In his preface, Lowin states that he has been writing a Hebrew language column for Hadassah Magazine for thirty years, and that three collections of these columns have become books: Hebrew Speak, Hebrew Talk, and now, Hebrew Matters. The latter includes over one hundred short essays, arranged according to the “Alef-Bet,” the Hebrew alphabet. Lowin writes that in his work, he has attempted to elucidate:
…not only the mechanisms of the triliteral (three-letter) root of Hebrew, but also the beauty of Hebrew vocabulary as it develops in Biblical, Talmudic, Medieval, and Modern Hebrew, right up through the colorful slang of the streets and fields of the modern State of Israel.
Lowin achieves his stated goals in each of these informative and enjoyable columns. The majority of citations relate to the Biblical, Rabbinic, and Liturgical etymological bases of various word forms, and begin and end with contemporary applications. Most columns dramatically separate the traditional and current discussions, but others prefer to mix them. The chapter headings are humorous, and each chapter ends with a witty remark tying together some of the elements mentioned previously.
This all leads a reader to ponder:
1. why Hadassah Magazine would be interested in such musings, being an organization whose website states that it is primarily concerned with Israeli medical and educational issues, not the Biblical and Rabbinic underpinnings of a language spoken by Israelis, and
2. why if Hadassah’s membership and readership is Zionistic — albeit not overly Jewishly observant — the organization would care about the traditional origins of the Hebrew language.
While it is possible that Hebrew speakers are simply unaware of their language’s origins, and speak Hebrew regularly without giving much thought to how their lingua franca developed, one wonders about the column’s enduring appeal.
Note: In 1982, Yaakov Bieler and Joseph Lowin were Jerusalem Fellows together.