Jerusalem (Oct. 1)
Fearless son of a fearless father, Ittamar Ben-Avi has been a dynamic figure in modern Palestinian journalism for the past fifteen years. He was active, too, before the War when he edited such Hebrew papers as “Hazvi” and “Hashkafa”. Earlier than that he assisted his great father, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Hebrew lexicographer, to whom the Hebrew of today owes its renascence, in journalistic and newspaper ventures.
Announcement has been made that Ben-Avi will publish a Hebrew weekly in Latin charactersâ€”a phonetic transliteration into Englishâ€”along the lines of the language reform introduced by Mustapha Kemal Pasha in Turkey.
Denying that he wished to imitate others and that he had anticipated Kemal by at least three years in a book, “Avi,” in Latin characters (a romantic biography of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda by his son, published here in 1926), Ben-Avi pointed out that in 1928â€”months before the Turkish press took up the innovationâ€”he produced a small weekly supplement to the now defunct Palestine Weekly in that form. Its appearance caused a sensation.
“I must confess that criticism to some extent was well-founded then,” Ben-Avi told me while sitting in his Tel Aviv residence. “I made two principal mistakes, firstly, in unduly complicating the latinized Hebrew alphabet, and secondly, by ceasing publication during the 1929 disturbances.
“The New Palestine, of New York, which acquired the rights to my textbook of dialogues, failed to publish because of widespread opposition in religious circles. I was unable, for the same reason, to find a publisher for my dictionary with Hebrew in Latin characters.”
Conditions have greatly changed since then, asserted the Hebrew author and novelist. Public opinion has moved towards his ideas. He has received hundreds of Hebrew letters, all written in latinized characters, from men and women the world over. Thousands of people, he says, particularly newcomers, have begged him to renew the attempt.
He has had encouragement from prospective subscribers and advertisers, citing the Levant Fair, 1934, and the Hanotaiah, Ltd., plantations company, among the latter. He anticipates three thousand readers for his new paperâ€”Jews, Moslems, Christians, all of whom will be able to read it with equal ease. Englishmen, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, are among those interested.
Speaking of the possible fanatic opposition that might be aroused by any attempt on his part to advocate an abolition of present-day Hebrew script, Ben-Avi pointed out that scientific authorities acknowledged that it was Moses who invented the Hebrew alphabet. Professor Grimme, of Germany, wrote of this in the New York Times some two years ago, Prof. Petrie of England, Pere Dhorme of France, Prof. Olmstead, of the U.S.A., being practically of the same opinion.
ASSYRIAN SCRIPT AN IMPORT
“Sinai was the cradle of the Phoenician alphabet, from which Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans took it over,” declared the reformer. “As a matter of fact, there is even today far more resemblance between the old Hebrew alphabet in which the Torah of Moses was first written and present-day Latin alphabet than between this latter and the so-called Assyrian script in which the same Torah is now written. This Assyrian script is a stranger brought by our people from Babylon on their return to Eretz Israel under Ezra and Zerubabel.
“Ezra the Scribe may therefore rightly be termed the first iconoclast of the old Hebrew tradition, which I am trying now to revive in its modern Latin form.”
“In short, it is untrue to say as my critics have said, that I am latinizing the Hebrew alphabet. What I am doing is just the reverse,â€”I am fighting to reconquer what once belonged to usâ€”one of the greatest inventions of humankind, Writing.
“In a phrase,” he concluded, with a vigorous shake of his familiar white shock of hair, “I am re-Judaizing the Latin and Greek alphabets.”