Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lashon hakodesh

One of the likable traits of some Israelis is that despite their not being at all religious, their conversations are sprinkled with idioms from Tanach and Jewish tradition.

I once went to a one-day class, taught by a secular-looking engineer, which did a good job of exemplifying this. At one point the teacher explained a complicated topic, and upon finishing, showed two other results that were trivial to derive from the initial conclusion. These additional results, he said, were "yotzim hinam ein kesef". Then, near the end of the class, he said "Now that kulanu hachamim, kulanu nivonim..." and began to describe a task we could do with our just-acquired knowledge. These phrases stick in my mind more than two years after I attended the class.

I recently found out that the use of these idioms is not "natural", but rather, was deliberately cultivated by Israeli education. An official Israeli school curriculum guide published in 1954 includes the following directive: "The teacher should nourish in the heart of the pupils a love for the Oral Torah... and should consciously endeavor in his instruction that the pupils absorb the specific idioms and ways of expression of the Mishnah and the Aggadah." (quoted in Tradition 2:2:249)

Those instructions were for the secular, not religious, schools.

In recent years, the secular education system seems to have abandoned this goal. From the experience with student and other young people I have met, it seems clear that they don't make secular Israelis like they used to.

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