By Ethan Tratner
For thousands of years, Jews have lived as a marginalized people exiled throughout the world. After massive immigrations to countries such as Israel and America and thousands of years living as a minority, the question emerged: what makes Jews unique and where do they belong? In America, many Jews acculturate into society, yet they manage to retain uniquely Jewish traditions. One such aspect of Jewish culture that sets Jews apart from their surrounding cultures is language. Jews have always used their own language, Hebrew, in religious ceremonies and texts. Within their communities, however, a variety of secular languages were spoken in everyday life. Many of these distinctly Jewish languages are in danger of extinction. It is imperative that Jews attempt to preserve their many languages because it adds vibrancy to our culture.
The ancient Jews spoke Hebrew. This is in the Semitic language group that includes Aramaic, Assyrian and Arabic. These languages originated and were spoken throughout the Middle East. The ancient Jews were subject to attack from various expanding empires fighting over the region. After the loss of the kingdoms of Judea and Israel the Jews were scattered across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. With the loss of a singular homeland, the Jews integrated into these new empires. Although the Jews are now living in the Diaspora or exile, they have not dissolved into their new nations. Hebrew remained the Jewish language of prayer and new languages formed within the now dispersed Jewish communities. Read the rest of this entry »