Maronite Christians Seek To Revive Aramaic Language

Ancient Israeli Minority Hopes To Win Communal Recognition


By Ksenia Svetlova

Published October 12, 2012, issue of October 19, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 4)

“It is very simple,” said Shady Khalloul, Aram’s founder. “We are not Arabs. We existed long before Arabs came to this region, and it’s about time we get state recognition.”

But in the Middle East, few things are simple. And issues of ethnic and national identity are more complex than most. Aram’s drive for separate recognition is opposed by some other Maronite groups and by many Palestinian Israeli nationalists as an attempt to divide and weaken the Palestinians’ struggle not just for equal social and civil treatment, but also for recognition as an autonomous national minority within Israel.

In fact, Aram’s website says that it aims at “uniting all Christians in the Middle East to be one strong nation, to educate our children about their ancestors’ heritage and history.”

Aram’s attempt to revive Aramaic is central to its larger political drive. Aramaic — the term is derived from the name Aram, the grandson of biblical Noah via his son Shem — is a Semitic language that was once widely spoken by Assyrians, Chaldeans, Hebrews, Persians and Syrians. It survived the fall of Nineveh, Babylon and Jerusalem. But following the Arab conquest of the Middle East in the seventh century, the language quickly declined. Today, Aramaic, which is written in Syriac script, is mostly used for prayer and liturgy by Maronites, Assyrians, Chaldeans and other Christian groups spread through the region in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan and other countries.

According to Yona Sabar, a language professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, no more than 200,000 people worldwide use this language in their daily lives. The largest Aramaic-speaking community in the world today resides in Sweden — an anomaly attributable to steady Christian immigration from the Middle East during the past 100 years. It is this Swedish community that provides instructional materials to Aramaic students in Jish and to Beit Jala, a mostly Christian town on the West Bank where efforts to preserve and revive the language are also active.

The young summer camp participants in Jish are part of this revival effort. Most speak Arabic, there are no more than a handful of mostly elderly Aramaic native speakers today in Israel. These children and teenagers are encouraged by their parents and teachers to use as much Aramaic in their daily life as possible. In a way it is their mother tongue, since they have heard some Aramaic since birth. But they require more training and immersion for it to become their daily language.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.