Reasons to Learn Hebrew and Chinese
Note: some of the arguments presented here may also apply to other written languages. This will be noted when appropriate.
- _Hebrew and Chinese are the two oldest continually used writing systems/languages in use to this day. They provide the best opportunity to arrive at the deepest roots of the written culture of humanity.
- _Learning the Hebrew and Chinese writing systems provides the widest possible range of mental/thought development, thought and consciousness being directed by writing systems and their languages.
- _The Jews and the Chinese were the two peoples most indiscriminately annihilated in World War II, by the Germans and the Japanese, respectively. Their renewal is one of the lessons of World War II.
- _Learning to read, understand, and think in Hebrew and Chinese, prevents a person from falling into a one-track mind set and a mistaken world-view.
- _Two of the six official languages of the United Nations are Arabic and Chinese.
- _Becoming familiar with the possibility of reading and writing in Hebrew and Chinese characters, enables speakers of illiterate (non-written) languages to be presented with non-Latin-letter alternatives for writing their languages.
- _(The following argument may mainly apply to people in the United States). Learning Chinese and Hebrew is the natural reaction to the two foreign attacks on the United States - the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, and the attacks by Arab Muslims (mostly Saudis) on September 11, 2001.
- _Arabic or Hebrew? Pros and cons.
- _Learning Hebrew and Chinese is the only way to actually arrive at the deepest "spiritual" truths.
- Hebrew and Chinese are the two oldest continually used writing systems/languages in use to this day. They provide the best opportunity to come to the deepest roots of the written culture of humanity.
Hebrew: The alphabet was first made common by the 22 letters of the Phoenicians, about 3000 years ago. The Phoenicians were the northernmost Semitic group of the land of Canaan (Israel), and the early people of the land of Canaan (Hebrew speakers) used the Phoenician, semitic, right-to-left alphabet exactly as the Phoenicians did, with the exact same characters and pronunciation. While the Phoenician written culture did not continue throughout history, the Hebrew/Jewish written culture did, beginning with the Hebrew bible, and continuing with a huge history of written Hebrew culture down to the present day.
Chinese: At about the same time that the original alphabet was created by the Phoenicians and put to widespread use by the early Hebrew speakers (that is, about 3000 years ago), the other unique writing system of the world was being developed in China, the Chinese writing system, which uses about 200 radicals, in various combinations, to form the roughly 2000 to 3000 characters necessary to read and write Chinese.
By learning to read, write, and understand the unique Hebrew and Chinese writing systems, anyone can come as close as possible to the two unique, oldest, and longest continuous written heritages of mankind - the culture of the Jews and the culture of the Chinese.
[Note that the original, and most ancient writing system of mankind, cuneiform, which originated in Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago, died out about 2000 years ago, as it was gradually replaced by the newer, Phoenician-based phonetic writing systems. The first "international" written language, Assyrian, written in cuneiform, existed side by side with the newer Aramaic, written in Phoenician-derived characters, for centuries, until Aramaic gradually took the place of Assyrian as the new "international" language. While the 1000 or so characters used to write cuneiform were in use for over 3000 years, they of course don't represent a continuous usage and development from ancient times up to the modern day.]
- Learning the Hebrew and Chinese writing systems (in addition to a left-to-right writing system such as that found in English - which anyone reading this already knows) provides the widest possible range of mental/thought development. Human thought is developed through reading and writing. One who limits their reading and writing to only one writing system, is essentially limiting their mind's ability to comprehend (via human thought) the world using all of the available options. The practical options for writing systems in the world we live in can be broken into three distinct groups:
a. The left to right writing systems, such as those found in English (which uses Latin letters, which in turn came from Greek letters, which themselves were a modification of Phoenician letters), and numerous other languages widespread throughout the world today. [The main representatives of left-to-right systems are the Indo-European languages, with two representative examples today being Greek and German. Greek and German both maintain the fundamental Indo-European system of noun gender (each noun being either masculine, feminine, or neutral), and the system of noun declension (nominative, accusative, dative, genetive, and so on).]
