THE IDEOLOGY OF LANGUAGE AS A NATIONAL RIGHT
A recent study of "The Languages of Jerusalem" recounts the following intriguing anecdote. A Jew who taught Arabic in an Israeli public school frequented a grocery shop run by Arabs. Once, seeking to engage the owner in conversation, she began speaking Arabic. The Arab grew indignant and shouted at her, "Don't you use my language. When you speak to me, stick to your own language." (1) The teacher's well intentioned attempt to affirm solidarity with her Arab neighbors failed because she insufficiently recognized the political dimension of a cultural heritage. What may appear to one person as an appreciation of a foreign culture appears to another as an imperialistic appropriation of one's culture by an aggressive intruder. The use of Hebrew and Arabic in this story entails more than communication of ideas; that usage expresses both distinctive cultural traditions and their political manifestations.
The shopkeeper understood this situation well. Hebrew expresses Jewish nationalism, Zionism, and its political agenda. For Palestinians, the use of Arabic has become a symbol of independence, of national self-assertion. In the modern period Hebrew and Arabic symbolize political self-identification. Choosing to speak or write in one or the other tongue represents a peculiar decision to identify with a particular social and political community. As modern scholars of language, ethnicity, and nationalism recognize, such conscious choices represent a peculiarly modern, or even "post-modern" way of looking at culture. Understood this way, choice of language actualizes a distinctive human right, the right of cultural self-determination. Deciding which language to speak proclaims both one's individuality and one's loyalty to a particular social and ethnic group.
Michael Fischer, examining "Ethnicity and the Post-Modern Arts of Memory," comments on this fact and uses the writings of the Hebrew poet and thinker Hayyim Nahman Bialik as his guide. He shows how the choice of language and the acts of memory a writer performs are constructive movements in the creation, or better re-creation, of a national consciousness. He comments that "ethnicity is something reinvented and reinterpreted in each generation" and, like language, conceals as much as it reveals. (2) Fischer's choice of Bialik shows the peculiar irony found in the opening anecdote. The Arab speaker unconsciously articulates what had been a basic part of many Zionists' own ideology--the right of members of a group to choose their own language and express their identity through such usage.
Not every Zionist, however, always espoused this ideology. At the turn of the century only a few Zionist thinkers, of whom Bialik is one outstanding example, began to insist on the uniqueness of the Hebrew language and the right of Jews to express themselves in it. The connection between the Jewish struggle for rights and the use of Hebrew was not intuitively obvious. Indeed, Michael Berkowitz notes that this Hebraist position "began as a fringe element" and "inundated Zionism" to become "the movement's standard" only after a protracted struggle. (3) The ideology developed out of three presuppositions--that Jewish life needed "normalization," that language provides an essential cultural marker distinguishing one group from another, and that the right of the culture to survive outweighs the rights of the individual to personal freedom. The theorists of Hebrew as a Jewish right emphasized each of these presuppositions not only as true in itself but as part of an extended polemic against other theorists of Judaism and the rights of Jews, particularly Western European Enlightenment thinkers.
Each of the presuppositions, however, may be challenged, precisely from the basis of the Jewish experience with Western European Enlightenment. The challenge raised in this essay is not a matter of "fact" but of ideology. Benjamin Harshav has sketched a historical reconstruction of how modernism and the revival of Hebrew as a language may be correlated. (4) Scholars may debate the cogency of his view, but it does suggest that ideological elites may not themselves understand the dynamics that they embody. Not only was Zionist theory historically suspect, it also possessed inconsistencies and logical flaws. The theorists' own arguments contain the seeds of their self-contradiction.
ZIONISM AND THE "NORMALIZATION" OF HEBREW
Eastern European Zionists often argued that Jewish life in the diaspora, in an exile from the Israelite nation that stretches from the Roman destruction of the Jewish national homeland in 70 C.E. down to the present, renders Jewish culture abnormal. The habits, dress, and language Jews use, according to these thinkers, testify to their estrangement from a culture that grows according to its own inner spirit, that develops without regard for the constraints of alien concerns. Many Western European Jews would agree with this contention. The Eastern European theorist, however, claims that this normalization can occur only when Jews return to their homeland, not through assimilation into Western European society.
