Intentional Ignorance of the Hebrew Language

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores the treatment of the Hebrew language in nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewish society, and contends that the traditional education system cultivated intentional ignorance of the Hebrew language among large parts of the male population. The chapter investigates the surprising dearth of systematic teaching of Hebrew and its grammar in the traditional Jewish education system, as well as the hostile attitude toward those who did study Hebrew grammar and who used this knowledge for studying the Bible—a hostility that went as far as suspecting these individuals of heresy. This literacy policy is attributed, among other things, to the threat that unmediated access to the literal meanings of the Bible posed to rabbinic authority. The last parts of the chapter examine the implications of the intentional ignorance of Hebrew for the Haskalah writers who chose Hebrew as their language of writing. It is shown that the widespread ignorance of Hebrew and the ambivalent attitude toward it had far-reaching implications for Haskalah writers, for their readerships, and for the emerging modern Hebrew literature.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Directions in Book History
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages44
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022

Publication series

NameNew Directions in Book History
ISSN (Print)2634-6117
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6125

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Library and Information Sciences


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