HL Deb 01 December 1920 vol 42 cc781-2

LORD TREOWEN rose to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) Whether Hebrew, which is the language of less than 2 per cent. of the small Jewish population in Palestine, has been made an official language; (2) whether this measure has been adopted at the instance of the Zionist Commission, and in the interest of recent immigrants from Central Europe; (3) whether he can say what dialect of Hebrew has been adopted for official purposes; and whether, having regard to the fact that English has taken the place of Turkish as an official language equally with Arabic, there are any special reasons which justify the expense and inconvenience of a third official language.

The noble Lord said: In view of the important business which awaits your Lordships I do not propose to take up your time by making a speech, beyond saying this in regard to the third part of the question, that Hebrew—that is, the Rabbinical language—is not in use, so far as my experience and information goes, in Palestine. The languages principally used by the Jewish population are a form of Spanish, which they brought to the Levant from Spain whence they were expelled; and, in the next place, a language which is a form of Hebrew largely mixed with German and is known to us as Yiddish. I only wish to say this in explanation of why I ask the question respecting dialect.


My noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs asks me to inform my noble and gallant friend that the Hebrew language, equally with Arabic and English, has been recognised as an official language by all Central Government departments and used as such in all towns and districts in Palestine containing a considerable Jewish population. This measure was adopted by the Administration as one of the first steps towards carrying out the Declaration of His Majesty's Government of November 2, 1917, in support of the establishment of a National Home for the Jews in Palestine. As is well known, the Declaration of November 2 was framed to meet, to the extent considered by His Majesty's Government to be desirable and practicable, the aspirations of Zionists throughout the world, and in the application of this Declaration the revival of Hebrew is legitimately considered to play an important part. I am advised that the Hebrew language recognised officially is classical Hebrew, with such modifications as modern conditions require, and that the percentage of the Jewish population in Palestine speaking this particular style of Hebrew is probably between sixty and seventy.


Could the noble Earl say whether this very unfortunate measure, as I think it, was considered and approved by the Advisory Council in Jerusalem?


I have no information to that effect, but it is quite clear that the responsibility is that of the Government in carrying out this Declaration of November 2, 1917.


I am much obliged to the noble Earl for his very full answer. I would only say, in regard to the so-called Hebrew that is being used by the Jewish population in Palestine, that it has about the same affinity to classical Hebrew as pidgeon-English in a Chinese port has to the language of Addison.


I hope that the result is going to be to purify the language.