The polemical nature of the Eastern European view of "normalization" is expressed by the Zionist Shemarya Levin in his autobiography. Levin (1867-1935) participated in the struggle of Eastern European Jews for civil equality. He addressed the Russian based Society for Full Rights, founded in 1905, and stressed the dangers of seeking too extensive a coalition in this struggle. Very often, he warned, collaborating with others based on a putative common self-interest backfires. When one set of collaborators achieves its aims, it may abandon the coalition. He tells the story of a Jew whose light went out on the Sabbath. Jewish law prevents rekindling such a lamp. The Jew resorted to a stratagem--he called on his neighbor, the gentile Ivan. "Ivan," he said, "I would love to offer you some vodka, but the light has gone out in my home." Ivan obligingly went to the Jew's home, lit the lamp, found the vodka, and took a drink. Then, before leaving, Ivan carefully put out the light again! (5) Levin suggested that a coalition between Jews and Russian democrats might prove to have just such a conclusion.
Levin based his warning on the experience of Western European Jews. After living in Berlin for some time, Levin came to reject the vaunted civil rights that German Jews supposedly enjoyed. While permitted to engage in commerce and gain some forms of higher education, Western European Jews paid the expensive price of assimilation. According to Levin, they had exchanged their cultural heritage and distinctiveness for a few minor privileges. As he puts it, they had "bartered for petty bourgeois rights, for the middle-class conveniences of our time, the supreme right to their own language and their own life." (6) Levin's division of rights into the merely commercial and convenient and the supreme rights of cultural autonomy reflects a view widely shared among late nineteenth and early twentieth century Zionist thinkers. True Jewish rights and authentic Jewish equality could come only when Jews lived as a distinctive nation in their own homeland, speaking their own language, Hebrew. Levin's combination of language and life also echoes a common theme. Normalizing Jewish life requires normalizing Jewish language as well.
Jewish experience, both past and present, however, may challenge this contention about normalization. Levin castigates the Western European Jews as "assimilationist." This common Zionist judgment reflects an assumption concerning "genuine" Jewish culture not always accepted even by Zionists themselves. Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, for example, notes that the term while "habitually used in a pejorative sense" may actually reflect a creative cultural activity. (7) She points to what she considers the positive aspects of such assimilation--the creation of languages such as Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, and Judeo-Persian, the development of varieties of local Jewish customs, style and even "vast typological differences" which enrich Jewish culture.
Discussions among early Zionists themselves confirm Weiss-Rosmarin's intuitions. Many Zionists did not condemn the Jewish languages of the Diaspora. Scott B. Saulson presents a useful anthology of Zionist documents concerned with the revival of Hebrew as the Jewish national language. (8) Not only the documents themselves but Saulson's programmatic conclusion as well demonstrate the social, political, and psychological concerns which shape Jewish theories about language management. Disputes that split the Jewish community, for example the competition between Yiddish and Hebrew to become the national language, reflect deeper conflicts over how modern Jews should behave. Jews should exchange the values of Europe--found for example in Yiddish and in German Jewish writings--for their own indigenous culture. They should become more "oriental" and less "Western." This argument, however, fails to perceive how Yiddish itself has transformed the so-called "Western" culture in which Jews have found themselves. Yiddish, even more than Hebrew, represents a rejection of non-Jewish culture and values. A consistent appeal to language as cultural marker should have made Yiddish as valued and important a Jewish self-expression as Hebrew.
The Hebraic culture that developed in Israel, once it became a Jewish nation, also challenges the idea that it has in fact "normalized" Jewish life. In 1978 the sociolinguist Joshua A. Fishman wrote a short but provocative article on the "normalization" of Jewish culture expected by late nineteenth and early twentieth century Zionists. (9) The article correctly notes that these Zionists warned that the assimilation of Western Jews was "ultimately both indecent and futile" and sought, through a renewal of Hebrew, a normalization of Jewish language and culture. To some extent the Zionist program succeeded. The state of Israel has adopted Hebrew as its national tongue. Fishman, however, wonders whether the use of Hebrew in the modern state of Israel might, in any sense of the term, be considered "normal." He summarizes data on Hebrew usage in Israeli society and concludes that while this usage might be considered "normal" using the model of third world populations "of rather small and linguistically isolated development societies," this normalcy was not "the socio-linguistic normalcy that Zionist ideology foresaw." His essay calls on modem Zionism to approach Hebrew usage in Israel "as critically as it approached the sociolinguistic patterns of diaspora Jewish communities in the past." (10) Considered from the criteria of linguistic normalization, then, the expectations of those who argued against Western European Jewish abnormality have not proved more effective themselves.
