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October 21, 1977 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-10-21

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N Friday, October 21, 1977 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Inaugural of the Philip Slomovitz Professorial Chair for the Hebrew Language

Text of Dr. Abraham Katsh's Address at the Annual Technion Dinner


President Emeritus,
Dropsie University

article is the text of the
address Prof. Katsh deliv-
ered at the annual dinner of
the Detroit Chapter of
American Technion Society,
Oct. 10, on the occasion of
the establishment of the
Philip Slomovitz Profes-
sorial Chair for the Hebrew
Language at the Technion in
Haifa, Israel. Dr. Katsh this
week assumed the post of
visiting professor in
advanced Hebrew at Oxford
University, England. His
speech is being published in
response to many requests
for its text in this
It is indeed fitting for the
friends of the Technion —
Israel Institute of Tech-
nology, to establish a chair
for the study of the Hebrew
language in honor of a dis-
tinguished journalist and an
outstanding national leader,
Philip Slomovitz.
For way back in 1912
when the Technion was
opened, on the initiative of
the "Hilfsverein der Deuts-
chen Juden" with fUnds
from Jacob Schiff of the
U.S. and Kalonynnis Wiss-
otsky of Moscow, a major
dispute arose between the
proponents of German and
Hebrew with regard to the
language of instruction.'
During World War I, the
controversy, after a bitter
struggle, was settled in
favor of Hebrew and indeed
it was a natural decision.
Why? Because from the
very beginning of the
Hebrew Bible to the current
vernacular in Israel,
Hebrew was never a
"dead" language.
Indeed, no language is
really "dead" if it can be
brought to life again. In the
case of Hebrew, the people
never ceased to strive, to
hope for a rejuvenation of
the "sacred tongue" of the
glorious past.
Even during the vicissi-
tudes of the Jewish people,
when as a result of neces-
sity the people adopted vari-
ous dialects, such as Ara-
maic, Judeo-Arabic, Ladino,
Yiddish, etc.," the Hebrew
alphabet and Hebrew
idioms became part of daily
usage, and the Talmudic
scholars as well as other lit-
erati made a point of using
Hebrew, not only in dis-
cussing religious subjects,
but also in their daily life.
The Hebrew tongue always
remained with the Jew, an
inspiring and uplifting

The HebreW language in
all generations remained a
kind of "territory" for Jews
outside of Palestine, a spir-
itual homeland, and the
hopes, aspirations and
visions of the Jews were
chiefly expressed in that
language. "One cannot
understand the Jewish
people without understand-
ing Hebrew," said Edmond
Fleg, the noted French _poet
and playwright. For the
individual Jew, a knowledge
of Hebrew provided a
source of identity and self-

The reverence for a book
has been part and parcel of
Jewish upbringing. God's
instruction to Joshua, "Ver-
ily this Hebrew Book shall
not leave thee forever,"
prevailed in preserving the
Book of Books. In return
the Book and our language
preserved the people. Only
through the Bible, in its
original Hebrew, were we
able to show the world that
at least one book is ours.

The famous Hebrew poet,
H. N. Blank, once stated,
"We must not belittle the
importance of a book com-
monly loved. The Land of
Israel bequethed one little
Hebrew Book to us. Who
knows, perhaps this Hebrew
Book may ultimately
restore the Land to us. May
it not happen in the life his-
tory of a nation as well as
an individual that the effect
becomes the father of the
cause?" Like a true prophet
it came true!

