Biblical and Modern Israeli Hebrew: What's the Difference?

The short answer is that Modern Israeli Hebrew is surprisingly similar to Biblical Hebrew, and in many ways it's even easier to learn. For an Israeli reading the Torah is like reading Hamlet for an English speaker. However if you could magically transport an Israeli into biblical times or bring back Moses into modern day Israel, both would have trouble just sitting and shmoozing with other people.

What's similar?

Israeli Hebrew is still very similar to ancient Hebrew because the Jewish exile and diaspora put the ancient language on ice. Hebrew was used for prayer, study and philosophical texts but not for everyday chitchat. It was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who revived the language with a vision to have the Jews returning to Israel in the 1800's from Europe and Arab countries, all speaking different mother tongues, speak one common language, the language of the Jewish people. His greatest contribution to the making Hebrew a living language again was probably a dictionary that introduced new words for modern purposes, but based on the Hebrew of the bible and the large body of rabbinical works.

How is Modern Hebrew different from Biblical Hebrew?

There were many dialects of Ancient Hebrew. The biblical era spanned over a thousand years and many places. Even the Bible itself sometimes draws attention to how certain individuals or groups had different speech patterns. We have some idea of how people spoke, because Hebrew has been maintained by Jews as a liturgical and philosophical language for thousands of years, and because other related languages such as Arabic and Aramaic can give us clues, but we can't know for certain how anyone spoke in ancient times. The one thing we know is that there were many sub-dialects and most likely a lot of variations in exactly how each consonant or vowel would have been pronounced.

Let's get started learning to read Hebrew!

Start at the beginning, with an overview of the Alefbet (Hebrew alphabet), or go straight to the first letter: Alef.