LANGUAGE AS A CULTURAL MARKER
A second element in the Hebraist argument against Western European Jewry focused on cultural self-definition. The Western Jew, according to this argument, had acculturated too easily to European life. As Shmuel Almog suggests, these Zionists contrasted true Jewish culture with European culture. They "depicted European culture as a counterweight to the Jewish heritage." (11) When Theodor Herzl published his Zionist novel Alteneuland, Asher Ginzberg, better known as Ahad HaAm, criticized its cultural expression: Its culture was European; the language of its educated classes was German, not Hebrew. (12) The emphasis on the "educated classes" deserves special attention. Hebrew is important not because it is a popular expression, but because it conveys a literate self-consciousness. Zionists like Ahad HaAm espoused a revival of Hebraic culture rather than a revival of the spoken language. They saw it as the mark of Jewish identity, not as a tool for daily communication. This emphasis on Hebrew as a cultural marker rather than as a popular tongue explains how even so ardent a Hebraist as Ahad HaAm could maintain that Yiddish should remain the spoken language with Hebrew reserved for literary expression. Yiddish, he argued, could not supplant Hebrew, because the two served very different purposes. Thus, for him, "the written word was essentially the language of the intellect; the spoken, the language of emotion." He associated the former with cultural expression, the latter with popular communication. (13) Cultural Zionists themselves would be hard pressed to deny the cultural significance of languages such as Yiddish and Ladino.
The positive argument concerning the privileging of Hebrew does not provide the Eastern European Jew with a distinctive advantage. Cultural Zionists were neither the first nor the only Jewish leaders to emphasize the importance of the Hebrew language. Hebrew had been the language of choice precisely for the leaders of the German Jewish Enlightenment. Stanley Nash traces the development of the thought of Shai Hurwitz and shows, among other changes, how he transformed his evaluation of Moses Mendelssohn and his program of Jewish education. Originally Hurwitz had accepted the "anti-Berlin-haskalah motif' and the "fashionable assault against the German Jewish Enlightenment." (14) Later Hurwitz voiced suspicions against the "cultural revival" that leaders such as Ahad HaAm envisioned. Doubting that program led him to reassess the Enlightenment pioneers. Nash notes that Hurwitz reversed his earlier position. In his later work, Hurwitz acclaimed the cultural self-consciousness found "precisely in those German Maskilim he so vehemently condemned in his first period." (15) The affirmation of Hebrew as a marker of cultural identity does not necessarily lead to Ahad HaAm's Zionist vision. It does not necessarily distinguish between Eastern European and Western European Jew.
LANGUAGE AS A HUMAN RIGHT
Efraim Shmueli wonders at the intensity of cultural Zionists' antipathy for the Western European Jewish demand for civil rights. He interprets the conflict between Zionists from different backgrounds as a conflict of cultures. The facts, he claims, do not justify a condemnation of the Western European Jewish leaders. He remarks that the causes animating the Western European Jews were far from being "paltry" or unimportant. Instead, he argues, the antagonism grew out of a natural response when a new cultural expression tries to displace an earlier one. (16) That tension concerns the very meaning of the term "human rights."
Salo Baron traces two conceptions of human rights. One line of human rights traditions leads back through modern treaties and tribunals to the American and French revolutions, and beyond them to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. This view of human rights emphasizes personal liberties and civil opportunities. Protecting such rights means affirming an individual's access to social services, human treatment, and participation in government. Human rights are understood as the property of individuals who seek equal opportunities to those of other individuals. (17)
Baron also traces the development of a second idea of human rights, one associated with the German romantic tradition. This view protects the rights of minority communities, particularly communities seeking to maintain their own institutions of social welfare, education and communal authority. (18) The conflict between those Zionists in Eastern Europe who argued for language as a human right and the Enlightenment tradition that argued for civil enfranchisement derives from the fact that each group drew on a different theory of human rights.
