Q&A: In Hebrew, if shamartem is “you guarded” (2nd person masc. plural) and shamroom is “they guarded them,” then what is “you guarded them” (2nd.masc.pl)?

This is a good question, as it highlights how Hebrew, in its love of concision by cramming prepositions and possessive indicators into the prefixes and suffixes of verbs and nouns, can sometimes overload itself.

As you partly point out in your question:

  • “you guarded” (m.sing.): shamárta
  • “you guarded” (m.plural): shamártem
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Q&A: Has modern Hebrew changed grammatically or phonologically from when it was first revived?

Yes—quite a lot. The best illustration of this is the Hebrew of the first native speaker of modern Hebrew, Itamar Ben-Avi, son of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the ‘father’ of modern Hebrew and compiler of its first dictionary.

Itamar Ben-Avi

I recently read his autobiography (החצוף הארצישראלי ‘The Cheeky Hebrew Boy’), and although much of his Hebrew is not much different from high-register academic Hebrew today, some of it seems almost comically affected (although it wasn’t—that’s just the Hebrew he was brought up with). Typical example (not from his autobio, but from another project of his):

זה לי ארבעים שנה פחות ארבע, שאני הוגה בכתב העברי יומם ולילה ממש. מעודי לא יכולתי להבין מדוע לעברים אל״ף-בית כה קשה ומסובך, ולנוכרים – כה קל ונעים לשימוש? יום אחד – ואני אז בן-עשר – פניתי לאבי ואשאלנו: …״

Rough English equivalent:

’Tis four years shy of forty now that I have been contemplating the Hebrew script—yea, verily, day and night. Never have I been able to fathom why the Hebrews have such a difficult and convoluted alphabet, while the foreigners – [one] so easy and simple to use? One day – and I was but a lad of ten – I turned to my father and enquired of him:…

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Q&A: How was modern Hebrew created?

Modern Hebrew wasn’t ‘created’ in the sense that constructed languages such as Esperanto or Lojban are created ex nihilo. Rather, the traditional Hebrew of Scriptures, the Talmud, and nearly two thousand years of rabbinical commentary was taken and updated to make it serviceable for the modern age.

Eliezer Ben-Yehudah is often credited as single-handedly doing this himself, by creating the first modern Hebrew dictionary, and coining hundreds of new terms, but in fact, innumerable people were involved in this enterprise—such as writers such as Mendele Mocher-Sforim, Ehad Ha’am, and Hayim Nahman Bialk, who in the second half of the 19th century spearheaded, aided by a slew of Hebrew-language publications (HaMagidHeHalutzHatzfirah, etc.).

Ben-Yehudah’s other notable contribution is proving—using his infant son as a guinea pig—that a child can acquire Hebrew as a native tongue. But even without Ben-Yehudah, this would have happened, because the real revival of Hebrew as a spoken, everyday language was taking place in the schools of the first Zionist moshavot (settlements), such as Lev Frumkin’s boarding school in 1886, and the Ḥaviv School, founded two years later in Rishon Lezion.

The Ḥaviv School in Rishon Lezion, early 20th century (Credit: rishon.mynet.co.il)

Hebrew was the inevitable chosen language of the burgeoning Zionist community, not only because it was the only language that Jews of all countries had in common, but because it symbolised the return to ancestral land and cultural roots.

“The SimHebrew Bible” is out

Four years after the start of conversion from Square Hebrew to SimHebrew and compilation, and twenty years after the start of the SimHebrew (simulated Hebrew) project, The SimHebrew Bible: The Hebrew Bible in Simulated Hebrew – with English Guide is finally out.

Fig. 1: The book’s front cover.

As evident from my prolonged silence on this blog in recent years, work on this project—one chapter a day—came at the expense of my usual blogposting, in my spare time and in the wee hours of the night.

In the end, given the scope and complexity of the project, this first major application of SimHebrew was a joint collaboration with Bob MacDonald – a retired software developer, composer, Hebrew Bible translator, and author of the Dust blog, and Seeing the Psalter, The Song in the Night, and other books on the Hebrew Bible – whose automated convertor engine (based on the SimHebrew algorithm) complemented my semi-manual efforts, and served as a quality control. His conversion was based on the pointed Leningrad Codex, while mine was based on the unpointed ktiv malé (‘full spelling’) which I ‘semi pointed’ manually (to distinguish between consonantal vav (ו), ḥolam malé (וֹ) and shuruq (וּ), and converted by my in-house convertor app. The final SimHebrew manuscript is therefore a blended and resolved version of the two, to ease reading.

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Q&A: How does one write and say “My best wishes are with you” in Hebrew?

It all depends on the type of letter, or message:

If it’s a formal letter, such an ending would be over-egging it, a bit. In Hebrew, the convention is to end formal letters with just:

  • בברכה (bivrakhah = “with [a] blessing”) — the equivalent of the English “Sincerely,” or the even more formal “Yours faithfully,”
  • בכבוד רב (bekhavod rav = “with great respect”)

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