In some places, Jews used specifically Jewish languages at home such as Yiddish or Ladino. They reserved Hebrew for the synagogue and the local, non-Jewish language for the working environment. In other places, and at the opposite end of the linguistic spectrum, some Jews used the local, non-Jewish language in every sphere of life, including the synagogue. These and other factors—geographic, ideological, and political—have created a complex and ever-changing linguistic landscape throughout Jewish history..

The Language Spoken by Adam and Eve?

The author of this Latin treatise was a Belgian philosopher with a particular interest in Jewish mysticism. Here he sets forth the idea that Hebrew is the most suitable tongue for teaching the hearing impaired to speak, basing his theory on the idea that Hebrew is the “natural” language—the language spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—a notion also found in earlier sources, both Jewish and Christian. The book contains thirty-six copperplate engravings showing the parts of the mouth from which a particular Hebrew sound is produced.

Baron Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont. Alphabeti verè Naturalis Hebraici brevissima delineation (A Brief Delineatio of the True Nature of the Hebrew Alphabet). Sulzbach: Abraham Lichtenthaler, 1667. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (041.00.00)

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The First Hebrew Grammar in America

In 1735 the first Hebrew grammar appeared in America, set with Hebrew type imported from England. The grammar was composed by Judah Monis, Harvard College’s instructor in Hebrew, and published with the aid of the college. In order to receive his appointment at the school, however, Monis had to convert to Christianity. He did so in 1722. For almost forty years, until his retirement in 1760, Monis taught Hebrew as a required course to students at Harvard so that they could study the Bible in its original language.

Judah Monis. Dickdook Leshon Gnebreet: A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue. Boston, 1735. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (042.00.00)

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A Haggadah in Hebrew and Marathi

This Passover haggadah is written in Hebrew and Marathi for the Bene Israel (Sons of Israel) Jews of India. According to their tradition, a shipwreck left seven Jewish families from ancient Israel stranded in an area south of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) more than two thousand years ago. Living in isolation from other Jews, they still managed to maintain their identity and to observe basic practices of Judaism. In the nineteenth century contact was made with other Jews and the Bene Israel began to move from villages to cities, settling in Mumbai, Pune (Poona), and Karachi (now in Pakistan). After 1948 most Bene Israel migrated to Israel. The 5,000 Jews in India today live almost exclusively in Mumbai in the Indian state of Maharashtra where they speak Marathi. The scenes in the haggadah depict Indian Jews reciting the Passover story at the seder table illuminated by oil-filled lamps.

Passover Haggadah. Pune (Poona), 1874. Hebrew and Marathi. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (043.00.00)

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A Haggadah in Hebrew and Amharic

This bi-lingual Passover haggadah is written in Hebrew and in Amharic, the modern Ethiopian language. It was published for the Ethiopian Jews living in Israel who are the immigrants and descendents of the “Beta Israel” communities of Ethiopia, most of whom came to Israel in the last quarter century. The pages are opened to the description of the four sons, one of the traditional motifs in the haggadah: “The Wise Son,” “The Wicked Son,” “The Simple Son,” and “The One Who Does Not Know How To Ask.” The Amharic translation is based on a version by the “Beta Israel” community of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1995.

הדגה לש חספ (Hagadah shel Pesah.) Jerusalem: Koren Publishers, 2010. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (051.00.00)

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The Constitution of the United States

During the great migration from Europe, beginning in the second quarter of the nineteenth century and ending one hundred years later, almost thirty million Europeans came to the United States. Three million of those immigrants were Jews, mostly from Eastern Europe and Russia, who were fleeing pogroms and poverty. Citizenship was a major step in the process of their becoming fully American. Many immigrants attended night classes after work in order to learn English. J. D. Eisenstein wrote in the preface to his 1891 translation of the Constitution of the United States into Hebrew and Yiddish, that his aim was “to Americanize Jewish residents of the lower part of the city of New York and of which the writer of these lines is a member.”

יקוח תוצרא תירבה (Constitution of the United States). Hebrew and Yiddish. [New York, 1891]. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (044.00.00)

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Laws for Granting Citizenship to Women

The National Council of Jewish Women was founded in 1893 to promote Judaism among its members and to promote social reform in the United States and abroad. Part of the Council’s extensive focus was to aid immigrant women and to offer them new educational opportunities. This English and Yiddish handbook provided guidance in addressing the complex United States laws for granting citizenship to women, which varied according to their marital status.

Cecilia Razovsky. Vos yede froy darf visen vegen birgershaft…What Every Woman Should Know about Citizenship. Yiddish and English. New York, 1926. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (048.00.00)

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Guide for Helping Jewish Immigrants to Learn English

Bulgarian-born Moise Gadol (1874–1941), who edited this booklet, launched the Ladino language weekly La America, which appeared in New York from 1910 until 1923. That newspaper helped to unify Jews from the Balkans, Turkey, and Greece for whom Ladino (Judeo-Spanish or Judezmo) was their native tongue. This publication, written in Ladino, Yiddish, and English helped Americanize many more Jewish immigrants. Useful phrases aided the immigrants to function successfully in their new home. Questions and answers about the United States Constitution helped them prepare to become citizens of their newly adopted country.

