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Why was Hebrew NOT the spoken language of the Jewish people after the Mishna? And why was a scholarly text, which was created for individuals who also obviously understood Hebrew, written in Aramaic? I have seen people say that it was an attempt to stop daily usage of hebrew and turn it into a language used exclusively for religious purposes.

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    Presumably because it came from Babylonia and that was the main language there? – Dov 2 days ago
  • A religious work (a religion which is mainly transmitted in Hebrew) written on a Hebrew work for individuals who generally had a good understanding of Hebrew was written in Aramaic. I'm assuming that there was a bigger reason behind this – user22192 2 days ago
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    What makes you assume that the people of the time had a good understanding of Hebrew? Why are there seforim written in Yiddish - because the authors felt more comfortable writing in their native tongue – Dov 2 days ago
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    Even in the time of the mishna, the primary language in Israel was Aramaic, brought over from Babylon and Assyria. Writing the halachic works in Aramaic was more practical. – Harel13 2 days ago
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    Why did Rambam write his perush hamishna in Arabic? Would the same not apply to Rav Ashi's? – Double AA 2 days ago
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Why was Hebrew NOT the spoken language of the Jewish people after the Mishna?

Similar to why Yiddish and Ladino ceased being the common spoken languages among the majority of Jews after WWII. They were surrounded by Aramaic speakers . Pretty much all of Mesopotamia spoke Aramaic, so even if you were Jewish you had to speak it in everyday existence to do business or speak with other groups. Even during the second temple era Aramaic was common due to those who had returned from exile in Aramaic speaking countries. Once Aramaic was common in all secular conversation it began to dominate.

The above is also part of why the Gemara is written in Aramaic. Being that initially it was oral conversations and lectures given in the native language of Aramaic, even when it was written down it retained it's original language.

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  • I can't really follow your logic. Yiddish and Ladino speakers were happy for centuries with maintaining their dialects despite being a linguistic minority. I don't see why Jews had to give up their Hebrew for Aramaic for this reason. – Kazi bácsi 2 days ago
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    @Kazibácsi Were Yiddish speakers really a minority in their isolated enclaves? – Double AA 2 days ago
  • @DoubleAA They had to interact with officials, business partners, and I strongly assume that they switched to some extent to the official dialect in such cases. I can imagine a similar scenario with Hebrew. Most administration went in Greek, while non-Jews spoke mostly Aramaic, so they could have easily shut their doors in the end of the day and keep speaking Hebrew at home (and let's not forget that Hebrew and Aramaic are closely related). Therefore other hypotheses were suggested, which I find more convincing: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_language#Displacement_by_Aramaic – Kazi bácsi 2 days ago
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Why was Hebrew NOT the spoken language of the Jewish people after the Mishna? I have seen people say that it was an attempt to stop daily usage of hebrew and turn it into a language used exclusively for religious purposes.

There is an assumption here that Hebrew was the spoken language in the time of the Mishna. The Gemara (Sotah 49b) seems to indicate otherwise:

איני והאמר רבי בא"י לשון סורסי למה אלא אי לשון הקודש אי לשון יוונית ואמר רב יוסף בבבל לשון ארמי למה אלא או לשון הקודש או לשון פרסי

It is understood from both the mishna and the baraita that it is prohibited to learn Greek. The Gemara raises a question: Is that so? But didn’t Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi say: In Eretz Yisrael, why should people speak the tongue of Syriac [Sursi], the Aramaic commonly spoken in Eretz Yisrael? Rather, they should speak either in the sacred tongue, Hebrew, or in the beautiful tongue of Greek. And Rav Yosef similarly said: In Babylonia, why should they speak in the vernacular tongue of Aramaic? Rather, they should speak either in the sacred tongue, Hebrew, or in the tongue of Persian, used by the authorities.

And why was a scholarly text, which was created for individuals who also obviously understood Hebrew, written in Aramaic?

Part of the answer is that this was the common language, and the original wording was kept when possible. But that begs the question, why is the Gemara different than the Mishna in this regard?

I heard an interesting answer from a student of Rav(?) David Weiss Halivni, that the Gemara is composed of two main strata, the statements of the Ammoraim and the discussions. He points out that the statements are for the most part in Hebrew, and similar to the style of the Mishna in their brevity and precise language, while the discussions of the Gemara use mainly a limited Aramaic vocabulary. His theory is that the statements where memorized in their specific formulation and passed down in essentially the same way as the Mishna was passed down orally, while the discussions where not meant to be passed down in their specific language, just as a traditional argument, and the wording that was used in the Yeshivos of the Geonim is what eventually became the text of the Gemara when it was finally written down in the mid-Geonic period.