b. The right to left writing systems and languages, which are derived from Semitic roots, the two biggest examples being Hebrew and Arabic. Another Semitic language and script, Aramaic, also exists, but on a smaller scale. (The Ethiopian Semitic languages, written in the left to right Ge'ez script, are also in wide use). A number of non-Semitic languages (such as Persian and Yiddish) also came to be written from right to left, using Arabic or Hebrew alphabets.
c. The Chinese writing system and language, written in Chinese characters. At one time or another, also Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese have all been or are currently being written, using Chinese characters. It should be noted that Chinese characters are naturally adapted only to the various forms of the Chinese language and its dialects. Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese had to modify their languages and writing systems to adapt the Chinese characters to their non-Chinese languages.
While it would be unreasonable and impractical to need to learn many languages from one group (for example, numerous European languages, which would not add any significant depth to the left-to-right language that a person already knows), it is not difficult to learn a single language from each group, resulting in learning three languages - in our case, Hebrew and Chinese (as well as whatever left to right language one may know).
[Related to this, from the perspective of how the brain works: to each new language learned, the brain allocates its own, unique, designated area].
- The Jews and the Chinese were two of the peoples most indiscriminately annihilated in World War II, by the Germans and the Japanese, respectively. 85% of the 6 million Jews killed by the Germans spoke, read, and wrote Yiddish (a German dialect written in Hebrew letters from right to left, containing many Hebrew words). The Japanese slaughtered huge numbers of Chinese before and during World War II (see for example, the "Rape of Nanking" in 1937). In total, millions of Chinese lost their lives as a result of the Japanese occupation of China. (The Japanese also had plans, in line with the Nazis, for manipulating the Jews to their benefit, such as the "Fugu Plan"). As a direct result of the attacks on the Jewish and Chinese cultures by the Germans and the Japanese, the Hebrew speaking State of Israel was created in 1948, and the Chinese speaking People's Republic of China was created in 1949. The two essentially non-aggressive peoples who suffered the greatest in World War II, and the real victors to rise out of the ashes of the War, were the Jews and the Chinese. There isn't any doubt why these two peoples have been singled out in the world to be the targets of hatred, attack, and cultural annihilation. They are the two oldest writing systems and cultures - every writing system and culture coming after them wanted to replace them. Thus, the newer, Christian, European, German, left-to-right Latin-letter culture wanted to annihilate the older, Jewish, Semitic, Yiddish, right-to-left Hebrew-letter culture. Similarly, the Japanese writing system and culture, which developed much later than that of China, like a rebellious child of China, tried to turn the tables and become the new "supermen" destined to rule Asia. (The Japanese had no system for writing until around the 7th century CE. The first writings from Japan were written in Classical Chinese. As for German, it was not written until the 8th century CE, earlier writings being written in Latin).
Likewise, many excuses and "plans" are made by various groups of non-Chinese, as to how the Chinese writing system (which ultimately is the carrier of the Chinese culture and consciousness) is ancient and outdated, and should somehow be eliminated. There are remarkable similarities between the anti-Jewish "logic" directed against the Jews, Jewish culture, and Jewish languages and writing systems, and the anti-Chinese "logic" created by those who would want to see the Chinese writing system dissolved and replaced. This "logic" was not designed for convincing Jews or Chinese of anything (who of course, would be unable to see any logic in it at all), but rather, was intended to convince non-Jews or non-Chinese to be hostile towards Jewish or Chinese writing systems (including the knowledge and culture written in them), and to avoid learning or being associated with them. Few non-Jews and non-Chinese complained as these two peoples and their cultures were being destroyed during World War II. To understand the depths of their experience, one must learn Hebrew and Chinese, live in their countries, and see the world through their eyes.