Ironically, however, the most powerful exponents of the theory of culture as a human right, with language as a central expression of that culture, appeared not in Eastern but in Central Europe. Thus, Martin Buber's appropriation of the thought of Ahad HaAm emphasized the importance of language in asserting one's natural right to culture. Whereas Ahad HaAm thought of Jewish culture as secular and rationalist, Buber took a more romanticist position. He viewed Jewish culture as "sensibility and as a way to return to Judaism as a spiritual entity." (19) Buber represents a particularly telling case. He associated himself with Ahad HaAm and the Hebraists; nevertheless he affirmed the value of European culture. He contended that Zionism could not exist without both the elements it received from the Jewish tradition and those it imbibed from Europe. (20) Michael Berkowitz correctly portrays this view of Jewish culture as an annexation of the biblical prophetic tradition. It maintains that "the salvation of the individual soul" is only a secondary concern. More importantly, Jews should concern themselves with "the holiness of the nation" which would then "spark the advancement of humankind." (21) Here a German Jew transforms Eastern European Zionist thought into just that sort of theory which Shmueli sees as a critique of German Judaism.
Buber, however, was not the first to criticize the individualized view of human rights espoused by the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment had transformed "natural rights" into the right for human self-regeneration. Every person, it was argued, had the right to self-improvement through the cultural tools of language, study, and values. This was the ideal that the Hebrew writers of the German Haskalah affirmed. (22) One of the most pro-found responses to this view was that expressed by Samson Raphael Hirsch, the founder and leading exponent of German Jewish Neo-Orthodoxy. Hirsch moved beyond the Enlightenment to Romanticism to find support for traditional Jewish practice and belief. He argued for the expressive theory of language, in which language creates an individual's subjectivity. For Hirsch, this entails that Hebrew, as a sacred language, has an inherent power to create the ideal Jew, what he called the Yisroel Mensch. (23) If language entails a human right to self-realization, then, perhaps, traditional Jewish religion rather than Zionism represents its most adequate expression. Not only does the ideology of language as a national right not represent an exclusively Eastern European view, it also does not univocally support Zionism.
THE EXAMPLE OF HAIM NAHMAN BIALIK
One exponent of language as a human right was the poet and thinker Hayyim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934). Bialik's goal was to use Hebrew as a vehicle for conveying the natural spirit of the Jewish people. Bialik accepted the romantic view of language and felt comfortable with European literature, translating its great works into Hebrew. Still, he rejected the "assimilationist" model associated with German Jewry. Instead he wanted to "naturalize" the European tradition by recreating it in Hebrew. He presented this naturalization not as an artificial creation of a new literature but as an uncovering of the native power of the Hebrew language. He eschewed a programmatic approach because he insisted on the inherent integrity within the historical expression of the language itself. Bialik's own poetry consciously sought to avoid European models. Robert Alter notes that the rationale Bialik offers is "both nationalistic and aesthetic." A writer who follows the innate patterns of Hebrew merges with the specific genius of the Jewish people. Expressing that genius endows a writer's work with consistency and integrity. (24)
This emphasis on the "normal" or the "natural," which finds expression in language, led Bialik to oppose those in the Zionist movement who advocated reshaping Hebrew to fit modern needs. Bialik rejected Eliezer Ben Yehuda's model of language renewal as artificial and manufactured. His nationalist sensibilities relied upon the immediate connection between a people and its language. His lengthy discussion of "the Birth Pangs of Language" described what he considered the natural evolution of Hebrews. (25) He claimed that while all languages strive for the same end--to express what is in the heart--they differ because that which is in the heart differs organically from one people to another. He contended that the mechanisms a specific language uses ensure that the substance it communicates will be essentially distinctive. (26) A revival of Hebrew, from his standpoint, therefore, would communicate the essence of Judaism in its most natural form. He argued that such a revival could not occur in an artificial and manipulated way without perverting the inner truth the language expresses. Because he felt that Hebrew conveys the essential nature of the Jewish people, Bialik insisted that Hebrew must be allowed to grow and develop in accord with its own inner dynamic principles. Approaching language reform from the outside misconstrues this fact.
Just such an objection, however, could be brought against Bialik's own position. Bialik rejected the Berlin Hebraists, the exponents of the German Haskalah, because of their bi-lingual approach. He condemned them as part of an assimilationist trend found in previous periods of Jewish diglossia. Bialik remarked that Spanish Jews had sealed their own fate when they began using Arabic as well as Hebrew. The aristocratic courtier class of Spanish Jewry used different languages for different purposes. They wrote philosophy in Arabic, composed poetry and songs in Ladino, a mixture of Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish, and created religious texts in Hebrew. Bialik contrasts these aristocrats to the rabbinic leaders in Spain, often immigrants from central Europe, who wrote exclusively in Hebrew. When, in the fifteenth century, Spanish Jewry faced a dramatic crisis and Jews had to choose between conversion or exile, the courtier class, Bialik claims, was the most likely to choose conversion. Whether reflecting history accurately or not, Bialik uses that claim as the basis of his argument. He attributes a willingness to abandon Judaism to the infiltration of Arabic and Ladino into their cultural heritage.
