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Resurrecting Hebrew (Jewish Encounters) Hardcover – September 16, 2008


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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Encounters
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; First Edition edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805242317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805242317
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #997,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

In this short, poignant, and thoroughly engaging memoir, Amherst professor and Latin American literary studies scholar Stavans takes us on his own personal journey to understand the reemergence of Hebrew as a vital and necessary step in his own intellectual and emotional development, as well as an important milestone in the origins of the modern state of Israel. His journey is also a quest to understand better the secularist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who at the end of the 19th century sought to revive Hebrew, engaging in a "linguistic resurrection." Stavans's intellectual journey parallels his search for concrete traces of Ben-Yehuda in Israel, ending with a visit to his gravestone. This personal memoir is supplemented with an informative acknowledgments section that will enable readers to find the sources for Stavans's immense knowledge of Ben-Yehuda's life and the history and development of Hebrew, Zionism, and the interrelationships with other languages and cultures. While an index of terms and names would have been helpful, the abbreviated chronology is a welcome addition. Recommended.—Herbert E. Shapiro, Empire State Coll. of the State Univ. of New York, Rochester
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This is the eleventh book in the Jewish Encounters series, and 18 more are forthcoming. Stavans, a Mexican Jew, posits that he needed to gain some perspective on the development of Hebrew as an ancient language. His book is both a history of the language and of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who worked to revive the language at the end of the nineteenth century. Stavans reveals that he realized his search for Hebrew was for something more multifarious than a language. “It was an existential condition, a way of being, of establishing contact, with others, with God, and with myself.” His book is both personal journey and a biography of Ben-Yehuda. --George Cohen

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Customer Reviews

And you would be terribly wrong.
N. Ravitch
This is about the author, not so much about the Hebrew language.
Boris Ibsen Thomas
The prose, however, is dreadfully slow in places.
Armchair Interviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on October 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Hebrew language is perhaps one of the most fascinating tongues in the history of civilization. It is the only language that has officially died and that has experienced a resurrection. Dr. Ilan Stavans, the Chair of Spanish at Amherst College, illustrates the rebirth of this amazing language in Resurrecting Hebrew.

The good professor approaches the rebirth from a pretty weird angle - his recollection of a dream that propels him to reconnect with his lost Hebrew. In his dream, a lady sits next to him at a party and speaks in a language he does not immediately recognize. Conveniently, a group of rabbis are nearby, and one informs him that the mysterious language is Hebrew. His dream haunts him since a Jewish native from Mexico City should recognize the tongue of his youth. To add to the mystery, the lady completely undresses herself during the conversation.

Bothered, the dream propels Dr. Stavans to search out its meaning. After much reflective thought and conversations will well-intended friends, he believes the dream means he is "missing" his Hebrew. This displaced Jewish man is in the midst of a language identity crisis.

To find his language he investigates the life of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, a lexicographer who is credited with helping Hebrew to achieve its national status once again. Ardently he searches and passionately he writes. The prose, however, is dreadfully slow in places. The various conversations he alludes to in full quotation do not ordinarily occur in casual circumstances.

Love language? Read this book. Don't read it in bed, however, or the Hebrew language won't be the only thing that needs a resurrection.

Armchair Interviews agrees.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By N. Ravitch on December 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You might think that a book entitled "Resurrecting Hebrew" would be about how an archaic and dead language was brought to life and made the daily language of a 20th-Century nation, something like the attempt, much less successful, to make Gaelic the language of the Irish Republic. And you would be terribly wrong.

Mr. Stavans has written a very moving book about his own encounters with Israeli life and culture, with the language of Hebrew and the men and women who helped to bring it to a second life, but he gives no real information about how Hebrew was revived in Palestine and even before in the Diaspora, how it was taught in Israel to the new immigrants who knew it only as a language of holy scripture, how decisions were made about its pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary and syntax. Indeed, a very strange book from which some might derive benefit as they feel extreme frustration in its failure to deliver on its alleged purpose in the first place.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Boris Ibsen Thomas on March 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As other reviewers have noted, this is an odd book. Or maybe not odd--just self-absorbed. This is about the author, not so much about the Hebrew language. This is not a place to learn much of substance about the latter.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Alvaro Lewis on September 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Savvy Ilan Stavans has here another highly intelligent and artfully constructed book. At heart one finds Stavans' odyssey after traces and the impact of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, a Jewish lexicographer whose ideological ambitions for Hebrew may have clouded his appreciation of its true horizons. Although, most of the neologisms that he coined for a modernizing Jewish people fell into disuse within a decade or two of their creation, Hebrew thrives. Also, as in all of Stavans' books that I have read, is a powerful autobiographical current. The reflections, linguistic and otherwise, in <Resurrecting Hebrew> seem to have been triggered by a difficult to understand dream, one for which Stavans believes his language withdrawal may account. In the course of his travels and narration of a quite beautiful history of Hebrew, its vernaculars and sages, its vicissitudes in the sea of history and its rescuers from the shoals of Diasporic neglect, the author also comes to understand the significance of his dream and the importance of Hebrew for his acceptance of the ties of tradition in its many manifestations. This book is a gem of historical insight and political provocation as well as a revealing look at the power of Hebrew and the divisions among its speakers concerning its appropriate employment.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Pollock on May 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I agree with reviewers who find this book, told from the author's point of view, self absorbed. I had hoped to learn how Ben Yehuda's vision reached practical fulfillment, creating a generation of native Hebrew speakers in Israel and reviving the ancient language. Instead the focus of the book was the author's own journeys through Israel, interviewing scholars of both Hebrew and Arabic, and recording their comments. This makes the structure of the book episodic and rambling, without a central focus, as it would have had if the story had stayed with Ben Yehuda. There are meretricious episodes as well. A news vendor's lack of knowledge of Ben Yehuda would not be as telling as, say, the reaction of a student on the Hebrew University campus to the same question. And the sauna episode was embarrassing, both to the woman involved and to the reader. I had hoped the book would focus on the author's reacquaintance with Hebrew after many years, because I too, spent a year at Hebrew University in the 1970's studying in Hebrew and reading the Hebrew newspapers, immersing myself in Hebrew and speaking the language. But I did not get a feel for Stavans' initial reactions to being in a Hebrew-speaking environment after so many years, and how he reacquired fluency, if he did. The author obviously has a great aptitude for Ivrit, but his book is ultimately inconclusive and disappointing.
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