The UC San Diego Jewish Studies Program presents:

Babel in Zion: Negotiating Language Diversity in Pre-1948 Palestine

by Liora Halperin, PhD.
Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies, University of Colorado Boulder

Description: The promotion of Modern Hebrew as a vernacular was one of the major cultural achievements of the Zionist movement in pre-1948 Palestine. But for all Hebrew's successes, Jewish promoters of the language did not stop speaking, using, and discussing the importance of Arabic, English, German, Yiddish, and many other tongues. Questions about the place of other languages within a nominally all-Hebrew society were ultimately questions about the Zionist movement's shifting, and often uncertain, relationship to its Arab neighbors in Palestine and the region, the British mandatory powers, the European states, and the diverse Jewish diaspora.

Prior to the talk, the Jewish Studies Program will honor Professor Carol Padden, Dean, UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences, for the honorary Degree of Doctor of Philosophy bestowed on her by the University of Haifa on June 4, 2015 for her pioneering work in language and culture among the deaf.

Summary of past event:
In her book Babel in Zion Professor Liora Halperin from the University of Colorado Boulder described the linguistic reality in the early days of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine before 1948. In her lecture Halperin showed how the modern phenomenon of the Hebrew revival, which was promoted by the Zionists as necessity to construct a new national identity, was in fact ambiguous and fractured. Halperin revealed a multi-lingual reality in which the use of Hebrew was not nearly as widespread as its proponents sometimes claimed, then and later.

In the title of her book Halperin makes a provocative use of Babel, the sign of the iconic Jewish diaspora, which she locates in Zion - Jewish Palestine at the time. The Zionists in Palestine aspired to eradicate Jewish diaspora, and with it also the diversity of languages. As opposed to this Zionist ideology, Halperin’s analysis portrays a reality that recognized the inevitable political, financial and cultural use of English, Arabic and the myriad of the Yishuv members’ mother tongues. Following this argument, the metaphor of "Babel" can be projected onto Zionist Palestine because Palestine at the time was already a place with a diversity of languages.

Babel in Zion is a story about ambivalence and tolerance of languages other than Hebrew. Halperin was able to show that the language’s dominance in Palestine/Israel was not without limits. The Jewish society of the time grew while maintaining ties with other groups and their languages, whether the British or Arabs. Halperin’s presentation illustrated why the study of Zionist culture needs to move beyond Hebrew culture.

Thursday, Ocotber 29th, 2015
6:00 pm
Faculty Club
UC San Diego
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Liora Halperin Liora Halperin is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Endowed Professor of Israel/Palestine Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her first book, Babel in Zion: Jews, Nationalism, and Language Diversity in Palestine 1920-1948, was published by Yale University Press in 2015 and is a winner of the Shapiro Award for best book in Israel Studies. Her ongoing research considers the cultural history of the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel; the history of Jewish and Zionist language politics; Jewish-Arab, Jewish-Ottoman, and Jewish-British relations; and the cultural history of archives and archiving in Palestine and Israel.