LANGUAGE WAR

LANGUAGE WAR (Ger. Sprachenkampf), campaign waged during the winter of 1913/14 by the Hebrew Teachers' Union in Ereẓ Israel against the hilfsverein der deutschen juden over the issue of the language of instruction in Hilfsverein educational institutions. The Hilfsverein had been founded in Berlin in 1901 by the cotton magnate james simon and Dr. paul nathan , the former acting as president and the latter as director. One of the Hilfsverein's objectives was to raise the cultural standard of Jews in the Ottoman Empire. Nathan laid the foundation of an extensive network of schools in Ereẓ Israel, from kindergartens to a teachers' training college which, unlike the Alliance Israélite schools , employed modern pedagogic methods. Instructors were competent and the Hilfsverein's educational director, Ephraim Cohn-Reiss, was an efficient administrator. Nathan was also responsible for introducing Hebrew as a language of instruction, believing that it would serve as a unifying factor for the polyglot composition of the yishuv. Scientific subjects, however, were taught in German. Although the motives for introducing Hebrew in these schools were pedagogical rather than nationalistic, the Zionists fully appreciated the Hilfsverein's activities. Lacking sufficient financial resources to maintain their own school system, they willingly cooperated with the Hilfsverein. This relationship paved the way for partnership in a more ambitious project, Nathan's brainchild, the founding of a technical college (Technikum or technion ) in Haifa. Nathan and shmarya levin , a member of the Zionist Executive, managed to prevail upon Kalonymus Ze'ev Wissotzky , a Russian tea magnate, to make a large financial contribution; Levin also interested jacob schiff , the celebrated Jewish financier and philanthropist in New York, in the project, receiving a sizable donation from him. Both Wissotzky and Schiff were represented on the board of the preparatory committee, chaired by James Simon; the Hilfsverein members were in a majority. Three Zionists, Aḥad Ha-Am , Jehiel Tschlenow, and Shmarya Levin, also joined the board, though in a private capacity. It was understood that the language of instruction for scientific subjects in the college would be German. When the Hilfsverein-Zionist rapprochement took place in 1906, no serious difficulties were foreseen. Some German Zionist leaders, such as arthur hantke , kurt blumenfeld , and richard lichtheim , had grave misgivings about an association with anti-Zionist assimilationists, and even Ahad Ha-Am urged caution before entering into an agreement with the Hilfsverein; but expediency prevailed: the Zionists were in no position to renounce the partnership. Ironically, one of its first great enthusiasts was Shmarya Levin. The Hilfsverein's successful work enhanced Zionist confidence, but it was not long before a divergence of views appeared. Nathan feared that the partnership with the Zionists might prejudice the Hilfsverein's standing with both German Jewry and the Turks. He lost no opportunity to stress that his Association was completely detached from Zionism, its only purpose "the cultural and economic welfare of the Jews." Whereas the Zionists, as chaim weizmann put it, were struggling to weld the Jewish community in the country into "one creative unit," Nathan rejected Jewish exclusivism outright. However disparate the two attitudes, the conflict which developed was not inevitable. Neither the Hilfsverein nor the Zionist Organization desired it. otto warburg , chairman of the Zionist Organization, continued to serve on the Hilfsverein Committee, and at the 11th Zionist Congress (1913), Chaim Weizmann publicly expressed his fear that the premature introduction of Hebrew into the Technical College might adversely affect the quality of teaching. Tschlenow, the Russian Zionist leader and a member of the College board, agreed: in an appreciative reference to the Hilfsverein's work, he went so far as to state that its educational program was compatible with "the national aim." Shmarya Levin thought differently: at the same Congress he declared that the Zionist Organization must fulfill its "unconditional obligation to concentrate in its hands the total cultural work in Ereẓ Israel," and to exclude those bodies "which lacked that banner." Nathan took offense, all the more since it was the Hilfsverein that had first grasped the importance of organizing the Jewish communities in the Middle East, and especially of educating the youth. It was unthinkable to him that his primacy, gained by heavy investment and pioneering work, should now be lost. He regarded the Teachers' Union, which the Zionist Executive in Berlin was "too weak" to restrain, as chiefly responsible for the now full-blown Sprachenkampf. But the teachers, too, had   grievances; those in the Hilfsverein schools saw that since 1911 Hebrew had been repressed in favor of German and they placed the blame for this, during the Teachers' Union conference in August 1913, on Ephraim Cohn-Reiss, suspecting