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Recently, I got sent a copy of ‘Lashon Hakodesh: History, Holiness and Hebrew’ by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein.
Now, I’m not usually a big linguistic book fan – too left brain for me, normally – but I have to say that I actually really enjoyed reading the book. First of all, it was written in a fairly down-to-earth easy to read style. It also helped that the copious notes and source materials were corralled into the footnotes, so it didn’t slow up the book’s narrative, but still gave me access to the stuff that peaked my interest, as I was going through.
And much of the story behind ‘Lashon Hakodesh’ was also pretty fascinating, even for a right-brain type person like myself. For example, I’d heard tell of Hebrew being written in two different types of script, but Rav Klein actually spelled out the different views as to how and why that had happened, and brought a lot of supporting material to back his assertions up.
Which was another thing I liked about the book: it presented a lot of different, and occasionally even conflicting opinions about the various traditions we have regarding Lashon Hakodesh, and enabled the reader to make their mind up for themselves, where they felt the truth really lay.
For example, in the discussion about whether the people who built the Tower of Babel originally spoke only Hebrew, or actually spoke all 70 of the world’s languages, before God came and confused their communication with each other, the author brought many different opinions about what was really going on there – but let the reader decide for themselves, about which approach really spoke to them.
I liked that.
(Even though it’s probably the polar-opposite of how I normally write and think myself, which is usually much more black-and-white.)
Spanning from the beginning of time, right up to the use of modern-day Hebrew and the State of Israel, the book packs a lot of information and material into its pages, but it’s not in the least overwhelming or (worse…) boring.
I read it over one Shabbat, and I enjoyed it a lot. The only thing I would have liked to have seen more of is a discussion of the Zohar’s use of Aramaic, especially in light of the statement by our Sages that when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai wrote the Zohar in Aramaic, he infused holiness into that language, too – which has direct bearing on some of the topics being discussed.
But there’s no perfection in the world until Moshiach comes, so I guess I’ll have to wait for Rav Klein to address that particular point in the future.
So to sum up: an interesting read even if you’re not a language ‘nerd’, and full of fascinating facts about the Jewish use of biblical Hebrew that you probably never knew before.
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