- Learning to read, understand, and think in Hebrew and Chinese, prevents a person from falling into a one-track mind set and a mistaken world-view. If a person (or people, or country) is only able to think using one language/writing system, that person can easily be on the route to an extreme world view that excludes other options. A representative example is Nazi Germany. The writing-system plurality of the German "ethnic/language group" in Europe before the Nazis - which included people who could read German both with Latin letters (from left to right), and with Hebrew letters (from right to left), that is, Yiddish, produced in the population of German language speakers as an entity in its entirety, an extremely flexible "cultural consciousness", and resulted in the Germanic population of Europe, over the century before the Nazis, developing into the most technologically advanced people in the world. Simultaneously, the German language, along with its Jewish counterpart, Yiddish, was being recognized more and more as an international language, not only throughout Europe, but especially with the migration of Yiddish speaking Jews, throughout the world. The Nazis, however, developed a one-track mentality which emphasized the reading and writing of German with Latin letters (from left to right), only. (As if Latin letters could somehow be the sole part of German language and German thought, whereas Hebrew letters couldn't). They performed somewhat of a lobotomy on the "collective consciousness" of Germans, removing from the German population all of its people who could think, read, and write in German with Hebrew letters (from right to left). About 85% of the Jews killed by the Nazis were speakers, readers, and writers of Yiddish, and the Yiddish press was very large in Europe in the decades before World War II. Even those more assimilated European Jews, who used German as opposed to Yiddish, ultimately had ancestors, and, likely, relatives who used Yiddish, as well as who perhaps read and studied in Hebrew. Hand-in-hand with the destruction of Yiddish and Hebrew culture, the Nazis attempted to obliterate any traces of "Jewish thought" from the German consciousness, which resulted, for example, in the elimination of Albert Einstein's writings and theories from Germany. Within a few short years of the Germans "lobotomizing" their "collective consciousness" by removing those who read, wrote, and thought in non-German letters (i.e. Hebrew letters), the Germans had gone from being the most scientifically advanced people in the world, to being a puppet country of the United States and the Soviet Union. The path that the Nazis fell into (a Latin letter, German only world view), led to the rapid downfall of German genius and diversity of thinking in multiple languages and writing systems. This type of path of thought can happen in any language (not just German), and can be avoided by ensuring that the widest range of thinking, reading, and writing possibilities are learned. This can be achieved by learning Hebrew and Chinese, as discussed in the previous points.
- Two of the six official languages of the United Nations are Arabic and Chinese. The other four are English, French, Spanish, and Russian. One can say that these six official languages are a result of a kind of "natural selection" within the United Nations. It is important to see that included in the six official languages are one from each of the groups we are discussing: 1) Arabic, from the Semitic, right-left group, 2) Chinese, and 3) four languages from the left-right language group - English, French, Spanish, and Russian. The obvious question arises - why are there three Western European languages (English, French, Spanish), including two Romance languages (French, Spanish), in the group of six? This seems like an over-abundance of similar languages. It should also be clear that if the group of four left-right, European languages was shrunk down to just one left-right language, there would only be three languages necessary, one from each of the three main groups. While it may be an unreasonable task to learn six official languages, it certainly wouldn't be unreasonable to learn just three.
- Becoming familiar with the possibility of reading and writing in Hebrew and Chinese characters, enables speakers of illiterate (non-written) languages to be presented with non-Latin-letter alternatives for writing their languages. From the onset of human literacy (about 3000 years ago), most of the languages of the world remained unwritten, "tribal" languages until the last few hundred years. Then, by the coincidence that Western European language speakers (Britain, Portugal, Spain, France, and more) were the ones who initially set out to colonize the entire world, vast populations of non-literate peoples were subject to varying degrees of annihilation, the destruction of their language and culture, and the sole prospect of writing their language being by using Latin letters. Thus, speakers of native tribal languages in large geographical areas throughout the world, and even on entire continents, had no clear option but to write their languages with the letters of their conquerors - in this case, Latin letters, and from left to right. When the possibilities of writing languages with other scripts and characters, and in other directions besides left to right, is made common, acceptable knowledge, languages which formerly had no writing system can have a much wider range of options for determining their own writing systems, and could even have the option of writing their language in multiple writing systems.
