Since there are many excellent articles on the Hebrew language, I want to restrict this article to the place that it holds within Talmidi culture.
The Hebrew language holds a special place in Israelite culture, and has often been called, ‘the holy tongue’. However, in and of itself, it is no more sacred than any other language. There are those who claim it is the first language of the human race; I would hope that Talmidis take a more enlightened attitude in this. Hebrew evolved as one of the languages of Canaan, and came to be distinguished from the other Canaanite languages because of the time Israelites spent in Egypt.
Some people believe that if one speaks a prayer in Hebrew, then even if one does not understand what one is saying, the prayer is still effective. Now, it is a principle of Talmidaism that one does not ‘babble one’s prayers like the Gentiles do’; to say a prayer in Hebrew without knowing what it means is babbling. In Talmidi services, if something is said in Hebrew, it is repeated in the vernacular.
Knowledge and study of Hebrew is encouraged, as it is an integral part of Israelite culture. Christians have been able to successfully deceive Jews who do not have a good knowledge of the nuances of biblical Hebrew. To prevent this in the future, I think it is essential that Talmidis engage in regular ongoing study of biblical Hebrew, so that we will all become familiar with it. I would encourage study from as early an age as possible, since the earlier one starts, the easier it will be.
As for the pronunciation of Hebrew, our community tends towards the Israeli pronunciation for Modern Hebrew, and an authentic pronunciation of biblical Hebrew which is as close to the way ancient Hebrew was spoken as possible. The Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew is strongly discouraged.
I recently read an article where there was a survey done which highlighted a growing divide between American and Israeli Jews, as Jewish identity in Israel was Hebrew language and culture, while outside Israel, it was as relevant to Jews as the Vatican and Latin was to American Catholics.
A good way to close this divide is encourage the study of Hebrew, and facilitate regular visits to Israel, to encourage a love of Hebrew language and culture. Talmidaism is at its core Middle Eastern in its values and culture, even though most of us may live in the West. This was decided upon early on in our development, because it was the best way to understand the mindset of ancient Israel.
I want to end this brief article by saying that a greater personal knowledge of Hebrew will send us on the path towards understanding the Hebrew mindset. It is sad how non-Jews are able to knowlingly deceive Jews by playing on their lack of knowledge; I have been to Christian meetings where they openly admitted that this was what they were doing – playing on the lack of knowledge of individual Jews.