Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav


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Kabbalah – but not as we know it

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In Steve Carell and Tina Fey’s amusing comedy Date Night, there are two scenes where they visit Mark Wahlberg (who plays some kind of secret agent who helps them out), and he exchanges a few words in Hebrew with his girlfriend in the background, who is an Israeli Mossad agent. The actress playing the Mossad agent is indeed Israeli, but Wahlberg himself does a very credible job pronouncing the few words that he says, and with almost no accent. (Although I agree with Carell’s character: For the love of God, please put on a shirt!…)

But he’s the exception to the rule. 99% of the time, whenever Hebrew is presented in American films or TV series, something is wrong.

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If the Hebrew and Arabic writing are derived from a common ancestor, why is one written in cursive and the other not?

From the time of the Canaanite enslavement in Egypt in the 1900s BCE the end of the First Temple—a period of 1400 years—Hebrew was written in the Canaanite script that was common to all Canaanite peoples. During their three generations of exile in Babylon, the Judean upper classes were exposed to the Assyrian/Aramaic script, which was inspired by the Canaanite script but had evolved, under centuries of Mesopotamian scribes, into a more disciplined set of forms designed around a squarish template (rather like that of the original calculator displays).

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