(By the way, the same process happened with the Rishonim. Some explanations became a canonized text that is preserved in many Rishonim who explain a point wherever and by whomever it comes up, whereas the arguments from other sources or logic are preserved in abstract from one generation to the next, but the wording is not at all preserved.)

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  • Do you mean R. David Weiss Halivni? He talks about at least 3 large strata (Tannaitic, Amoraic, Stammaitic), but certainly with more substrata. The stammaitic level is indeed mostly Aramaic, but the same holds for the Amoraic level. For example, the long aggadic sections are Amoraic, AFAIU. – magicker72 2 days ago
  • Right, I knew I wasn't remembering the name right. And I was simplifying. – Mordechai 2 days ago
  • Not sure why you have a (?) next to Rav. – magicker72 2 days ago
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The Maharal (Derech Chayim, 5, 23) writes that the notion of Aramaic being the common vernacular at that time is tenable as to why the Talmud Bavli was written in Aramaic, however with regard to the Talmid Yeushalmi, where the primary language was Hebrew, such an answer is unsatisfactory. On a much greater scale, we find Aramaic in the Torah itself (Bereishis, 31, 47) "יגר שהדותא" and in Nach (Yirmiyahu, 10, 11) "כדנה תימרון להון" and in a large part of the Book Daniel (See Sotah 30a).

In order to answer this question, we have to ask ourselves an even bigger question as to what Aramaic is in general and what is its relationship to Torah. That is a much more complex question and is beyond the scope of this post. I will list sources of reference, however, so you can learn more about the subject.

Maharal: Derech Chayim - 5, 22, 23.
Chiddushei Aggados - Sanhedrin (38b) [This is the most fundamental source]
Tiferes Yisrael - 13.
Gevuros Hashem - 54.

Rav Tzadok Hakohen Milublin: Kometz Haminchah - Part 2, #79.

Rav Yosef Gikatilia: Shaarei Orah - 10.

Rav Nasson Nata Shapira: Megaleh Amukos - Parshas Vayeitzieh and Bahaloscha.

Rav Yonason Eibishitz: Yaaros Devash - Drush 1.

Rav Nachman Mibreslov: Likkutei Moharan - Mahadura Kamam, 19.

Contemporary Rabbonim have discussed this idea at length clearly like Rav Reuven Chayim Klein Shlit"a in his sefer Lashon Hakodesh.

The main work that I find to be the clearest and most comprehensive is the sefer Ksav Ivri - Ksav Ashuri (pg. 43-48, 51-56, 202-205) written by the hidden gaon Rav Tzvi Infeld Shlit"a.

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    "with regard to the Talmid Yeushalmi, where the primary language was Hebrew" Huh? The common language in Israel was also aramaic – Double AA 2 days ago
  • @DoubleAA That is a quote from the Maharal in Derech Chayim (5,22), you assume with certainty that the common language was also Aramaic, where does that assumption come from? – MosheMoskowitz 2 days ago
  • @MosheMoskowitz Might I suggest that you edit your post to reflect the fact that you are citing the Maharal to such effect rather than stating so independently? I also found the assertion confounding in light of the predominant contemporary assumption about Aramaic being the spoken language of the era in Eres Yisrael among Jews. – Deuteronomy 2 days ago
  • @Deuteronomy Thank you for that suggestion, that was my oversight. "I also found the assertion in the light of the predominant contemporary assumption etc." Again, this is not a source, how can you substantiate this claim, I brought a clear citation from an authoritative source saying otherwise. – MosheMoskowitz 2 days ago
  • @MosheMoskowitz re: "how can you substantiate this claim" I did not make a claim. All I did was characterize an assumption. If you want corroboration for my characterization, see the intro to Sokoloff's dictionary: "Jewish Palestinian Aramaic was the Aramaic dialect spoken and written by Jews, mainly in Palestine during the Byzantine Period (3rd cent. C.E. - Arab Conquest) and for some time afterwards, corresponding to the Amoraic and Gaonic (post-Amoraic) Periods." – Deuteronomy 2 days ago

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