The New York Times published an op-ed on Saturday in which the author described Hebrew as a symbol of “far-right Israeli militarism,” smearing an entire language and the people who speak it.
The op-ed is not itself antisemitic. It is titled “Yiddish Is Having a Moment,” and is written by Ilan Stavans, a professor at Amherst who describes himself as having been born and raised in the Mexican Jewish community.
Still, the sweeping portrayal of Hebrew — the language of the Bible, revived over a century ago in a modern context — as the language of extremists suggests a deep prejudice, whose source may be decades-old sectarian splits in the Jewish community.
For centuries, Yiddish — typically, a Germanic language written in Hebrew characters — was the daily language of Jewish communities throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and fostered a rich secular literature and culture. With the rise of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century, some Jews began speaking and writing in Hebrew. They were opposed by religious Jews who felt Hebrew should remain confined to holy purposes, and by some on the political left who believed that Jews should work for the liberation of the world’s proletariat, not their own state.