that he had submitted to "secret pressure exercised by the German Government." Documentary evidence shows that this impression was mistaken: neither Berlin nor the German Consulate in the country was pushing German Kultur at the expense of Hebrew education. It was rather the Hilfsverein representatives themselves who repeatedly pointed to the Jews as a link between Germany and the Orient and praised the projected Technikum in Haifa as a "stronghold of Deutschtum in the Holy Land," arousing Zionist suspicions that Jewish settlement was to be subordinated to German political aspirations. Ephraim Cohn-Reiss, in particular, had incensed the teachers when, in 1913, he rejected their proposal to accelerate the Hebraization of his schools. The resignation of the Zionist representatives on the board of the Technikum heightened the tension. Before that meeting on October 26, 1913, Shmarya Levin appealed to Dr. Nathan, emphasizing that only Hebrew could provide the technical college with a semblance of neutrality. However, the Zionist members on the Technikum board were in a minority and could not claim the exclusive right to draft its program. Moreover, the original agreement, to which all parties had committed themselves, stipulated that scientific subjects were to be taught in German. Aḥad Ha-Am warned his fellow Zionists that, lacking Hebrew textbooks, adequate Hebrew terminology, and experienced staff to teach scientific subjects in that language, a speedy conversion of the Technikum into a Hebrew institution was both impractical and unfair. At the same time, he attempted to convince Dr. Nathan of the necessity of gradually introducing Hebrew into the Technikum. However, Nathan was unmoved. Aḥad Ha-Am suspected that Nathan's inflexibility was determined by some secret agreement between the German government and the Hilfsverein. Though this was not the case, the episode served as the final fuse which sparked off the Teachers' Union struggle against "the complete suppression of Hebrew." Animated protest meetings were held throughout the country, and a strike was declared in the Hilfsverein schools. Dr. Nathan arrived in Ereẓ Israel in a militant mood and rejected all compromise solutions. Dismissal of certain teachers provoked a violent demonstration at the Laemel School in Jerusalem and elsewhere. These events took the Zionist Executive in Berlin entirely by surprise. The strike and particularly the teachers' exit en masse from the Hilfsverein schools, accompanied by their students, aroused general displeasure; the most outspoken critic was Aḥad Ha-Am. Despite serious misgivings, however, the Executive could not desert the teachers. As soon as the struggle assumed a more positive character, a widespread campaign was launched in Europe and the United States to provide funds for the maintenance of independent Hebrew schools. Once involved, the Executive became a party to the conflict. It could not remain indifferent to the course pursued by the Hilfsverein and other segments of German Jewry, which tried to implicate the Zionist Organization in responsibility for the teachers' strike. With Nathan's return to Berlin the campaign intensified. In January 1914 his pamphlet Palaestina und palaestinensischer Zionismus appeared, and the influential Frankfurter Zeitung opened its pages to him. The Zionists replied in a pamphlet Im Kampf um die hebraische Sprache, and, judging from the generous response and the number of voluntary contributions for the Hebrew Schools Funds, it was clear that their arguments were gradually gaining ground. But it was not until the meeting of the Technikum's board on February 24, 1914, that the Hilfsverein was decisively defeated. During that meeting the American and Russian members of the board sided with the Zionists: by deciding to separate the affiliated Grammar School from the Technical College, they removed the principal bone of contention. In the grammar school Hebrew would be used immediately as the exclusive language of instruction while in the college it would be introduced in the course of four years. Thus the Zionist executive emerged triumphant. Given the German government's preference for the Hilfsverein, the Zionist victory on the political plane is the more surprising. Conrad von Wangenheim, the German ambassador in Constantinople, expressed no objection to the superiority of Hebrew while Counselor von Kühlman stated officially that "Germany would be sufficiently compensated if, besides Hebrew, German would also be cultivated." The primacy of Hebrew was thus fully conceded. After World War I and throughout the period of the British Mandate, the sole language of instruction, from kindergartens to the Technion, was Hebrew. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Rinat, Ḥevrat ha-Ezrah le-Yehudei Germaniyah be-Yeẓirah u-ve-Ma'avak (1971), 184–226; I. Friedman, Germany, Turkey and Zionism, 18971918 (1977, 1998), 171–88. (Isaiah Friedman (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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