Yet, if his historical sketch is accurate, then Hebrew has naturally progressed to a stage of diglossia. The inner dynamics of the language demand that it be combined with another language so that the two will complement each other. Bialik, by ignoring the very history that he describes, has begun restructuring and recreating Hebrew. He, no less than Ben Yehuda, is inventing Hebrew and providing it with a new form. Bialik's writings exemplify not a natural extension of Hebrew but an artificial creation. Bialik has constructed a new language. He demonstrates what Eric Hobsbawm sees as a normal activity of small elite leaders seeking to create a national consciousness: the invention of -a national language. Hobsbawm notes that when nationalists choose language as a basis for their ideology they seek to root their artificial creation in a reality that seems natural and inevitable. In general, he comments, national languages "are almost always semi-artificial constructs," and he points to Hebrew as one such construct that was "virtually invented."
Nationalists, according to Hobsbawm, invent such constructions to justify their own political agenda. Their invented language is thus a "literary and not an existential concept." He suggests that the rationale for such a use of language is political, not linguistic. Normalization entails creating a normative power group to legislate culture. To confirm this thesis, he points to the fact that Zionists chose "a modern Hebrew which nobody as yet spoke, and in a pronunciation unlike that used in European synagogues." Hobsbawm's point is important: normalization did not mean making Hebrew a "natural" language but making it an expression of a normative elite. (27) Bialik is no better than those whom he opposes when it comes to imposing a new and modern structure and purpose to the Hebrew language.
That new purpose is the cultural one espoused by Ahad HaAm and his followers. Bialik concludes his survey of Hebrew and its implications in Jewish history with a poignant question to the Jewish people: "If we give all our culture to humanity, how can we lift our heads before God and future generations?" (28) For Bialik, then, not only is Hebrew the normalized language of the Jewish people, but also the marker of Jewish identity. From this perspective, he criticized the abnormal subservience of Western European Jewish writers. Bialik claimed that Jews who abandoned Hebrew had abandoned their very selfhood, their essential nature. Bialik began with the "idea" of a folk language and literature. For Herder the presence of such a language testified to the "soul" of a nation. For Bialik the absence of such a language testified to the betrayal of a national "soul." From this perspective Bialik criticized the Jewish assimilationists of Western Europe. He wrote a scathing analysis of the German inspired study of Judaica, the Wissenschaft des Judentums. (29) He complained that Judaic studies in Western countries lacked an organic connection with Hebraic creativity. He admitted that Jewish communities in the past often turned to languages other than Hebrew in their daily lives. Nevertheless, he claimed, only modern Jews in France, Germany, and, one should add, the United States, have made a non-Jewish language the "permanent fixture" of their Judaic scholarship. This represented, for him, the "original sin" of the Jews in the West. They worshipped at the "golden calf" of foreign languages. They transposed native Hebraic ideas into the strange cadences of Western tongues. He saw this transformation of Judaic sources as a betrayal of the native spirit of the Jewish people.
While Bialik recognized the advantage of such a translated Judaism in reaching greater numbers of Jews, he judged this putative value to be outweighed by the disadvantage of estrangement from the Hebraic spirit. Such alienation separates one group of Jews from all others and severs with the knife of foreign culture the umbilical link tying Jews to their mother tongue. Introducing alien elements into the Hebraic tradition destroys the essentially Jewish nature of the subject matter. Western Jews characteristically studied Jewish literature in translation. Bialik warned of the danger inherent in rendering Hebrew writings in a foreign tongue. As an example of traditional opposition to such scholarship, he pointed to rabbinic sayings that describe natural catastrophes associated with both the day on which the Hebrew Bible was translated into Aramaic and the day on which the Septuagint translation of the Bible into Greek occurred. These sayings refer to Hebrew as a literary language which produces the artistic creation of the Bible. Bialik applies this to the German Jewish scholars who translated
Hebrew literature into a foreign languages. He does more than criticize their artistic, literary choice. He claims that such an action is "selling one's birthright for a mess of pottage." (30) Western Jewish scholarship forfeited its rights to a genuine, natural tradition by rendering that tradition in the alien language of foreign academic disciplines. For Bialik, using German rather than Hebrew testifies to a false view of selfhood, to an unnatural self-identification with an oppressive and alien culture. (31)
This presentation, however, reveals only one side of the story concerning Jewish culture and its relationship to world culture. Not only did Jews interact fruitfully with other traditions, as Trude Weiss-Rosmarin suggests, even the rabbinic texts are not as exclusively chauvinistic as Bialik claims. Bialik does not mention alternative rabbinic views that affirm the value of Greek culture. Thus while talmudic tractate b. Megilla recounts an earthquake when the Bible is translated (p. 3a), it also suggests that Jonathan, the translator, defended himself adequately before God, declaring that the act was done not for himself or his reputation but for God's glory so that divisions would not occur among the Jews. According to the talmudic story, God accepted that argument. Again, in the same tractate, certain rabbis assert that the Septuagint translation was fully inspired and of great religious value (b. Meg. 9a). Jews have frequently found other ways of distinguishing themselves from non-Jews, ways that emphasize philosophy, religious practice, and theology rather than Hebraic language and culture.
