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The Hebrew Language

Hebrew is spoken by over five million people worldwide, the vast majority of which live in Israel, where it is a co-official language with Arabic. Hebrew speakers can also be found in Australia, Canada, Germany, the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, the United Kingdom and the United States.1

Hebrew, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, is a Semitic language that has close similarities to the now extinct Phoenician and Moabite tongues.2 Hebrew (i.e., Classical Hebrew) began to disappear in its spoken form after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and was eventually replaced by Aramaic. However, written Hebrew lived on as a liturgical and literary language. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Hebrew was revived as a spoken language for Jews living in Israel, creating a common tongue for a population that previously spoke many different languages (for example, Yiddish, Arabic and Ladino).3 During its revival, Hebrew was greatly influenced by other languages such as Russian (direct borrowings of vocabulary), Arabic (slang), English and Yiddish.4

Below are some brief but important facts about the country of Israel and its people.

Capital: Jerusalem
Note: Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950, but the US, like nearly all other countries, maintains its Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Currency: New Israeli shekel (ILS)
Note: NIS is the currency abbreviation; ILS is the International Organization for Standarization (ISO) code for the NIS

Government Type: Parliamentary democracy
Population: 6,199,008
Note: Includes about 187,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, about 20,000 in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, more than 5,000 in the Gaza Strip, and fewer than 177,000 in East Jerusalem (July 2004 est.)

Internet Country Code: .il
Internet Hosts: 437,516 (2004)
Internet Users: 2 million (2002)

For additional demographic information on Israel and its people, please see the following link:

For information on The Hebrew Writing System, please see our Quick Facts Library.

1 “HEBREW: a language of Israel” Ethnologue

[Accessed December 23, 2004]

2 “Hebrew language” Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service.

[Accessed December 23, 2004]

3 “Hebrew language”

[Accessed December 23, 2004]

4 Hebrew language”

[Accessed December 23, 2004]