- (The following argument may mainly apply to people in the United States). Learning Chinese and Hebrew is the natural reaction to the two foreign attacks on the United States - the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, and the attacks by Arab Muslims (mostly Saudis) on September 11, 2001. While the approach of the American government may be described as "bombing the enemy into submission" (or perhaps, "beating them until they say 'yes'"), the truth always becomes apparent that the will of the attackers - the Japanese on the one hand and the Arab/Muslims on the other, ultimately cannot be broken. As Americans realize this, they turn more and more towards identifying with the Chinese and Israelis - two peoples who continually have dealt much more closely with the Japanese and the Arabs, and who have a much more intimate understanding of their linguistic and cultural roots.
- Arabic or Hebrew? Pros and cons.
a. Arabic has more than 200 million speakers spread throughout a number of countries in the Middle East, making it among the top ten most spoken languages in the world, and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Hebrew has no more than 10 million speakers, and is the official language only in Israel.
b. Both Hebrew and Arabic have certain qualities connected with religion, which lead to their influence. Arabic is connected with the widespread world religion of Islam, whose sacred book is the Quran (written in Arabic). Hebrew is equally well-known (if not widely learned) among the widespread world religion of Christianity, the Christian "Old Testament" being the Hebrew Bible. Hebrew also is, besides being the language of Israel, avidly studied by Jews throughout the world, as Hebrew is the language of the Jewish scriptures and central to Jewish religious practice.
c. Regarding the writing of other, non-semitic languages using Arabic or Hebrew scripts (such as Persian or Yiddish), Arabic has numerous additional sounds not found in modern Hebrew, which would imply that the Arabic script would be more adaptable for writing a wider variety of languages. For example, Arabic letters could easily be used to write the English language with, as Arabic has sounds found in English such as "dth", "th" (as in "this thing"), and vowel sounds such as "a" (as in "that") and "u" (as in "but"), sounds which are not used in modern Hebrew (although they were found in original spoken Hebrew, and are also found in today's Syriac Aramaic, which uses more or less the same 22 letters that Hebrew does).
d. By the same token, Hebrew pronunciation is easier to learn than Arabic, due to the fact that it has less unique sounds, and has been more "streamlined" for easy learning. While Arabic has numerous sounds made in the throat that are difficult for non-Arabic speakers to master, modern Hebrew has done away with those sounds. This quality of fewer sounds is also reflected in the Hebrew alphabet, which has 22 letters, as opposed to the 28 letters found in Arabic.
e. From the perspective of bringing to the forefront the conflict between the western, left-right, Latin based writing systems, and between the Semitic, right-left writing systems, the Jews and the Hebrew script also stand in the forefront, while Arabic has always maintained a supportive home in the Middle East. This conflict is first seen with the Greeks, and ultimately the Latin speaking Roman Empire, destroying the homeland and religious center of the Hebrew/Aramaic speaking Jews (Israel) 2000 years ago. In the following centuries, those that were swayed by the Graeco-Roman philosophical concept of a monotheistic God, easily converted out of Judaism to Christianity, and later to Islam, using the rational that their new-found religion was worshiping the same "monotheistic" God as they had been worshiping under Judaism (and this, in spite of clearly understanding the deep and fundamental differences between the religions in terms of how they grasped the spiritual and sexual nature of humans). The conflict again came to its peak with the destruction of the Jews and Yiddish speakers by Nazi Germany during the 1940s. The experience of the Jewish people in this respect, makes them a most vocal example of the struggle of a people to maintain its religion, language, culture, and Semitic writing system, in the face of certain destruction from a much more powerful enemy.
f. Additionally, as we have seen previously, Hebrew and Chinese have a written heritage which predates all other cultures in the world today, including Arabic (which appeared relatively later on the world scene, with the appearance of the Quran in the 7th century CE). Hebrew in this respect reaches much farther back to the original dawn of human literacy and writing.
