Article: A Language for Israel: The Role of Translation in Building the Resources of Hebrew
By Judith Weisz Woodsworth
Contrary to common misperceptions, translation is not merely a subsidiary or secondary art but is a critical, productive, and generative process. At key moments in history, translation has helped to strengthen languages, build national literatures, and construct national identities. The case of Hebrew provides a unique example of an ancient sacred language that has evolved into a modern and functional one, now the primary official language of Israel. This article provides an overview of translational activity in Israel, with a focus on the profound impact that translation has had on the development of the Hebrew language. Translations of foreign literature served to nourish an emerging Hebrew literature, diversify its repertoire, and build the resources of the language itself. Translation was even viewed as an integral part of nation building, as illustrated by the vision and personal involvement of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, which culminated in a program of translating world masterpieces to create an “Intellectual State” in addition to the new political one.