December 16, 1922
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, considered the ‘father of modern Hebrew,’ passes away at the age of 64 from tuberculosis in Jerusalem. 30,000 mourners would attend his funeral as he was buried on the Mount of Olives.
Born into a Chabad Hasid family, Eliezer Ben Yehuda was nevertheless exposed to a variety of enlightenment literature and eventually became interested in both Hebrew literature and the idea of a Jewish nationalist revival. In 1879, his article, “She’elah Lohatah” (“A Burning Question”) was one of the first to call for a spiritual center in the land of Israel to serve as the territorial anchor for Jewish nationalism.
In 1881, he moved to Jerusalem telling his wife that they would only converse in Hebrew and raise the first modern Hebrew speaking child. In an attempt to foster Hebrew speaking among the religious Jews who already knew the language, he grew out his beard and payes (side burns) and with his wife posed as religious Jews. The religious Jews soon discovered his motives and even excommunicated him. As a result, he eventually developed an anti-religious attitude.
In 1890, Eliezer Ben Yehuda founded the Va’ad ha-Lashon, the forerunner to the Academy of Hebrew Language which is today Israel’s primary authority on Hebrew language, including the creation of new words. In 1910 he began publication of his Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew, but the full 17-volume set wasn’t completed until after his death in 1922.
Photo Credit: Eliezer Ben Yehuda at work.