Moise Gadol. Libro de embezar/The Book to Learn How to Speak, Read and Write from Spanish-Jewish Language in English and Yiddish. New York, 1937. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (049.00.00)

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Yiddish Music in America

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Yiddish music in America served as a bridge between the old world and the new, with immigrants blending English words and phrases into familiar songs from the old country. Jewish music historian Irene Heskes (1923–1999) provided the context for many of the items in the Library’s collections in Yiddish American Popular Songs: 1895–1950, published by the Library of Congress in 1992.

“Auf’n Pripetchik, oder der alef beys” (By the fireside/at the hearth, or the Hebrew alphabet), is a well-known song about teaching the Hebrew alphabet to young children. It was written in Eastern Europe by the prolific badkhen (folk minstrel), M. Warshawsky. “Donkey Monkey Business,” from the operetta Di grineh kinder (The Green [or Naive] Children), cautions unwary greenhorns against “cheap bargains” and other “monkey business.” This cover features well-known Yiddish actress Bessie Thomashefsky, piquantly dressed in men’s clothing. “The Jewish Yankee Doodle,” from the operetta Der Yiddisher Yankee Doodle, introduces new immigrants to the American ethos, explaining that “In America you must work first in order to play later.” The cover features famed Yiddish actor Boris Thomashefsky, husband of Bessie. Two folk melodies, “Hatikvah” (The Hope) and “Dort vu di tseyder” (Where the Cedars [Bloom]) feature noted Zionist leaders Theodore Herzl and Max Nordau on the cover.

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  • M. Warshawsky. “Auf’n Pripetchik, oder der alef beys.” New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1913; Louis Briedsel. “Donkey Monkey Business.” New York: A. Goldberg, 1904; B.Thomashefsky. “The Jewish Yankee Doodle.” New York: S. Goldberg, 1905; Henry Russoto. “Hatikvah: Dort vu di tseyder.” New York, Hebrew Publishing Co., ca. 1917. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (046.04.00)

  • M. Warshawsky. “Auf’n Pripetchik, oder der alef beys.” New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1913; Louis Briedsel. “Donkey Monkey Business.” New York: A. Goldberg, 1904; B.Thomashefsky. “The Jewish Yankee Doodle.” New York: S. Goldberg, 1905; Henry Russoto. “Hatikvah: Dort vu di tseyder.” New York, Hebrew Publishing Co., ca. 1917. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (046.00.00)

  • M. Warshawsky. “Auf’n Pripetchik, oder der alef beys.” New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1913; Louis Briedsel. “Donkey Monkey Business.” New York: A. Goldberg, 1904; B.Thomashefsky. “The Jewish Yankee Doodle.” New York: S. Goldberg, 1905; Henry Russoto. “Hatikvah: Dort vu di tseyder.” New York, Hebrew Publishing Co., ca. 1917. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (046.01.00)

  • M. Warshawsky. “Auf’n Pripetchik, oder der alef beys.” New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1913; Louis Briedsel. “Donkey Monkey Business.” New York: A. Goldberg, 1904; B.Thomashefsky. “The Jewish Yankee Doodle.” New York: S. Goldberg, 1905; Henry Russoto. “Hatikvah: Dort vu di tseyder.” New York, Hebrew Publishing Co., ca. 1917. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (046.02.00)

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Hebrew Literature for Children

The revival of spoken Hebrew at the turn of the nineteenth century led to a tremendous flowering of Hebrew literature for children and attracted the creative powers of some of the most talented artists and writers of the day. Yitshak Katzenelson, the author of this and many other children’s books, was also a gifted poet and playwright in both Hebrew and Yiddish. The light, playful tone of much of his early writing may surprise those who best know him as the author of some of the most moving poetry to emerge from the Holocaust. Katzenelson was born in Belorussia in 1895 and took part in the first uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. He died with his son in Auschwitz in 1944. Today his name lives on not only through his books, but also through the center for Holocaust studies named after him in Kibbutz Lohamei ha-Geta’ot in Israel.

Yitshak Katzenelson. תוצראמ תוקוחר (From Far-Away Lands). Warsaw, ca. 1920. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (045.00.00)

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Vini-der-Pu

Winnie the Pooh is the beloved fictional bear who lives in a forest in England. A. A. Milne created the bear based on his own son’s toy teddy bear. The book has been translated into more than two dozen languages. In this version, author, poet, and teacher Leonard Wolf has transliterated the story from the Yiddish, which is written in Hebrew characters, into Latin letters. The first paragraph of each story is presented in Yiddish. Read aloud, one can hear how the stories sound in Yiddish.

A. A. Milne. Vini-der-Pu (Winnie the Pooh). Yiddish in English Letters. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2000. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (050.00.00)

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Curious George

A favorite of children and adults, Curious George is the name H. A. Rey gave to the fictional monkey taken from the jungle by “a man in a yellow hat.” Poet and journalist Sholem Berger provides a translation of this story into Yiddish as well as a transliteration of the Yiddish for easy reading. The back of the book contains an alphabet chart for Yiddish and a pronunciation key.

H. A. (Hans Augusto) Rey. Curious George שזדראשזד רעקירעגיינ. Yiddish translation by Sholem Berger. New York: Yidishe shtub, ca. 2005. Hebraic Section, African & Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (052.00.00)

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