Hemdah Ben-Yehuda

Hemdah Ben-Yehuda collaborated with her husband, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, to revive ancient Hebrew and make it a truly functional living language. Born Bella Jonas, she studied chemistry in Moscow before receiving an unusual proposal from her newly widowed brother-in-law. She travelled to Israel in 1892 and married him, taking the name Hemdah and learning basic Hebrew in six months so she could raise her step-children in a Hebrew-speaking home. The following year, after Eliezer was charged with treason and his newspaper was shut down by Turkish authorities, she bailed him out and became nominal owner of the renamed paper. She was a true partner in her husband’s work, helping coin new Hebrew words, creating salons for Jewish thinkers, and writing articles (and a fashion column) for her husband’s newspaper. She wrote short fiction and autobiographical novels, including Ben-Yehuda: His Life and Work in 1940, Standard-Bearer in 1944, and the unpublished Devorah, Mother of the Hebrews. She also helped edit and compile Eliezer’s seventeen-volume Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew, assembling scholars to continue the work after his death in 1922. In 1919 she wrote a feminist manifesto urging women to join the Union of Hebrew Women for Equal Rights in Erez Israel.


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Hemdah and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in 1912.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Hemdah Ben-Yehuda." (Viewed on April 14, 2021) <https://jwa.org/people/ben-yehuda-hemdah>.


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