Hebrew, too, was being
cultivated and always has
been through the centuries
by people, not of the Jewish
faith, and not members of
the Jewish people, and is
being cultivated today, not
only because it is a lan-
guage of the Jewish people,
and not only because it is
the language in which the
people of Israel think and
work and create. It is essen-
tial for anyone to whom the
Bible is important.
As a matter of fact, with-
out a knowledge of Hebrew,
no student, Jew or non-Jew,
can engage today in Biblical
research, or archeology,
study Semitic languages, or
involve himself in new sci-
entific research, learn the
geography of the land,
which Israel is developing
today at the Technion.
Hebrew is one of the few
languages which has been
expressing a continuous use,
and of course in recent dec-
ades it has been revived and
has become once again the

language of a living and
independent and creative
In the Hebrew language
there are enshrined many
central themes of great his-
toric experience, and I
believe it is because of the
existence of these themes
that men all over the world
in all countries and in all
ages and generations have
found a meaning in Hebrew
and in the human creation
that has been expressed in
the Hebrew language.

a mere idiom: it is in itself
a religious symbol of his-
tory, a promise of hope."
This idea has been beauti-
fully expressed by the poet
David Shimoni:
0 tongue of my muse,
thou Hebrew of old,
We are in the blood indi-
visible : Twin
Worlds long forgotten in
both of us spin.
Ancient stock and aban-
doned of kin
Mysterious echoes of ages

Basically it is the theme
of a human struggle and
search, a search for God,
and as we say in Hebrew, a
struggle with God, if need
be. It is a language of the
theme of protest, which we
sometimes call prophecy.
Protest against the short-
comings of man, and the
challenge of man to
improve himself.

It is a language in which
man was told that God fin-
ished the work of creation
on earth in the beginning,
and that after the begin-
ning, the responsibility for
creation in the Spirit of God
became the responsibility of
man. It is a language in
which man was told to love
his neighbor and not to do to
his neighbor what he would
not wish his neighbor to do
to him. It is a language of
challenge. It is a language
which said to man that he is
not living in a Great
Society, but that it was his
responsibility to attain it.
It is a language in which
men were told to be a
"people of priests," and a
nation of "holy men." And
these are still the themes
which are being written
about, and which are impli-
cit in the Hebrew language
and in the challenge that it
holds out to men.
I believe that men are
attracted to the study of the
Hebrew language because
of their affinity - to these
ideals and because of their
identification with this
study. And that, of course,
imposes a great responsi-
bility on the people that
have inherited this language
and seek to continue it in
the future.
Prof. Solomon Schechter
rightfully and sagaciously
put it in these words: "If
history has anything to say
in the matter, the lesson it
affords us is that the dis-
appearance of the Hebrew
language was always fol-
lowed by assimilation with
their surroundings and the
disappearance of Judaism.
The Hebrew language is not


One must not ignore the
fact that the Bible, as well
as the language of the Bible,
was first to proclaim to the
founders of America the
basic concept upon which
orderly _ democratic life
rests. It was to the proph-
etic teachings of ancient
Israel that the founders of
our democratic system of
government turned for
solace and spiritual
The concept of freedom
and liberation all have their
roots in the record of
ancient Hebrew life and cul-
ture. While the Puritans
regarded the Hebrew Bible
as the supreme authority,
they based it on the original
Hebrew text rather than on
the Latin translation. The
Hebrew Bible in the original
was a sign that God spoke to
them too, as he did to the
ancient Hebrews.
The Book and the Hebrew
language, which give cohe-
-sion and national character
to Israel today, in order to
blend the diverse elements
from a multitude of coun-
tries into a unifying dis-
cipline of a single cultural
life, served a similar pur-
pose to the founders of
American democracy for
their struggle in carving out
the great American
intensified the Puritan and
the Pilgrims' roots in Jew-
ish ethical idealism. By
knowing the Het-row lan-
guage, they acquired the
letter and the spirit, the
meaning and understanding
of the Hebrew Bible. The
idealism not only dominated
their theology but also pat-
terned their practical,
everyday life. It disciplined
their minds, fortified their
will and confirmed their
Of striking interest is the

draft for the seal of the new
United States which Frank-
lin and Jefferson submitted.
It portrayed Pharoah, with
a crown on his head and a
sword in his hand, sitting in
an open chariot, passing
through the divided waters
of the Red Sea in pursuit of
the Israelites, and Moses,
beams of light projecting
from his face, standing on
the shore and extending his
hand over the sea, causing
it to overwhelm Pharoah.
Underneath was the motto
from the book of Mac-
cabees : "Rebellion to
tyrants is obedience to

