Eliezer Ben-Yehuda Is Born

January 7, 1858

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, considered the father of the modern Hebrew language, is born Eliezer Yitzchak Perelman in the Lithuanian village of Luzhky.

Expected to become a rabbi, Ben-Yehuda becomes interested in the secular world and exchanges the yeshiva for a Russian gymnasium, where he graduates in 1877. Inspired by the struggles of other peoples, especially the Bulgarians, to win independence from the Ottoman Empire, Ben-Yehuda is drawn to the idea of the Jewish people regaining their historical home in Palestine, as he advocates in an article in 1879 called “She’elah Lohatah” (“A Burning Question”). In that and other Zionist articles, Ben-Yehuda addresses Jewish efforts to resettle Palestine, the revival of Hebrew as a modern language and the importance of a national homeland as a global cultural center.

Abandoning a plan to pursue a medical degree in Paris, he moves with his wife to Jerusalem in 1881 with the determination to speak only Hebrew at home, as he also intends to speak only Hebrew with fellow Jews. He devotes his life to promoting Hebrew as the language of instruction in schools in Palestine. He writes a Hebrew dictionary and creates words for hundreds of modern items, from ice cream to bicycles. His approach to make Hebrew the everyday language of the Jewish people in their homeland comes down to three phrases: “Hebrew in the home,” “Hebrew in the school” and “words, words, words.”

Ben-Yehuda dies of tuberculosis Dec. 16, 1922, at age 64.