Language Education Policy Studies
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Language Education Policies in Israel

Language and language-in-education policies in Israel are a unique case (See also Papua New Guine) that proves that with resources and power, a language can be fully revived.


Hebrew was a ‘miraculous rebirth’ and now exists as a living language, official language, and mother tongue for Israelis who live in Israel. Its revival and even modernization was clearly a political and religious project that enjoyed much political support and full resources — a policy decision that even fulfills religious prophecy. Its domains are in written scholarship as well as the Israeli media. In fact, even in academia- many sociolinguistic scholars are Jewish, and particularly in the last twenty years- unlike Papua New Guinea with few studies- many studies have been done on virtually all facets of the language situation.


Israel, like the Americas, is a state that displaced its original Palestinian inhabitants. Since 1947 large parts of Palestine are considered the U.N.-recognized state of Israel, complete with a religious constitution and an ever-increasing Jewish population of immigrants who have “returned” to Israel after the 2000-year diaspora. Language-in-education policies have evolved from the British Mandate period (about 1923-1948) where English was a second language to Arabic, and Yiddish was a minority language along with other Jewish immigrant languages. For about 1,300 years the language of the land had been Arabic, while Jewish people had lived in diaspora for 2000 years speaking the languages where they lived, including Arabic. During the diaspora period, Hebrew was like a heritage language in isolated locations mostly for religious but also some literary use, often under Islamic rule where Jews had rights. As a living language it was virtually dead. Beginning in the late 19th century its revival project began with early Jewish immigrants as a minority, and in earnest after WWII.


Hebrew is not only living again, it even maintains linguistic hegemony through work and education. Arabic was also given official status—now as a minority language, despite its history—in Israel, but while Palestinian citizens of Israel often know Hebrew in order to work or study, Israeli Jews do not frequently know Arabic. (Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza also frequently know Hebrew.) Many studies demonstrate the actual complexity: besides Hebrew as a national language, Jewish immigrants from other countries, such as Russia have moved to Israel, and face situations of language shift. There are mixes of the now standardized and modernized Hebrew with the numerous immigrant languages of the older generations or newcomers; and villages or domains (such as immigrant workplaces or communities) with Arabic, English- widely spoken, Russian- particularly since 1990, African languages or Thai to be found in the linguistic landscape. See Middle East, Muslim World.



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Isaacs, M., & Glinert, L. (Eds.). (1999). Pius Voices: Languages Among Ultra-orthodox Jews. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.


Kuzar, R. (2001). Hebrew and Zionism: a discourse analytic cultural study (Vol. 5). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.


Schwartz, M. (2008). Exploring the Relationship between Family Language Policy and Heritage Language Knowledge Among Second Generation Russian-Jewish Immigrants in Israel. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 29 (5), 400-418.


Spolsky, Bernard, and Elana Shohamy. (1998). Language policy in Israel. New Language Planning Newsletter 12 (4):1-4. 


Spolsky, Bernard, and Elana Shohamy. (1999). The languages of Israel: policy, ideology and practice. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. 


Shohamy, Elana and Bernard Spolsky. (1999). An emerging language policy for Israel: from monolingualism to multilingualism. Plurilingua , XXI: 169-184. 

Spolsky, Bernard, and Elana Shohamy. (1999). Language in Israeli society and education. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 137:93-114.



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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as


Harrison, K. M. (2013). Language Education Policies in Israel. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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