Author Archives: Dr. William Chomsky

About Dr. William Chomsky

Dr. William Chomsky (1896-1977) held an eminent place in the world of Jewish scholarship. He wrote in both academic and popular publications about various aspects of Hebrew, Jewish literature, and general education.

The Vitality of the Hebrew Language

This article is excerpted from William Chomsky’s magnum opus Hebrew: The Eternal Language, first published in 1957. Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Publication Society.

How was the Hebrew language able to exist and function as an effective instrument of creative self-expression and inter­communication for about 2,000 years, without such an essential ingredient for survival as a state or territory? How could Hebrew retain its vitality and elasticity over such a long period of time in the face of such adverse conditions?

Judaism’s Uniqueness

The answer to these questions may be discovered by consider­ing the unique character of Judaism and its relation to the Hebrew language. Hebrew has not been a denationalized uni­versal tongue, the medium of a specific religion, in the sense that Latin has been the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. Nor has it been merely a folk tongue like other living languages. As a matter of fact, it has persisted as a living language for many centuries after it had ceased to be a spoken vernacular in the accepted sense of the term.

hebrew languageHebrew has been the sacred language of the Jewish people–the language of its re­ligion, culture and civilization. It has been, in sum, the language of Judaism and intimately identified with the national and re­ligious experiences of the Jewish people throughout the genera­tions. The Jewish people can no more be dissociated from Hebrew than they can be dissociated from their own spiritual identity–Judaism.

Relationship Between Language and Culture

An analysis of the nature of language and of Judaism may help to clarify this point.

Our ideas and experiences are not independent of language; they are all integral parts of the same pattern, the warp and woof of the same texture. We do not first have thoughts, ideas, feelings, and then put them into a verbal framework. We think in words, by means of words. Language and experience are inextricably interwoven, and the awareness of one awakens the other. Words and idioms are as indispensable to our thoughts and experiences as are colors and tints to a painting. Our per­sonality matures and develops through language and by our use ­of it. Defective linguistic growth is known to go hand in hand with stunted intellectual and emotional development.