One people – Many Languages

The Bible – a Hebrew holy text

One of the most ancient existing faiths in the world is Judaism. It originated in a small nation living in a small country, situated between Asia, Europe and Africa. The central positioning helped nurture a rich culture, which flourished in Israel and Judea 3000 years ago.

The god of the Jewish people was different– in most surrounding cultures there were many gods who represented the forces of nature (like wind, water, birth, death etc.). However, in the Jewish faith there is only one God and he is not represented in any shape or form in nature. On the contrary, for the Jews, god has absolutely no physical presence. He is above and beyond nature.

3000 years ago this seemed a very strange idea to most people. The basic way in which this strange god communicated with his people was through words. According to Jewish religious tradition, God inspired Moses, the first leader of the nation, to write a book, which contains the secrets of creation, and holy rules for living. This book, called "The Torah", the first part of the Bible, is written Hebrew.

The Tower of Babel – Origin of all Languages

In the first book of the Bible (Genesis) comes the famous description of the creation of the world, the first human family and beginning of human civilization. We are told that humans shared the same language – one language and few things. The people were well organised and advanced rapidly. They discovered how to create bricks and decided to build a tower going up to the heavens. One interpretation of this Hebrew text is that they wanted to replace God and rule by themselves. It is said God, seeing their great advance, mixed their languages, creating a situation in which no man spoke the other’s tongue. The story ends with the people abandoning the tower and the separating into different groups and cultures – spreading to all the corners of the earth because of lack of understanding.

Many paintings have as their subject the famous tower. Brueghel’s (1563) is one of the most famous.

One of the big questions this beautiful myth raises is - was this a curse or a blessing from God? It might seem to be a curse, for if all humans were to speak one language; maybe the world would have one great prosperous human culture, without divisions, hatred and war. On the other hand, maybe diversity of languages, cultures and beliefs is a blessing – and although humanity is divided into different groups, which sometimes hate and fight each other – we are more beautiful, more interesting and humane in a diverse, evolving world.

In his song "Imagine", John Lennon expresses hope that the world would "be as one". Do you think this is something we should dream and hope for?

Jewish Dialects

Since the establishment of Israel, Jewish people came to live in Israel from all over the world. Jews spoke in different dialects, which were a variation of the native language of their country. Most famous are Yiddish and Ladino. Yiddish was originally developed from German in the13th century and exists to this day. Nowadays, Yiddish is spoken mainly in the orthodox communities around the world. Surprisingly some young people in Israel today are reviving this language, finding it exciting and interesting.

Ladino is the Jewish dialect deriving from Spanish. Unfortunately few people can speak it today. Listen to Yasmin Levi, a very successful international singer, who dedicates her music to preserving the Ladino.