29 July 2016
In a series of posts, we will take apart the grammatical structures in some well-known Hebrew texts, starting with the Declaration of Independence (מְגִלַּת הָעַצְמָאוּת megilat ha-atzma'ut, literally "the scroll of independence") of the State of Israel. Written and signed in 1948 (5708), this declaration is an example of formal yet modern and secular Hebrew.
Our explanations will be targeted at a reader who is familiar with Hebrew to some extent. We will try to focus at those points that are often made not clear enough in Hebrew learning courses.
You can find the full text of the Declaration here (there is also a link to the English translation).
So, starting from the beginning:
Note that the verb קָם kam (3rd person masculine singular past of the verb לָקוּם lakum "to rise, to be established, to come into being") comes before the subject. Such word order is standard for many Semitic languages – including Biblical Hebrew and Classical Arabic – and in Modern Hebrew it is often a sign of formal, literary or poetic language.
עֻצְּבָה ~ עוצבה utzva is the 3rd person feminine singular past tense form of a passive (“was shaped”, pu'al construction) corresponding to the active verb לְעַצֵּב le'atzev "to shape, to mold" (binyan pi'el). Like in the previous sentence, the verb goes before the subject. Note how in this sentence:
The preposition בְּ־ receives a 3rd-person feminine singular pronominal suffix to refer to Eretz Israel, forming בָּהּ ba(h) "in it" or "in her", as the noun אֶרֶץ eretz "land, country" is feminine;
The word דְּמוּת dmut "image, identity" (related to the verbs לִדְמוֹת lidmot, to resemble, and לְדַמּוֹת ledamot, to liken) receives a 3rd-person masculine singular pronominal suffix referring to the Jewish people, forming דְּמוּתוֹ dmuto: "his identity" or "its identity", as the noun עַם am "people" is masculine;
As the noun דְּמוּת – even with a masculine pronominal suffix – is feminine, the adjectives that refer to it (רוּחָנִי rukhani "spiritual", דָּתִי dati "religious", מְדִינִי medini "political"; remember that in Hebrew adjectives follow the noun) – are put in feminine form: רוּחָנִית rukhanit, דָּתִית datit, מְדִינִית medinit.
Now, why are the adjectives preceded by the definite article הַ־ in this sentence, even though the noun is not?
In Hebrew, an adjective must agree with its noun in gender and number (as in a number of other languages, including French or Spanish) and something more subtle called definiteness. Definiteness in Hebrew is in generally similar to the definiteness that is expressed by article the in English, but there are differences. To be precise, a noun (or an adjective) is considered to be definite if it satisfies one of the following conditions:
Note that according to Hebrew grammar rules, no more than one of these conditions can hold true at once: proper names cannot appear with an article or pronominal ending, and forms with a pronominal ending cannot appear also with an article. The nouns in construct state (nismach) cannot take a pronominal ending or an article and they cannot be proper nouns. Such nouns 'inherit' their definiteness from the last word in the smichut construction (you will see an example later on).
As such, some usual patterns of attributes (adjectives or, in some cases, nouns) following a definite noun may be as follows:
Going on to the next part of the sentence:
חַי chay, lived, is the 3rd person masculine singular past form of לִחְיוֹת lichyot, to live. It shares its root with the next word, חַיֵּי chay`ei, which is in fact the word חַיִּים chayim "life" rendered to the construct state to link it with the next word: קוֹמְמִיּוּת komemiyut "independence".
מַמְלַכְתִּית mamlachtit is the feminine (agreeing with קוֹמְמִיּוּת that goes before) form of מַמְלַכְתִּי mamlachti "pertaining to the state; sovereign", which originates from מַמְלָכָה mamlacha "kingdom", which shares its root with the well known word מֶלֶךְ melech "king".
יָצַר yatzar is 3rd person masculine singular past form of לִיצֹר ~ ליצור litzor: "created". The verb is followed by another smichut construction: נִכְסֵי nichsei is plural construct form of נֶכֶס neches "asset, property, value" (singular absolute form is נְכָסִים nechasim), so נִכְסֵי תַּרְבּוּת can be translated as "assets of culture". כּלַל־אֱנוֹשִׁי klal-enoshi is a two-part adjective composed of כּלַל klal "all, pan-" and אֱנוֹשִׁי enoshi "human" (from אֱנוֹשׁ enosh "a person, a human"), with the meaning "panhuman, universal".
הוֹרִישׁ horish (infinitive: לְהוֹרִישׁ lehorish "to bequeath") is a hif'il counterpart of the verb לָרֶשֶׁת lareshet "to inherit" (binyan qal, 3rd person masculine singular past: יָרַשׁ yarash). Note how the initial י' (yud) radical manifests itself as וֹ (cholam male) in the hif'il form.
הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ ha-olam kulo means "the whole world". Note that כֻּלּוֹ ~ כולו kulo (כּׂל kol "all" with 3rd person masculine pronominal ending: “all of him, all of it”) is definite according to the definition above; the word עוֹלָם olam "world" is used with the article הָ־ (merging with לְ־ "to" into לָ־), which makes it definite as well.
In סֵפֶר הַסְּפָרִים sefer ha-sfarim "The Book of the Books", the second word takes a definite article, making the whole expression definite (note that the first word, being in construct state, cannot take a definite article!), so, as a direct object to הוֹרִישׁ, the expression must be preceded by the preposition אֶת et, and the adjective נִצְחִי nitzchi "eternal" must take a definite article to agree with "the Book of the Books".
Below is the text we've just covered, in one piece and without vowel marks. You can practice reading it:
That was quite a long commentary for such a short piece of text. We hope it will help you better understand the Hebrew grammar. We will go through the rest of the text in later posts.
Case Study: Declaration of Independence – Part 2
Case Study: Declaration of Independence – Part 3
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