HaBucher HaChushev Ploni ben Nistar here for shtick, news and fun. You know, a Chassidic life isn't as boring and heavy as most people might think! ;-)
מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד
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DISCLAIMER: Questions on Jewish Law (Halacha), I will try to answer to the best of my ability. Note that my understanding may not be accurate nor be the final word on asked topic. One should consult an Orthodox Rabbi before drawing any conclusions.
That’s a very good question, anon! No worries, I’m not offended at all and don’t see it as an attack either. This is the whole reason why I have this blog. For both worlds to understand each other. Not to fight or to argue, but to present an intellectual (and fun) platform to explain ourselves in a mature way. This is going to be a long post since it’s not such a ‘simple’ thing.
So let me start. You’re right that we stubbornly stick to Yiddish and not to Ivrit (Modern Hebrew, not Biblical Hebrew). The point of this however is not that Yiddish or Ivrit is intrinsically “holy”, but that Modern Hebrew is the language of a secular society - Israel - complete with everything that every other secular society and language has. Pornography, movies, anti-religious and non-religious masses, etc etc. So if a person lives in Israel he will also want to protect himself from that culture by using the tool of “lo shinu es shemom” (see bottom of post). Obviously he can’t do that by speaking Ivrit, which is the language of that culture.
As far as the language itself, while it is true that Ivrit is obviously based on Loshon HaKodesh, that itself is a reason not to use it as our “speaking” language. The Chasam Sofer writes that the reason Jews do not speak Loshon HaKodesh as a speaking language is because it is inappropriate to use a holy language while enveloped in tumah, which is our current status.
The Rambam writes that a love song in Hebrew is more repulsive to G-d than the same song in Arabic, for instance, because the pollution of the Holy language is an additional crime.
If someone wants to store pornography in his house, that’s bad enough. But to store it in the Aron HaKodesh is unspeakably worse.
So to cause Loshon HaKodesh to be used as a street language, complete with all the disgusting ways it is used today in Israel, is just more of a reason why we should make sure it never gets into the streets. For our Creator to look down at the world and see His holy language - or even elements of it - used in magazines such as are sold in Kiosks on rechov Yafo, or spoken by prostitutes trying to make a sale, is not something that He or we are happy about.
The Kuzari writes that Avrohom Avinu, therefore, spoke 2 different languages. One for holy speech - that was Loshon HaKodehs, and the other for mundane speech - that, the Kuzari says was some non-Jewish language that Avrohom avinu took and changed around a little on his own. Which is the idea behind Yiddish. It is a non-Jewish language that we took and twisted a bit in order to make it exclusive among us.
Even though there are goyim who speak Yiddish, they took it from us, not vice-versa (as is the case with Ivrit), and since we do not live in a country or society dominated by Yiddish-speaking shkotzim, there is no benefit of Lo shinu es l’shonam by not speaking Yiddish. But there is such a benefit by not speaking Hebrew.
A few more reasons why the Chassidic (or ‘hareidi’ communities in general) don’t see Ivrit as the “language of the Jew” are:
A. Its origin is actually anti-Jewish. The creators of Ivrit did so because “it is not possible to be a nation without a national language” (see Eisentein’s encyclopedia, ‘Ivrit’). This of course is apikorsos, because Jews are a nation not like other nations - whereas other nations need a common spoken language, we only need the Torah to make us a “nation”. We are no more or less an “Am” (a nation) if we have or do not have a common language, common food, or common geographic boundaries. The idea was that Ivrit will make us into a “nation like all nations”, in the same way that some fool may say that all Jews should eat bagels and lox because without doing so, we will be less of an “Am”.
Even though those who speak Ivrit today (the majority) do not consider this language the “Jewish language” because it was created to actually change the definition of what “Jewish” means. In The golyon Maharsha, quoted by Rav Reuven Grozovsky in “Bayos HaZman”, there is brought a responsa of Rav Yaakov Sasportes, a great combatant in the fought against the Shabsai Tzvi y”s. He says that Shabsai Tzvi actually introduced some positive, even obligatory practices into Judaism (duchening Birkas Kohanim daily, even in Chutz La’aretz, was foremost among them). But, says the Ohel Yaakov, even though this is a good and positive practice, and perhaps even obligatory according to Halacha, since its origins came through Shabsai Tzvi, we should not do it. The same applies, all the more to making Ivrit our “national language.”
B. The changes in Loshon HaKodesh that were made, both in accent and content, are unacceptable. The changing of accents from Ashkenaz to Sefard for Ashkenaz Jews is wrong. Rabbeinu Bachye writes that if you change even a komatz to a Pasach in the language, it will lead to heresy. Also, certain words in Hebrew are definitely against the spirit if the Torah (Ben Yehuda once said that he designed the language specifically to attack “shtoch” the religious). Example: “Chashmal”, which means electricity in Ivrit, comes from the Loshon HaKodesh word found at the beginning of Yechizkel which is the name of the Angel of Fire. The idea of taking the name of the Malach of Aish and using it to mean “electricity” was the implication that whereas in the olden days we believed in angels as explanations for things, today we believe in technology. It would be the same as calling penicillin, for instance, “Refoel.” The Debreciner Rav zt”l actually discusses if it is permitted to use this word (he points out that the Chazon Ish did - which is a strong precedence to permit).
Ivrit does have its roots in Loshon HaKodesh, but its adjustments of it make it the worst of both worlds - since it has Loshon HaKodesh elements we don’t want to use it for our mundane purposes - and since it has non-Loshon HaKodesh elements, we do not want to accept it as our national language. So to speak Ivrit is one thing, but to say it is the “language of the Jew” is just not so.
Neither is Yiddish the “language of the Jew”, any more than a black hat is the “clothing of a Jew.” But just as the purpose of the hat is “lo shinu es malbushayhen” - we want to dress differently than the seculars – the purpose of Yiddish is “lo shinu es shemom” - we want to talk differently than the seculars.
I hope this explained your question. And, ‘mazel tov’ you are the first one that made me write such a long post. ;)
*lo shinu es shemom: Referring to the midrash in parshas Shemos where it says that the Jews were redeemed from Mitzrayim in the zchus of ‘lo shinu es shemom, lo shinu es malbusham v’lo shinu es l’shonam. They didn’t change their name, dress and language. In other words, they stayed away of copying the goyim.
Note: This answer is based on an article I once got through e-mail. It didn’t say the name of the writer though.