Collections > Israel > War of the Languages > Everyone was involved, everyone had an opinion

Everyone was involved, everyone had an opinion

The "War of the Languages" was waged with words and actions. In terms of the actions, there was the boycott of the "Technikum"  which was so successful that the Board of Trustees  didn't even manage to implement their decision that the language of instruction should be German  and the withdrawal of teachers and students from "Ezra" institutions, the German-Jewish union that established the Technikum and its partner school. The crux of the public controversy was expressed in writing: articles, posters, pamphlets and correspondences between central figures in Hebrew education and culture in Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora.

David Yellin​Among the most prominent figures who were active during the "War of the Languages" was Mordechai ben Hillel Hacohen, a public figure, journalist and Hebrew writer in Eretz Yisrael. Hacohen was one of the founders of the Hebrew Writer's Union and even employed Y.H. Brenner as his personal secretary.

Other prominent figures include: Yossef Luria,  an educator, journalist and Hebrew and Yiddish editor, as well as a Zionist and Hebrew and Yiddish publisher, who stood at the head of the "Teacher's Center" the professional teacher's organization during the days of "The War of the Languages", and was one of the leaders in the fight for the status of Hebrew in the education system; David Yellin, a Hebrew scholar, a central figure in the teacher's union and the language committee, a national figure of the highest order, was also a prominent activist  during "The War of the Languages": He quit the Teacher's Seminary run by  "Ezra" and founded the Seminary for Hebrew Teachers (still in existence today under the name The David Yellin Academic College of Education).

Other figures who were active were Ahad Ha'am, a writer and critic and one the heads of the Zionist movement. Ahad Ha'am participated in a lively correspondence during "The War of the Languages" and understood what was demanded of the Hebrew language for it to become a modern language of scientific research and academic activity.

 

 
Echad Ha'am
Indeed, even the most prominent pro-Hebrew activists who supported the use of Hebrew as the language of instruction in institutes of higher education were aware that Hebrew was still missing many of the terms needed to become a modern language that could be used to train students in the fields of science and technology on an international level. 

As early as the summer of 1913  before "The War of the Languages"  when the discussions in the "Ezra" institutions regarding the language of instruction in the "Technikum" were taking place, David Yellin wrote to Mordechai Hillel Hacohen: "What do we gain from hiding our eyes from the truth? It is impossible at this time to teach the technical sciences in Hebrew as they should be taught in practice, since it contains neither technical literature nor experts to teach. We are not dealing with general education here, but with the education of experts in a specific profession, who will know how to use their knowledge practically and will find work with others as engineers". Ahad Ha'am was clear in his opinion: "… under no circumstances can we push aside this goal for the Hebrew ideal." Nonetheless, just a few months later Ahad Ha'am's longsighted approach brought him to understand that what was at stake was a lot more than just a question of technical proficiency.

By the fall of 1913 he was already supporting instruction in Hebrew in technical institutions, and his central concern was to prevent circumstances wherein the "Ezra" boycott would cause the organization to hire assimilated and anti "national" teachers. What started as a battle over the language of instruction became a battle about the nature of institutions of higher education and high schools. It was a battle that led to the formation of an independent Hebrew culture revolving around the Hebrew language as it was passed on by teachers who trained a generation of men of knowledge and science, a generation that went on to research, create and express themselves in Hebrew.

  • 1. David Yellin
  • 2. Echad Ha'am
  • 3. Paul Nathan
  • 4. Joseph Luria