The Jewish people have been wandering for two millennia, scattered to all four corners of the earth, inhabiting almost every country in the world.
Of course, the Jews living in all respective countries have not only adapted to a level of that culture, but they have also adopted the language of the nation in which they reside.
What is impressive is that Jews in Diaspora lands retained a level of Hebrew and Aramaic in their vocabulary, and as a result, they created their own dialects. Jews in Spain and Spanish territories spoke Ladino—a Spanish, Italian, French, and Hebrew mixture—Jews in Arab lands spoke Judeo-Arabic—an Arabic and Hebrew mixture—and, of course, Jews in German and Eastern European lands spoke the language with which we are all reasonably familiar: Yiddish—a German and Hebrew mixture.
Nevertheless, all these languages, even with their “Hebrew roots,” are all vastly different from each other. Of course, this is not to mention completely different languages like French, English, Russian, etc., which have much less Hebrew influence. A Jew from South Africa who has spoken only English his whole life would have a hard time communicating with a Jew in Brazil who has spoken only Portuguese his entire life. However, Hebrew can be the equalizer.
Jews who were raised with a traditional Jewish education will know the Hebrew of the prayers, the Hebrew of the Siddur, and be able to enter into any regular synagogue around the world and know what is going on. It doesn’t matter if they enter a synagogue in Tunisia, Thailand, or Italy, they will recognize the liturgy, the structure, and be able to follow along with ease. Even if they don’t speak Hebrew fluently in every-day speech, they still know enough to communicate in the religious setting. In the synagogue, everyone has the same language.
In the history of the world, there have been multiple lingua franca (common/international language). In biblical times Aramaic was the common tongue of Semitic peoples, Latin and Greek under the Roman Empire, French held that position for many centuries (which is where the term lingua franca gets its name), and of course today the dominant language is English. However, always and forever the lingua franca of the Jewish people has been Hebrew. It has survived exile, it has been used in tandem with Arabic for Jewish sacred literature, and it has been resurrected in the modern State of Israel as the official language of the Jewish homeland.
So the question that arises is this: If Hebrew is the lingua franca of the Jewish community—both now and for millennia—why are so many Messianic Jews rendered speechless? Why are so many Messianic Jewish communities inept in Hebrew and the liturgical tradition?
When going to a Messianic Jewish synagogue or congregation, you may hear the Shma and the Amidah. If you’re lucky, you may have someone who can read small sections from the Torah scroll, but by and large, that is the level of Hebrew that exists. Of course, there are undoubtedly Messianic synagogues that are much more proficient in Hebrew, but they seem to be fewer and farther between.
What does this say about our communities? What does this say about those coming into our communities speaking the Jewish language, but not having anyone with whom to speak it? What does this say when Jews in our communities go to other normative synagogues and are lost in translation, unable to follow along, with no clue what is going on? In one sense, the Messianic Jewish movement has cut itself off from its Jewish brothers and sisters, sending itself into a deeper exile, a more profound Diaspora. Too many Messianic Jews do not speak the language of our people, do not know the liturgy that our forefathers have been lifting up in synagogues for thousands of years.
Messianic Judaism as a whole needs to take more care in learning this language, this lingua franca of our people. It is essential for communication as well as for identity. Vine of David has done an excellent job by investing in creating resources that are both distinctly Messianic, and yet at the same time not deviating from the broader tradition of the Jewish people. If Messianic Judaism is to survive as a Jewish sect, it must know and speak the Jewish language. Vine of David resources are available here.
One day we will be of one mind, one heart, and one tongue. That tongue will be Hebrew.