- Learning Hebrew and Chinese is the only way to actually arrive at the deepest "spiritual" or "historical" truths. People are often presented with many spiritual or religious shortcuts and formulas for arriving at spiritual truths - but the common denominator of all of them is that they are written in English (or whatever the reader's native language is). For example, if a person says a particular formula or phrase, acknowledging that they "believe" certain things, or if they perform certain meditation exercises or "spiritual" practices, they will arrive at spiritual enlightenment, or salvation of their soul, or understand the true meaning of life, and so on. When one examines the religions of Judaism or Islam, however, it becomes clear that the Semitic languages of Hebrew or Arabic are central to the spiritual understanding which these religions offer. The Torah scroll, written in Hebrew, is the central aspect of Jewish worship. The reading and services of the Torah are guided by the Jewish prayer book, also written in Hebrew. Likewise, Islam strongly emphasizes the importance of knowing Arabic to understand the spirituality of Islam. When the Koran is published in translation, it is almost always published with the Arabic original in a parallel column. More specifically, the decision to choose between learning Greek (the language of the New Testament), or learning Aramaic (the language Jesus apparently spoke), is a much more spiritually critical decision, than questions of believing whether or not the Messiah suffered on the cross. These same arguments apply to Chinese - while there are many techniques or practices from China designed to convey Chinese spiritual teachings and ways of thought, these practices are meaningless without learning to read, write, and understand Chinese characters and writings.
Unlike other cultures, the cultures and religions of the Jews and Chinese go hand-in-hand with their language and writing systems. A native Hebrew speaker reading the Hebrew Torah and prayer book, doesn't have any feeling of alienation. Nor does a native Chinese speaker who reads the ancient traditional Chinese writings. They feel like they are reading the original writings and sources of their identity as peoples. Languages like Latin, German, or English, on the other hand, have an inherent sense of alienation built into them. They have a sense that the letters they read with were borrowed from some other people, and that their most ancient and cherished books, are not originally of their own peoples, but were borrowed from some other people.
Religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, use simple formulas in order for someone to convert, and to be a part of the spiritual truths those religions may offer. Note that this also aided these religions in proselytizing, which enabled them to spread rapidly over large geographical areas and countries, and to convert and absorb people of diverse languages and cultures. For Jews or Chinese, on the other hand, the situation is exactly the opposite. The Jewish religion was intended for those who read traditional Hebrew writings, and understood the religious practices and prayers throughout the annual cycle of the Hebrew calendar. Spiritual truth is passed on through the Hebrew language, and the traditional conversion process to Judaism can take years. And with Chinese, there was no attempt to spread traditional Chinese religion and religious practice through translating to other languages. Rather, the Chinese characters and writings were always central, and they are the assumed prerequisite to understanding and participating in Chinese culture and belief. Before beginning any spiritual learning, a few standard children's poems of one-thousand Chinese characters had to be learned.
Arguments like this apply similarly to historical truths. If one wants to truly understand the circumstances of the Holocaust, and the Jewish perspective of the situation in the time of Nazi Germany, as well as the background of the modern State of Israel, one must learn Hebrew and Yiddish, and be able to interpret World War II and the State of Israel through Jewish eyes. [It can basically be said that most of the Jews of the world who spoke a Jewish language (one written with Hebrew letters) as their first language, spoke Yiddish prior to World War II. After World War II, the majority of Jews in the world that spoke a Jewish language (one written in Hebrew letters) as their first language, spoke Hebrew, and lived in Israel. This situation was a result of the rapid decline of Yiddish speaking centers in Europe during World War II, paralleled with the simultaneous creation of a Hebrew speaking center - the State of Israel.] The same argument applies to the situation of the Chinese - if one is going to be able to understand the situation and struggle of the Chinese people against the Japanese and their supporters, in the decades before and after World War II, including the founding of the People's Republic of China, one must learn Chinese.
In short, the key to "spiritual" awakening, truth, salvation, or any truth about peoples, cultures, religions, and the conflicts between them, is arrived at almost solely through learning writing systems and the languages written with them - in our case, Hebrew and Chinese.