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A gentile touch

As Israel reaches 50, Jo Glanville reveals how a Victorian gentile, George Eliot, played a central part in the birth of its national language

By Jo Glanville   May 1998

When Theodor Herzl began the quest for a Jewish state, he did not for one moment imagine that its national language would be Hebrew. “Who amongst us knows enough Hebrew to buy a railway ticket?” he asked. As Israel celebrates 50 years of existence, few of its citizens do in fact buy railway tickets in Hebrew, but only because the country has no more than a token train service. Hebrew is, however, used to buy bus tickets, ice creams, newspapers and anything else required on a daily basis.

The words for such mundane items did not exist until a fanatical…

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