There was a sufficiently
widespread interest and
knowledge of Hebrew in the
Colonies at the time of the
Revolution, according to H.
L. Menken, to allow for the
circulation of a story that
certain members of Con-
gress proposed that the use
of English be formally pro-
hibited in the United States,
and Hebrew substituted for
throughout the land unto all
the inhabitants thereof"
(Lev. 25:10) is the motto on
the Liberty Bell which has
been one of the pillars, if
not the main pillar, of our
American constitutional

And like the Israelis today
who welcome the new arriv-
als with the word Shalom,
so the Puritans, too, named
their colony Salem (Sha-
lom). It is with the same
word that we greet our hon-
ored guest this evening:
Shalom, for Shalom means
more than peace, it implies
totality—in accomplishment
and in deeds and in wishing
good health. It signifies
comfort, success, welfare,
health, well being and con-
tentment and when used
wit: Bayit (Shl'om Bayit) it
conveys the idea of domes-
tic happiness and harmony.
Learning a new language,
acquiring a knowledge of an
additional culture, makes
the learner a new person
and a better human being.
In the case of Hebrew, we
cannot- and we must not be
remiss in losing such a
golden opportunity to weave
the web of our destiny,
never to forget that we are
an Am Hasefer—the people
of the Book. I congratulate
the Technion leaders for
choosing the right person to
honor tonight. I have always
found Phil Slomovitz to be
the journalist par excel-
lence. Newspapers have as
a rule a vested interest in
catastrophe, but not Slo-
movitz's paper. Every
article in his paper is full of
meaning and knowledge.
What really made him
what he is, to my mind, is
the fact that in his back-
ground and in his profession
he never forgot David's leg-
acy to Solomon: Thou shall
be a Mentsch!

Difficulties never deter
him in protesting against
apathy and ignorance. For
Philip Slomovitz learned
from Jewish history how the
Almighty himself-protested,
"Let there be light !"
He learned from Abra-
ham: Here I Am! Ready for
a good cause in order to
achieve justice, right-
eousness and the brother-
hood of man. He learned
from Jacob how he wrestled
through the night witL
dark angel of despa.
order to be blessed at the
break of dawn. He learned
from Joseph how a dreamer
became the master of his
From the Kibutz he
learned how one must offer
the finest human material
for the most responsible and
exciting tasks in order to
fulfill an historic mission.
And from the new state of
Israel he learned the mean-
ing of solidarity, mutual
responsibility and the don-
ning of flesh on the dry
bones of Jewish life.
Indeed, it takes a special
kind of truth to become the
great writer he is.
We must realize when we
deal with journalism, cer-
tain terms such as "commu-
nication" used by different
groups have different con-
notations. For instance, to
Americans, democracy
means the right to be differ-
ent and not to be penalized
for the difference. In the-
USSR, democracy means
the right not to be different,
and to be penalized for the
difference. We talk -of free-
dom of religion—the Rus-
sian government talks of
freedom from religion.
But, no matter how well
one can talk - of Mr. Slomov-
itz as a journalist, leader,
devoted and loyal Jew, one
still fails to sketch the
unusual man who with
every fiber of his being, has
been consecrating himself
to the cultivation of our his-
toric heritage—always ten
der, considerate, honest and
The warmth of his smile
and courageous friendliness
of his entire being, marks
him as a man of great spir-
itual stature.
My friends, when the
Almighty created the world,
each day He said, "Ki Tov,
It is good." Not so whey
created man. This He
man to finish during hise-
time of activity. The destiny
therefore is in our own
hands. We can become part-
ners in the creation and be
worthy of uttering the
words, "Ki Tov, It is
I feel Philip Slomovitz in
his deeds, in his actions, in
his writings, in his years of
striving to show that man is
made in the image of God—
can rightfully sal Ki Tol.
Phil is a guter mentsch—a
great human being. Ki Tov,
It was good.


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