Bialik's main controversy with the German Jewish tradition, of course, is that they abandoned their culture for an illusory promise of rights. Not only have these Jews, he thinks, misrepresented who they are, they have also misjudged their most basic needs. The proponents of Jewish scholarship were certain, Bialik maintained, that with equal rights granted to Jewish learning, the Jewish people would also attain equal rights. According to Bialik, they miscalculated. True equal rights and complete freedom come only in the free natural creativity of one's own language. "Is there any equality of rights greater than that of free expression in one's own language? "he asked, expecting a negative response. A nation's right to speak its own tongue was, in his eyes, the premise upon which all other rights could be predicated.
In explaining the connection between "nation and language," Bialik drew attention to this idea. (32) Betraying Hebrew, he contended, is "betraying Mount Sinai," traditionally the place of revelation and the fountain of Jewish religious self-understanding. He offers examples of how early rabbis considered the learning of a foreign tongue the cause of Israel's national tragedies in their own times. They traced Israel's military defeat in the time of the Hasmonean civil war and the destruction of Jewish independence with the fall of the Temple to the Romans to an abandonment of specifically Jewish cultural mores and to the use of the foreign language of the non-Jewish world.
Bialik despaired that an exilic community could achieve this normalization of Hebrew. Indeed, he felt that any diaspora Jewish community would never realize the aim of a natural acceptance of the Hebraic legacy. By its very nature, its bifurcated reality split between the external reality of foreign culture and the inner reality of the distinctively Judaic and Hebraic spirit, the condition of exilic Jewry proclaimed its artificiality. Jews in exile would, in his view, inevitably separate their Judaic identity from their general participation in humanity. Bialik opposed this bifurcation and strove against what he saw as an unnatural separation of "culture" and "Jewish culture." He averred that in the land of Israel one did not need to resort to external and constructed signs of Jewish identity. Israel offered the possibility for an all-pervasive Hebraic culture which required no distinction between the human and the specifically Jewish. In that place human values can find expression in Hebrew alone. (33) The Jews in exile squander their rights because whatever they try to do they cannot succeed in creating a natural culture in which the Hebraic spirit becomes the sole means of expressing the generally human.
This critique of German liberalism and its false hopes does, in fact, hold some truth. Leo Strauss, for example, claims that this liberal orientation helps explain the blindness so many Jews exhibited to the dangers of living in Germany. Strauss, however, also sees a danger in Zionism's appraisal of the Jewish situation. He argues that while more sensitive than the liberals to the threat posed by European hatred of Jews, Zionists substituted a romantic nationalism for Jewish religion. This substitution represents just as dangerous an alternative as did liberalism. If Bialik wants to criticize liberals for their false hope that human rights would ensure Jewish survival, he himself must be criticized for holding the false hope that national rights would prove any more effective. (34)
Bialik's stress on language as a natural right combines within it the three strands of argument noted above: Jewish life needs normalization, language is an indispensable sign of cultural identity, and the opportunity to create a Hebrew speaking nation is a human right. Each of these claims proves lacking both as a positive assertion and as a putative means of distinguishing between the "authentic" Eastern European Jew and the "unauthentic" Western Jew. The point of the argument, however, may have been less that of persuasion than of self-definition. The anthropologist Fredrik Barth distinguishes between "ethnic boundaries" and "the cultural stuff that it encloses." (35) A social group defines itself in two ways. In one way it depends on its relationship to other groups. It develops a distinctive identity because it is not some alternative identity. These boundaries provide the foundational way a group understands itself. Cultural Zionists, however, focus on what Barth calls the "cultural stuff," among which he includes such things as language, tribe, caste, and region. Each of these is a "potentially adequate" basis for cultural self-identification. None of them, however, is definitive in itself. They sometimes work as "markers" by which to recognize ethnic boundaries, by which to distinguish this group which what it is not. They do not possess an essence which defines the inherent distinctiveness of the group.
