War of the Languages > About "War of Languages"

About "War of Languages"

War of Languages​In the spring of 1913, a "war of languages" broke out in the Jewish Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael (also known as "the fight between languages"). The controversy broke out in light of the decision made by the Technion's Board of Trustees on the 26th of October, 1913, that the language of instruction in the Technion would be German. The Technion was the first institute of higher learning in the Yishuv- established in Haifa a year later. This decision was also relevant to the high school that was going to be opened in partnership with the Technion. The Board of Trustees that made the decision had been appointed by "Ezra" – a German-Jewish organization and the most prominent organization in the field of education in the Yishuv as well as a champion of Hebrew education.

War of Languages​The members of the New Yishuv refused to accept this decision, which they saw as an insult to Hebrew and fought for its cancellation. All strata of Yishuv society joined the fight- students in Hebrew schools and their alumni, teachers, writers and other intellectuals, various public figures, Ashkenazim and Sefaradim, city dwellers and farmers, workers and bourgeois, parties and organizations. Writers and Hebrew journalists from Eastern Europe also supported the fight.

The fight began with mass gatherings, and became entrenched via student strikes, protesting for Hebrew only instruction in the "Ezra" school in Jaffa (with the support of their parents) and in the Seminary for Teachers in Jerusalem, and afterwards in protest of the suspension of students and for the establishment of alternative Hebrew schools. The Eretz Yisrael media supported the fight with numerous articles and legal reports which were meant to muster public opinion.  Many of the people struggling in "Ezra" were dependent on its support, especially teachers and students in the Jaffa school and at the Seminary for Teachers in Jerusalem- such as, for instance, Eliezer Ben Yehuda who was dependent on the organization's support to publish his dictionary.
The "Ezra" society fought their battle via the Jewish media in Germany. They presented the opposition from the Yishuv as nonsense stemming from the resistance of the Zionist movement, which was led by Russian immigrants, to German culture. The head of "Ezra", Dr. Paul Nathan, came to Eretz Yisrael during the height of the crisis and insisted on the implementation of the Board of Trustees' original decision. 


War of LanguagesThe fight, which originally focused on the Technion, very quickly turned against the high school that was supposed to be opened, and represented a much more practical goal- the establishment of an independent high school education system. And indeed in November, 1913, students and teachers, as one, left the Jaffa school and established and alternative independent Hebrew school. Afterwards, in December, after the firing of the teachers in the Seminary in Jerusalem, they established "The Hebrew Seminary for Teachers" in its place.  This trend continued immediately afterwards in Haifa, where the Hebrew Reali school was established.


In January, 1914, the Board of the Trustees recanted their decision. On the 22nd of February, 1914, they came a new decision: the primary language of instruction in the Techinion would be Hebrew. They also relented regarding the establishment of another high school in light of the Hebrew Reali school which had opened in the meantime. This decision was not carried out due to the organization's loss of influence in the Yishuv and the break out of the First World War the next summer. In place of its schools, independent Hebrew schools supported by the Zionist Histadrut and the Hovevei Zion movement were established.
The War of the Languages was the first organized activity in the New Yishuv, which was spread throughout the country. The independent identity of the Yishuv cohered around the fight for Hebrew education, a fight that led to other essential battles. The economic support of the Zionist Histadrut was the organization's first foray into issues of education in the Yishuv.