|עִבְרִית Ivrit (Classical: ʿIbhrith)|
|Pronunciation||standard Israeli: [(ʔ)ivˈʁit] - [(ʔ)ivˈɾit],|
standard Israeli (Sephardi): [ʕivˈɾit],
|Spoken in||Israel |
Global (as a liturgical language for Judaism), in West Bank, and Gaza
|Total speakers||Total Speakers < 9,000,000 |
First Language 5,200,000 (2009);
Second Language 2,500,000 (2009)
Home Language 200,000 (approx.) in the United States speak Hebrew at home1
1United States Census 2000 PHC-T-37. Ability to Speak English by Language Spoken at Home: 2000. PDF (11.8 KB)
Palestinian territories Second Language 500,000 - 1,000,000 Extinct as a regularly spoken language by the 4th century CE, but survived as a liturgical and literary language; revived in the 1880s
|Writing system||Hebrew alphabet|
|Official language in|| Israel|
|Regulated by||Academy of the Hebrew Language|
האקדמיה ללשון העברית (HaAkademia LaLashon Ha‘Ivrit)
heb – Modern Hebrew
hbo – Ancient Hebrew
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.|
Hebrew (עִבְרִית, Ivrit, Hebrew pronunciation (help·info)) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Culturally, it is considered the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages that originated among diaspora Jews exist. Hebrew in its modern form is spoken by most of the seven million people in Israel while Classical Hebrew has been used for prayer or study in Jewish communities around the world for over two thousand years. It is one of the official languages of Israel, along with Arabic. Ancient Hebrew is also the liturgical tongue of the Samaritans, while modern Hebrew or Palestinian Arabic is their vernacular, though today about 700 Samaritans remain. As a foreign language it is studied mostly by Jews and students of Judaism and Israel, archaeologists and linguists specializing in the Middle East and its civilizations, by theologians, and in Christian seminaries.
The core of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), and most of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, is written in Classical Hebrew, and much of its present form is specifically the dialect of Biblical Hebrew that scholars believe flourished around the 6th century BC, around the time of the Babylonian exile. For this reason, Hebrew has been referred to by Jews as Leshon HaKodesh (לשון הקודש), "The Holy Language", since ancient times.
The modern word "Hebrew" is derived from the word "ivri" (plural "ivrim") one of several names for the Jewish people. It is traditionally understood to be an adjective based on the name of Abraham's ancestor, Eber ("ever" עבר in Hebrew) mentioned in Genesis 10:21. This name is possibly based upon the root "`avar" (עבר) meaning "to cross over" and homiletical interpretations of the term "ivrim" link it to this verb. In the Bible, "Hebrew" is called Yehudith (יהודית) because Judah (Yehuda) was the surviving kingdom at the time of the quotation, late 8th century BCE (Is 36, 2 Kings 18). In Isaiah 19:18, it is also called the "Language of Canaan" (שְׂפַת כְּנַעַן).
Hebrew flourished as a spoken language in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah during the 10th to 7th centuries BCE. Scholars debate the degree to which Hebrew was a spoken vernacular in ancient times following the Babylonian exile, when the predominant language in the region was Old Aramaic.
Hebrew was extinct as a spoken language by Late Antiquity, but it survived as a literary language and as the liturgical language of Judaism, evolving various dialects of literary Medieval Hebrew, until its revival as a spoken language in the late 19th century.
The earliest Hebrew writing yet discovered was found at Khirbet Qeiyafa in July 2008 by Israeli archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel. A 3,000-year-old pottery shard bearing five lines of faded characters was found in the ruins of an ancient town south of Jerusalem. Garfinkel noted that the find suggests Biblical accounts of the ancient Israelite kingdom of David could have been based on written texts.
The Gezer calendar also dates back to the 10th century BCE at the beginning of the Monarchic Period, the traditional time of the reign of David and Solomon. Classified as Archaic Biblical Hebrew, the calendar presents a list of seasons and related agricultural activities. The Gezer calendar (named after the city in whose proximity it was found) is written in an old Semitic script, akin to the Phoenician one that through the Greeks and Etruscans later became the Roman script. The Gezer calendar is written without any vowels, and it does not use consonants to imply vowels even in the places where later Hebrew spelling requires it.
Numerous older tablets have been found in the region with similar scripts written in other Semitic languages, for example Protosinaitic. It is believed that the original shapes of the script go back to Egyptian hieroglyphs, though the phonetic values are instead inspired by the acrophonic principle. The common ancestor of Hebrew and Phoenician is called Canaanite, and was the first to use a Semitic alphabet distinct from Egyptian. One ancient document is the famous Moabite Stone written in the Moabite dialect; the Siloam Inscription, found near Jerusalem, is an early example of Hebrew. Less ancient samples of Archaic Hebrew include the ostraka found near Lachish which describe events preceding the final capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian captivity of 586 BCE.
In its widest sense, Classical Hebrew means the spoken language of ancient Israel flourishing between the 10th century BCE and the turn of the 4th century CE. It comprises several evolving and overlapping dialects. The phases of Classical Hebrew are often named after important literary works associated with them.
Sometimes the above phases of spoken Classical Hebrew are simplified into "Biblical Hebrew" (including several dialects from the 10th century BCE to 2nd century BCE and extant in certain Dead Sea Scrolls) and "Mishnaic Hebrew" (including several dialects from the 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE and extant in certain other Dead Sea Scrolls). However, today, most Hebrew linguists classify Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew as a set of dialects evolving out of Late Biblical Hebrew and into Mishnaic Hebrew, thus including elements from both but remaining distinct from either. By the start of the Byzantine Period in the 4th century CE, Classical Hebrew ceases as a regularly spoken language, roughly a century after the publication of the Mishnah, apparently declining since the aftermath of the catastrophic Bar Kokhba War around 135 CE.
Around the 6th century BCE, the Neo-Babylonian Empire conquered the ancient Kingdom of Judah, destroying much of Jerusalem and exiling its population far to the East in Babylon. During the Babylonian captivity, many Israelites were enslaved within the Babylonian Empire and learned the closely related Semitic language of their captors, Aramaic. The Babylonians had taken mainly the governing classes of Israel while leaving behind in Israel presumably more-compliant farmers and laborers to work the land. Thus for a significant period, the Jewish elite became influenced by Aramaic. (see below, Aramaic spoken among Israelites).
After Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, he released the Jewish people from captivity. "The King of Kings" or Great King of Persia, later gave the Israelites permission to return. As a result, a local version of Aramaic came to be spoken in Israel alongside Hebrew, also the Assyrian empire before that caused Israel to speak a variant of Aramaic for trade, in Israel-Judea these languages co-mingled. The Greek Era saw a brief ban on the Hebrew language until the period of the Hasmoneans. By the beginning of the Common Era, Aramaic was the primary colloquial language of Samarian, Babylonian and Galileen Jews, western and intellectual Jews spoke Greek, but a form of so-called Rabbinic Hebrew continued to be used as a vernacular in Judea until it was displaced by Aramaic, probably in the 3rd century CE, certain Sadducee, Pharisee, Scribe, Hermit, Zealot and Priest classes maintained an insistence on Hebrew, all Jews maintained their identity with Hebrew songs, and simple easy to remember quotes from the Hebrew texts. (other opinions on the exact date range from the 4th-century BCE to the end of the Roman period).