Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Zionist efforts to promote Hebrew as a modern vernacular not only emphasized Hebrew’s standing as a Jewish tongue but also affirmed the language’s universalist bona fides. These claims were buoyed by long-standing Jewish and Christian traditions that claimed Hebrew was a transcendent language tied to universal human values. During a period distinguished by modern universal language programs, however, Hebrew’s limited reach and apparent artificiality provoked a sense of unease about its universalist claims. This unease was expressed in programs to westernize Hebrew orthography and enhance its global spread and in a series of often anxious comparisons, offered in the Hebrew periodical press, between Hebrew and Esperanto, the most popular universal language program of the day.


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