Barth suggests that political "innovators" concern themselves with codifying these "idioms" so that they can mobilize support. He recognizes the variety of factors determining which elements in the "cultural stuff become relevant forces for ethnic self-definition. (36) He also knows that the choice of one or another of those elements is often accidental, the result of political exigencies. Bialik's ideology exemplifies such a position. His theory of the right of a nation to its identifying language actually turns out to be a ploy by which to distinguish himself and his associates from other elites who challenge their authority.
Such a conclusion does not deny that the use of Hebrew may have had valuable consequences for the Zionist movement. Eric Hobsbawm correctly identifies the salutary effect of learning that so-called traditions "which ap pear or claim to be old are often quite recent in origin and sometimes invented." (37) This understanding shows that people have constructed an ideology of language rather than expressed a self-evident truth. It exposes the fact that claims to "natural rights" arise in specific social and political contexts, that programs of language control reflect historical accidents, and that the artistic self-image offered by elites serves their purposes but not necessarily those of every citizen. Certainly later generations need not accept the same boundary creating myths as did the earlier ones.
That Bialik and his group needed to distinguish themselves from Western European Jews by inventing a natural right to an ethnic language does not mean that Jews today or, more particularly, Israelis today need to assert the same right. The lesson of the anecdote told by Spolsky and Cooper shows that in the present situation an ideological commitment to Hebrew as a "natural right" leads to conflict. Such a commitment claims that a nation's language serves not only a programmatic purpose or a means for distinguishing one group from another, but also exists as a fixed feature of national survival. Such an approach leads to an inflexible response when minority populations request respect and legitimacy for their languages. From an ideological standpoint this request appears to demand relinquishing the natural rights and sovereign independence of the majority population. Spolsky and Cooper suggest that a more accommodating approach to a plurality of linguistic communities would not only be a gesture of reconciliation in an environment of conflict, but also provide structural means for continuing efforts at dialogue and conflict resolution. While realizing that major changes must occur first in the political and social spheres, Spolsky and Cooper aver that "there are ways in which changes in language policy could lead to an improvement in relations" among Jews and Arabs in Israel. (38) Awareness of the political origins of the ideology of language as a natural right may lead to greater willingness for compromise.
Hayyim Nahman Bialik believed that returning to the land of Israel would return the Jewish people to the natural rhythms of life. He saw Hebrew as the path to that return because it was the one unadulterated product that Jews carried with them out of the land. He hoped that as the land gave Israel its literature, so that literature could again give Israel its land. He commented, "Does it not occur in the spiritual life of both an individual and a nation that the consequence often transforms itself and becomes the originator of its own forbearer?" (39) He did not envision the possibility that the land could produce a new literature, a new culture, one that was not only Hebraic but pluralistic. Nevertheless, the principle remains the same. The Zionist ideology of Hebrew as the Jewish national language succeeded in providing the Jews with their homeland. The realities of life in that homeland may yet provide a more flexible ideology of national languages.
(1) See Bernard Spolsky and Robert L. Cooper, The Languages of Jerusalem (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991) p. Vii.
(2) Michael M. J. Fischer. "Ethnicity and the Post-Modern Arts of Memory," in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. James Clifford and George E. Marcus, eds. Experiments in Contemporary Anthropology: A School of American Research Advanced Seminar (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) p. 195; see the entire article, pp. 194-233.
(3) Michael Berkowitz, Zionist Culture and West European Jewry Before the First World War (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1993) p. 64.
(4) See Benjamin Harshav, Language in Time of Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).
(5) Told in Shemarya Levin, The Arena. Maurice Samuel, trans. (New York: Harcourt. Brace and Co.. 1932; reprint Arno Press 1975) pp. 280-298.
(6) S. Levin. The Arena, p. 20.
(7) Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, '"The Cultural Tradition of the American Jew," in Traditions of the American Jew. Stanley M. Wagner. ed. (New York and Denver. Ktav and Center for Judaic Studies, University of Denver, 1977) p. 3.
