The Languages of Monotheist Religions: A Linguistic Exploration in a Time of Turmoil in Israel and Palestine (part 2)

Judaism: Hebrew – The Language of Torah

Torah scroll : Deuteronomy 6:4 with a golden yad.

 

Picture: © Carly Rose Hennigan/Shutterstock.com
 

Hebrew, as the sacred language of Judaism, plays a fundamental role in the religious and cultural identity of the Jewish people. Its significance is most pronounced in its use as the medium for transmitting the Torah, the cornerstone of Jewish religious teachings and jurisprudence.

The Torah, derived from the Hebrew word “to teach” or “to instruct,” encapsulates the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, including Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These texts hold a paramount position in Judaism, believed to contain the divine revelation received by Moses on Mount Sinai. As a result, the use of Hebrew in the Torah is not merely a linguistic choice but is intrinsically tied to the notion of divine communication.

Hebrew, a Semitic language, shares its roots with Aramaic, Phoenician, and other ancient Semitic languages. However, Hebrew’s evolution throughout history is a testament to the dynamic nature of languages. The form of Hebrew used in the Torah is known as Biblical Hebrew, which carries distinct linguistic characteristics compared to its modern counterpart, Modern Hebrew. This evolution over centuries reflects the adaptability of Hebrew as a living language while preserving its historical significance.

One striking feature of Hebrew, both in the Torah and in its contemporary usage, is the omission of vowels in its original script. The Hebrew script, also known as the “square script,” is written from right to left, with consonants forming the core structure of the language. Vowels are represented by diacritic marks, known as “nikkud” or “nekudot,” placed beneath, above, or within the consonantal characters. This omission of vowels in the original script lends an added layer of complexity to the reading and interpretation of Hebrew texts, particularly the Torah.

In the context of contemporary Jewish religious practices, the Torah is not just a written text but a living document that continues to be chanted and read aloud in synagogues worldwide. The meticulous attention to pronunciation and intonation is crucial, as it preserves the traditional enunciation of Hebrew words and phrases. This commitment to maintaining the original pronunciation of Hebrew in religious settings ensures the continuity of linguistic and religious traditions, reinforcing the connection between the Jewish people and their sacred texts.



Cite this blog post
Baudry Pierre (2023, October 26). The Languages of Monotheist Religions: A Linguistic Exploration in a Time of Turmoil in Israel and Palestine (part 2). Deciphering international politics - religion, economics and international affairs. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/tl3i

Baudry Pierre

Ph.D. CNRS/EPHE (Paris), Assistant professor.

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