Right, it has no vowels; it has instead 22 consonants and the words and sentences read from RIGHT TO LEFT! You might wonder how on earth the Israeli Jews can decipher a language without vowels. Well try reading this sentence: Hbrw s th nly ncnt lngg tht hs bn rvvd nd rstblshd nt mdrn cllql s. How did you do? I’m sure you interpreted it correctly: Hebrew is the only ancient language that has been revived and re-established into modern colloquial use. And the reason is that you already know the English language, so it is intuitive for your brain to replace the missing vowels. Actually, there is a system called ‘pointing’ which includes various symbols with dots and small lines, that appear underneath the consonants in Hebrew texts where the reader may not already know the vocabulary. This is for beginners, but after a while it is not needed. (Click once on this graphic to see the Hebrew alphabet, and use the back arrow to return).
Before my first trip to Israel I decided to try teaching myself some Hebrew – I had a very keen interest in it. So I bought an easy textbook and got the basics down, along with a fair amount of vocabulary. But then I bought a more advanced textbook, Colloquial Hebrew – the Complete Course for Beginners by Zippi Lyttleton and Tamar Wang, which included a cd to read/listen along with. I got through a few chapters of this one but after I came back from Israel I tapered off. The verb system is brutal!! I’d still like to become conversant in Hebrew though – it is a miracle language, a pure language – in fact, with few exceptions it can be considered a mathematical language. “For then will I return to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent. (Zephaniah 3:9).
Think of this: most of the Jewish people in Israel have come in over the last century from over 100 nations (a prophecy being fulfilled), all speaking different languages. How could they create a nation when they could not understand one another? Hebrew was an almost dead language, used only in Jewish bible reading and prayer. So, a visionary named Eliezer ben Yehudah, when he arrived in Palestine, decided to speak nothing but Hebrew. He raised his first child in the Hebrew language only. This child was the first in over 2000 years whose native tongue would be Hebrew. Eliezer created new words for things like ‘jet plane’, ‘computer’, etc. and he was instrumental in Hebrew becoming a living language, the native tongue now for millions of Israeli Jews.
If you’d like to see what the alphabet is like and the sounds it produces, and if you use Comcast cable services, there is an on-demand network called ‘Shalom TV’ under the category ‘TV Networks’. In this network there is a series of basic Hebrew lessons taught very methodically and simply by Rabbi Mark Golub. It’s called ‘From the Aleph Bet’. Give it a try!
Shalom and todah rabah!