(8) See Scott B. Saulson, Institutionalized Language Planning (The Hague: Mouton. 1979).
(9) Joshua A. Fishman, "Me Sociolinguistic 'Normalization' of the Jewish People," in Linguistic and Literary Studies to Honor of Archibald A. Hill. Mohammad Ali Jazaycry, Edgar C. Polome. Werner Winter, eds. IV: Linguistics and Literature /Sociolinguistic and Applied Linguistics (The Hague: Mouton, 1978) pp. 223-231.
(10) J. Fishman, "Normalization," p. 230.
(11) Shmuel Almog, Zionism and History: The Rise of a New Jewish Consciousness (New York and Jerusalem: St. Martin's Press and The Magnes Press, 1987) p. 141.
(12) Jacques Kornberg, "Ahad Ha-Am and Herz]." in At the Crossroads: Essays on Ahad Ha-Am. Jacques Kornberg, ed. (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1983), p. 115; compare in the same volume, Tudor Parritt, "Ahad Ha-Am's Role in the Revival and Development of Hebrew," pp. 12-37.
(13) T. Parfitt, "Ahad Ha-Am's Role," p. 26; compare Steven J. Zipperstein, Ahad Ha'am and the Origins of Zionism (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1993) pp. 222-224.
(14) Stanley Nash. In Search of Hebraism: Shai Hurwitz and His Polemics in the Hebrew Press (l.eiden: E. J. Brill, 1984) pp. 65, 71.
(15) S. Nash, In Search of Hebraism, p. 245.
(16) Efraim Shmueli, Seven Jewish Cultures: A Reinterpretation of Jewish History and Thought. Gila Shmueli, trans. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) p. 182.
(17) Salo W. Baron, Ethnic Minority Rights: Some Older and Newer Trends. The Tenth Sacks Lecture (Oxford: Oxford Centre For Postgraduate Hebrew Studies. 1985) pp. 1-2.
(18) S. W. Baron. Ethnic Minority Rights, pp. 3-4.
(19) Jehuda Reinharz, "Ahad Ha-Am, Martin Buber, and German Zionism," in At the Crossroads, p. 153. Compare Zipperstein, Elusive Prophet, p.147.
(20) See S. Almog, Zionism and History, p. 153.
(21) M. Berkowitz, Zionist Culture, p. 2.
(22) See the discussion throughout David Jon Sorkin. The Transformation of German Jewry, 1780-1840 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987) especially pp. 25-30,90-100.
(23) See D. J. Sorkin, The Transformation of German Jewry, pp. 156-171.
(24) Robert Alter, The Invention of Hebrew Prose: Modern Fiction and the Language of Realism (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988) see p. 46.
(25) See Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Divre Sifrut (Tel Aviv: Devir, 1965) pp. 7-24 and the excerpt translated in Saulson, Instiutionalized Language Planning, pp. 102-111.
(26) H. N. Bialik, Divre Sifrut, p. 17; Saulson, Instiutionalized Language Planning, pp. 108-109.
(27) See Eric J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme. Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) pp. 56-57, 110.
(28) E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism, p. 20.
(29) H. N. Bialik, Divre Sifrut, pp. 87-94.
(30) H. N. Bialik, Divre Sifrut. p. 90.
(31) H. N. Bialik. Divre Sifrut, pp. 40-41.
(32) Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Devarim Shebeal Peh (Tel Aviv: Devir, 1935) vol I, pp. 15-20.
(33) H. N, Bialik, Devarim Shebeal Peh, pp. 176-177.
(34) A good discussion of European Jewish assimilationism, usually associated with "liberalism" and Zionism together with a critique of the Zionist ideology can be found in Loco Strauss' essay "Preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion" reproduced in his Liberalism: Ancient and Modern (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press) pp. 22A-290; see in particular, pp. 228-232.
(35) Fredrik Barth, "Introduction," in Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Fredrik Barth. ed. (Boston: Little. Brown, 1969).
(36) F. Barth. Ethnic Groups, pp. 15, 34-35.
(37) Eric Hobsbawm, Terence Ranger, eds. The invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) p. 1.
(38) B. Spolsky and R. Cooper, The Languages of Jerusalem p. 150.
(39) H. N. Bialik, Divre Sifrut, p. 42.
S. Daniel Breslauer
University of Kansas…